#584: HAPPINESS WITHOUT WEIRD AND INAPPROPRIATE STRESS ON CRAZY JOY
Saviabella sent me an article this morning called "Don't Worry, Be Happier" that appeared in the Ocean County Observer. The article discusses recent research into how people can make themselves happier over the long-term:
... recent long-term studies have revealed that the happiness thermostat is more malleable than the popular theory maintained, at least in its extreme form. "Set-point is not destiny," says psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois.
Despite suffering depression/malaise/ennui/existential angst since the age of two, I have not read up much on the state of happiness and how to get there. It's not that I am content to welter in the noxious waves of weary despair when they do wash in, but any time that I have found myself in the self-help/psychology section of a bookstore and, in a less critical moment, have taken one of the books down from the shelf to see if it had anything to offer me and what I have unfortunately found myself thinking of as my "condition", its ham-fisted title has caused me to curl my upper lip derisively. Yes You Can and Chasing Away The Clouds and The Alarm Clock Of Your Life Is Ringing and Radical Happiness: these titles do not pull me in but push me far, far away with their over-aggressive, take-charge attitude. I have never wanted a drill sergeant, and I won't pay upwards of $20 for one.
I am often listless, you see, and apathy has carried me smoothly over many a rocky road, so these overly bright commands to be other than I've been for the most part come off as annoying and trite, like that supercalifragilistically sunny woman with whom I once worked. She actually walked around saying things like Isn't it a great day! when in fact it was -40°C and blizzarding and half our co-workers were leaving for the afternoon to attend a funeral. She also wasn't very bright, though, so we left her alone to grin idiotically at her reports rather than stuff rubber bands down her throat.
Getting back to the article from the Ocean County Observer and the supposed malleability of my happiness thermostat, I am not unconvinced that over the course of my life I could change what is likely an habitual pattern of negative thinking into something that is at least less anxiously navel-gazing. As mentioned in "Don't Worry, Be Happier", Caroline Adams Miller, a motivational speaker and executive coach, was asked last year to think of three good things that happened each day and analyze why they occurred. The exercise was supposed to increase her overall happiness. She was skeptical because of the simplicity of the exercise, but here is what she found: "'The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier...'".
Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier — not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible.
As is well documented on this website, I like making lists. They keep me going when I find it difficult to write in complete sentences, and they can help bring to light aspects of a situation that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. So, an exercise of making lists of three good things that happened each day and why they happened is something I can actually envision myself doing. It helps that no one was screaming in one-inch block letters YES YOU CAN at me when I read the article, because my knee-jerk response to that sort of thing is NO I CAN'T. Also, I can blog it, and anything bloggable is immediately more alluring.
My new task is to do just that: to make a regular list of three positive things from my day with reasons for their occurrence.
Oh christ, stop rolling your eyes. This is not going to become some stupid gratitude journal where I thank the Creator God/the Earth Mother/the Pleiedians for my good health, Cute Overload, and my grandmother's apple pie recipe. This is about recognition of actual positive events and the reasons for them rather than mere acknowledgement of things I already have that I also happen to want. This is about connecting with the positive things that happen in my life. Rather than overlook them and find myself unable to sleep while I worry over the tedious details of a negative confrontation with the barrista at Second Cup, I would like to make a habit of turning over the events that went well in my day. I am already well acquainted with why things go wrong, so it may well be refreshing to acquaint myself with why things go right.
Here's the bit that really pushed me into action: if Caroline Adams Miller found that her dreams improved, maybe mine will, too. These repetitive post-apocalyptic dreams in which my mother throws out all my socks and I have to suckle a baby koala have become boring. It's like staring at the wallpaper now. Oh, there's that koala baby again. There's my mother with an armload of socks again. I'm only one of a handful of humans left in this deserted ghost city again. Yawn. If this exercise can change my subconscious mind enough to bring on dreams of a different stripe, I'm in.
So, here goes. Three positive things that happened today and why are:
I read an article that inspired me to take an active step toward not only being happier but also changing my underlying habitual thought processes. This happened because I'm literate. I took medication and went to work today even though I am still under the weather. This happened because I realized a couple of days ago that, overall, I actually like my job. I managed to make it to the bus stop on time to catch the bus to work. This happened because Onion simply would not stop crawling across my face at 6:00 am no matter how many times I threw him down the length of the bed.
What? Were you expecting sweetness and light? These sorts of things take time, people.
Because I am not well-practiced in this type of thinking, I would like you to leave a comment listing three good things that happened to you today and why they happened. It will help bolster my resolve to actually follow through on this thing, and it will also help me to figure out if the cynic in me can get over itself enough to think unabashedly positive thoughts. Then, there's that spreading of the positive vibe bit, which is good for everyone. This doesn't have to be hard, so I encourage you to lie if you must. It's not like I can check your homework.