Bored of watching my brother Jared and husband Patrick “improve their visual acuity,” I decided to unpack some boxes Jared brought from college. Not that I’m complaining, it brought me into direct contact with something I realized I had been missing in my life. college textbooks. oh baby. Call me weird, but there’s nothing like knowing that some college professor, somewhere, is teaching out of this very book to make me want to read it. Catch-22, of course, being that I never wanted to read the books assigned to my class, but if my room mate left a book on the table, I couldn’t tear myself away from it.

Anyhow, I picked up the book “Happiness: The science behind your smile.” by Daniel Nettle. (The fact that my brother was smart enough to take bs classes like “happiness 101” his freshman year and I was not, I find slightly disconcerting.)

I am interested in it primarily for childish reasons. bright yellow cover, check. Red balloon, check. Exactly the same size as the bottom of my palm to the tip of my index finger, check. (which is, by the way, the best size for a book to be.)

I am not an extraordinarily happy person. Or at least, I used to be, until life happened; I like to blame life a lot. bitch.

This book looks at happiness from a scientific perspective, the function it would have played in our evolutionary development. Basically happiness (defined here more as satisfaction, than the fleeting feeling of happiness) exists to keep us from changing a situation that is beneficial. However, if we were 100% happy, then if something better came along, we would not notice, or be unwilling to change, even if it might be more beneficial to us. Thus, the persistent nagging feeling that if only one or two things would change, then we could be truly happy.

However, according to this book, people in general, are very bad at predicting what will make them happy, or how happy they will be in the future. Also, people tend to attach future happiness to material possessions, which, when gained, do not actually add to their happiness at all.

When scientists interviewed young couples about the things required for “the ideal life” it generally included several things the couples did not possess. However, when they conducted the same interview several years later, the couples possessed all of the things on their original list, but now the list had grown to include more things. Meaning, when they achieved their ideal life, the idea of what that was just morphed into something different.

This goes along with the study that showed that lottery winners are no happier 1 or 2 years after winning the lottery than they are to begin with.

I found this interesting: in studies, researchers discovered that participants who “found” a dime on the copy machine just before the study, reported significantly higher satisfaction with their entire life(!) than those who did not unexpectedly find a dime. And this was a recent study.

So, rate how satisfied you are with life in general, on a scale of 1-10 (take into consideration recent events that don’t really affect your overall life, such as the weather, or a recent disappointment or surprise, [all of these have been proven to temporarily skew results] and adjust for accuracy.)

Whatever your number was, that is the number that you will most likely be in 2 years, or 5 years or 10 or 20. No matter what happens in between.

That may seem depressing, but to me, it was kind of inspiring. I keep thinking that I just have to work jobs I don’t enjoy *just* to pay off my loans, and get a house, and a dog, and have kids, and that all of these things will make me happy. Or not necessarily that, but that I won’t be so worried if we were making more money. You know, like enough to refill Patrick’s contact prescription so he can throw out the ones he’s been wearing for the last 3 months, or to get my wisdom teeth out, or for drugs… little things, really. But reading this book made me think that maybe I can just enjoy life right now and that everything will work itself out and that I need to be doing the things I enjoy instead of trying to sacrifice myself “for a short time” in order to arrive at that magical state where I can afford to do the things I love. Because what if that state never arrives, what if it is always just one pay raise away?


4 responses to “Happiness

  1. Also, sort of related to your post, I read people in l.a. have higher stress because they drive so much. The residual angst as well as physical fatigue last for hours after stepping out fo the car. Maybe Pat can relate? And also, you should come visit!

    Anyway, I totally think there’s a correlation between the two…i.e. I had to drive to L.A. yesterday and now I wake up pissed with the moms in front of me driving 2 mph when I need to be at work 30 minutes ago.

    I applaud your move to be more content now. I will follow suit. Let’s be happier people starting tomorrow. 🙂

  2. It was Honours 271 FYI. and I had to write two papers for that class. jerk.

  3. i always think that i would be so much happier if i could afford to buy drugs! jk, but that was really interesting nonetheless–and i also found it to be more inspiring to find things that make me happy that aren’t possessions or that revolve around money.

    like your love.

  4. oh bam bam, you have my love. you have it raw.

    Jan, yeah actually the book discussed that, and also, how higher noise levels where you live are one thing you don’t adapt to and significantly decrease a person’s happiness. that would probably also apply to LA.

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