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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Readings on happiness


In the past few weeks I busied myself with the reading of Happiness for Dummies (as if I wasn't busy enough already!)

This is definitely NOT the first book about happiness I read, but going back to the basics never hurts.

With the help of sticky notes, I pulled out everything that "talked" to me, whether I had already heard about it in the past or not. The quotes I will share today (in italics) are things we should be reminding ourselves of on a regular basis!

Anything not in italics is my own comments. Please add to it if anything in here inspires you, reminds you of something, upsets you, whatever!

1) Type B personalities tend to enjoy less material success than Type As, [but] Type Bs are much happier.

Type A personalities have more of what we could call drive and ambition, and in turn usually gain more success and money. Yet they are not happier! I don't know for you, but every time I question how much I've accomplished in terms of success and money, I will remind myself of that!

The energy one does not use toward ambitious pursuits can serve other goals, for example getting lost in blissful contemplation. Maybe not as "productive" from the material point of view, but so good for lucidity and serenity! I'm all for that!

2) Happiness ISN'T power, money, success or excitement.

That completes number 1. I like that the author added excitement to the mix, because we often blur it with happiness, when in fact immediate pleasure/intense emotions are NOT the same thing as happiness. Truth is, when we indulge in them too much, we usually suffer in the long run (says she, who has such a hard time resisting ice cream... but then gets a headache from the fat and sugar contents).

Other examples of excitement that does not lead to long-term happiness include shopping sprees, doing drugs, and cheating on your spouse.

3) What money really buys:

When the stock market goes down, people on fixed incomes suffer - they forego dinners out, do with less heat in the winter, and buy more store-brand items in the grocery store. Does that mean that they're unhappy? No - but it does mean they're less comfortable and less free to live their lives the way they want to.

So money does not buy happiness, but it does buy comfort and freedom, among other things.

Of course, the wise thing to do when money is scarce is to adapt and be flexible (as depicted in the paragraph above). If you refuse to modify your spending habits to fit your decreased income, you WILL end up unhappy (and full of debt). Unfortunately, I know someone in that situation. One of the main reasons for his behavior has to do with entitlement issues - more on that later.

4) If you remove yourself from [an] irritating circumstance (walk away from the person you find annoying or turn on the air conditioner), this tells your nervous system that it can stop feeling irritated - and, it does.

Yes! Why do we let our nervous system become overwhelmed? Why don't we give it a break? No later than yesterday, I had an epiphany in those matters. After teaching/looking after kids all day, then translating in the evening, I finally made it to the living room couch around 8 pm, ready to put my feet up and indulge in some pleasant reading. I had been up since 5 am (for a run in the rain), and was looking forward to some down time. To my dismay, however, puppy Zia decided this was a good time to start stealing every object she could reach that fits in her mouth, and chew on it. Annoyed (and close to exhausted), I said "This is my only time to relax, and now I have to chase a dog?" D, who had been helping with the chasing, wisely replied: "Why don't we put her in the crate for a little while, it won't hurt her." So in she was, with something acceptable to chew on. Aaaahhhhh... I felt so much better. If it had been just me, I would have left Zia roam freely... and would have ended up chasing her all evening. Sometimes you just have to put your own needs first.

Speaking of listening to your needs. Today, I had planned to get up at 5 to go to the gym. I VERY rarely miss a workout. You know the trick to reaching your goals: "No excuses". But when I woke up this morning, I was both extremely tired (slept too little) and extremely sore (twisted my ankle during yesterday's run in the dark morning). I also had a hint of a migraine headache, and that usually only gets worse for the next 12 hours, no matter what I do. So, I decided NOT to go to the gym. Instead I popped some Ibuprofen, downed a tall glass of water, and went back to bed. For once this was a good decision.

I want to add that if you know you are about to face a potentially stressful situation (like a long day of work), you should prepare your nervous system. This morning, spending some time outdoors before work, I noticed the beauty of the pure blue sky and of the colorful trees. I noticed the warm breeze on my face and bare arms. I heard some birds singing. I even saw 3 deer. And I decided that I would carry the joy and peacefulness this had instilled in me all day, no matter what. I like to believe that I carried a positive aura around me, because the day ended up being really good!

5) Hardy people are like hardy animals and plants - they are resilient. 

They survive adversity, weather the storms of everyday life - and in doing so, they grow stronger, more competent, and happier over the course of their lives.

This is why some Holocaust death camps survivors, despite the horror they've been through, qualify as happy. If THEY can be happy, why couldn't we? Enough with playing the victims. Despite the hassles and the problems, I feel lucky that I've never had to face something like a death camp (any other example of something dreadful that you can think of works, too). What we need to realize is that we are lucky and blessed in many aspects. Let's focus on that.

6) Hardy people want control over their lives, are committed to the things and people that matter the most to them, and view life as a series of challenges.

In brief, hardy (and happy, by the same token) people don't rely on chance (or on others) to reach their goals; they put their energy where it matters; and they accept that life will not be an easy ride. That can lead to a realistic, yet very empowering outlook on life!

7) Life is an experiment and, as with all experiments, you're seeking truth - in this case, the truth about who you really are and what makes you happy. 

The way science works is that each time an experiment fails, it brings you closer to the truth. And so it is with life. The important thing is to keep on experimenting!

I really like this comparison with the scientific approach. Science is all about trying over and over and over again, until you finally find an answer. Getting impatient or frustrated with the process changes nothing to it: it takes time, and it takes mistakes. Mistakes are not useless at all, as the author points out so wisely: they bring us closer to the truth.

8) Identifying your sources of flow: Flow is the end result when you apply a set of skills to a challenging situation. 

If you have skills but they're unchallenged, the best you can hope for is a feeling of relaxation that quickly turns to boredom [...] If you find yourself in a challenging situation, but you lack the skills necessary to deal with the situation effectively, you end up anxious or angry. If you lack skills AND challenge, you end up disinterested, apathetic, and dissatisfied.

Finding a happy middle in terms of stimulation is a lifelong endeavor! I know I've been both over and under stimulated at different times in my life. To determine where I am on the continuum, I try NOT to listen to my internal tape, and focus rather on how I feel. If I feel stressed out, it means I'm overstimulated... even if I think I'm not. If I feel bored, it means I'm understimulated... even if I think I'm not.

9) Research has shown that people who cope most effectively with life stresses, ranging from the minor hassles to the major catastrophes, do so by adopting a problem-solving approach [...] 

On the other hand, people who cope ineffectively with these same stresses tend to engage in wishful thinking, impulsive behavior, denial, and blame. The choice is yours.

As I always say: be pragmatic, not dramatic! Identify the problem, its source, and some potential solutions. Then implement them. That's it! There's no room in that for getting over emotional, or denying what's going on.

10) A sense of entitlement - a feeling that you have a right to something - is the root cause of most people's unhappiness. 

Here are some things you are NOT entitled to: a spouse who always thinks as you do; children who always love you; employment (now or in the future); good health and a long life; a computer that never crashes; cheap gasoline; the respect and admiration of your peers; a stable economy; a car that starts on a cold morning.

Wow! Maybe we should all write that on our bathroom mirror!

And last but not least, about greed:

Why do an increasing number of highly paid corporate executives end up in prison these days? Are they just another example of stupid crooks? No. What they are is greedy - they aren't satisfied by making millions of dollars a year. They want more - and they feel they have the right to take as much as they want, no matter how much it hurts other people or destroys the very institutions that made them rich in the first place.

Are those corporate executives happy? I bet not.

What about you?

Anything strikes a chord in this post?


  1. Hi Julie - there were a couple movies made many years ago. The Gods must be crazy and The Gods must be crazy 2. These movies were about a tribe of people in Africa with no material possessions. Yet they were happy, until one day...if you haven't seen the movie I won't ruin it. It was hilarious:)

    1. I think I've heard of that... will check it out. Thank you!

  2. Greed must come from a place of great neediness and feelings of inadequacy. Sadly, not enough thieving corporate execs or wall street brokers end up going to jail. Sigh. There is a an excellent series of documentaries, starting with "7 Up," Here's a link: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/03/168535095/checking-in-again-with-the-7-up-kids. The hypothesis is that we are essentially born hard-wired to be a certain type of personality, and that often plays out in these interviews of 14 people from ages 7 to (the latest installment) 56.

    Also, another good book on happiness is Patti Digh's "Life is a Verb." Your excellent post gives me the idea of re-reading this fine book and providing a summation for my readers, as you have done here. I find, in general, that we may things much more complicated than they need to be. And yes, being happy or content is a life long pursuit. We never stop changing, evolving and reassessing.


    1. I hope there is a way to "work" on your personality, even with this hypothesis that we are born with it! I sure believe we can change... if we are willing to. :-)

  3. A lot if chords are strung. We should speak, Life is not that simple.

    1. Life is not simple indeed. Which is why we have to work hard to attain happiness. :-)

      This book is written by a PhD in Psychology and reflects the results of scientific studies. Those results can inspire us, but of course to apply them in our lives, it won't be an easy ride!

      I still want to try. :-)

  4. My favorite line in this post. Be pragmatic, not dramatic!! You should trademark that and put it on bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, everything. I would buy it all and hand them out to several of my extended family. The part about Type A vs. Type B also hits close to home. I'm definitely Type A, but the older I become, the more I try to temper that fierce, competitive drive and look for a more happy medium. I won't give it up completely. It's too much of who I am, but I can find ways to make it work better for me!

    1. Haha, thanks for the Type A business advice! :-)

      And yes, I think I have become more of a Type B with time too. I wonder how many people would identify with that trend.

    2. I have never, ever been Type A, and though our culture and my family deem me "less than" because of that, I am thrilled.

  5. I think two people can have the exact same situation. For the first person, it's a step up from a worse situation, so she is happy. For the second person, it's a step down from a perceived better situation, so she is unhappy. It is all a matter of perspective. :D

    1. You say it well, Marion! A matter of perspective, and a choice. :-)

  6. I'm extremely Type A but I think that I'm also very happy (except when i've got myself so stressed that I can't control everything!).

    1. Interesting! Let go of the stress, and you'll be happy AND successful! :-)

  7. My thoughts on this are all over the place, lol! I suspect the happiest people just are and don't ever feel the need to analyse it all. I wonder if it's just how we are wired and if we won the genetic happy place lottery or not.

    By the way, I think that Patti Dign stole R Buckminster's title for her book. I read his "I Seem To Be A Verb," a long time ago! It's a great, interesting book if you can find it. I can't even find my copy, lol!

    1. I think my happiness is pretty "automatic" too.

      Still, the happiest people should probably find the words to explain to others how happiness works... to share the good news (and some insight). :-)

  8. Perhaps you can find some and interview them.

    1. I've been interviewing myself on this blog for 2 years, LOL

  9. I gotta disagree with Dr. J, as I think there is a LOT we can do to tweak our brains to be happier. And while not analyzing things may work for some, those of us who like to think about things can use that to our advantage.

    The hugest thing for me over the past few years is discovering how much control I have over what I'm feeling--that my subjective experience of a situation depends far less on the events themselves than what I decide to make of them and how I choose to respond.

    Some great thoughts in this post, thanks!