Monday, September 5, 2011

Happiness and Limitations

I am reading Gretchen Rubin's THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, an odd little book that looks cursorily at the current research on happiness and intensely at Rubin's own, year-long attempt "to make myself happier." She went about this is a very methodical fashion, including the use of spreadsheets, month-by-month resolutions, and progress charts (and I thought I was an organized person!) She tried many different changes to her life, but one particularly caught my attention.

Rubin asked herself: What do I REALLY like to do for fun, as opposed to what I'm supposed to do, or have fallen into the habit of doing, or think I should like doing? She thus realized that she was spending a lot of time doing things she didn't really enjoy (movies, parties) and not doing things she really did (scrap-booking, reading children's literature). Gradually she cut down on things she didn't genuinely like and found ways to do those she did. One way to discover those was a question she asked herself: What did she like to do when she was a child?

This, naturally, led me to wonder how many things I'm doing because I think I ought to like them. Answer: Not very many (too lazy, maybe). How many things do I enjoy that I'm not doing enough of? Quite a few (too lazy, maybe). Those are the things I, too, need to find more ways to incorporate into my life. They include seeing more movies and plays, finding some chess partners for live play (not just on-line), experimenting more with cooking, and finding a good book-discussion group. I have spent most of the summer on the road (like, right this minute) but after one more trip, will be home for three straight months and can tackle this.

What fun things aren't YOU doing enough of?


TheOFloinn said...

Part of the problem may stem from the confounding of "happiness" with "gratification." Found this comment elsewhere....

We are educated from the first moment we can be educated in anything to find self denial insipid, restrictive, prudish, and (most of all) antithetical to true fulfillment and happiness. The ordinary means of this education is advertising, by which our desires are expertly stoked and channeled to find happiness in unrestrained consumption.
The Baby-Boom generation and their parents had (perhaps) some early education in self-denial that they can return to if they need to. They remember being happy in a world without 24 hour consumption, ubiquitous advertising, the assumed right to any sexual satisfaction, and using credit to make one's spending reach infinite (my 60-some year old mother, for example, is still convinced that one has to buy things the day before a holiday, since the stores will be closed on the holiday. They are not, of course- but at least she knew the reality of a world in which they were, which is a very valuable education.) None of their children can remember being happy in a world without these things.

+ + +

I read recently of a recent novel about a woman who was happy and became thereby an object of scientific scrutiny determined to discover her secret. The scientist of course only succeeded in making her unhappy, something which he found gratifying. But I am pounding my head in vain trying to recall the title and author. This stood me in poor stead at the book store recently....

Nancy Kress said...

I agree there is a difference between profound happiness and mere pleasure. But pleasure, too, has its place -- and research shows that happy people (as self-rated) tend to be kinder toward others.

TheOFloinn said...

research shows that happy people (as self-rated) tend to be kinder toward others.

Makes me wonder: are they kinder because they are happy; or are they happier because they are kind? Perhaps the research shows that kind people are happier!

The philosopher Chastek coined the term "ahappiness" to refer to people who were not happy. Not so much that they are unhappy, but that they are bereft of happiness. He also recently wrote of depression as a collapse of the will: a person knows what he must do, but cannot summon the will actually to do it. Perhaps happiness is the opposite: knowing what you ought to do and doing it.