The Other I

June 25, 2011

Happiness isn’t all that simple

Filed under: Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:38 pm

I’ve run into trouble already with my “happiness” research on several counts.

“Happiness” has been the subject of a number of major research studies recently, but I’m having trouble with step one of any meaningful research design:  how do I define happiness?

As I sit down at the end of the day to list three things that made me happy, I tend to think of fairly inconsequential things.  Do they count as things that made me happy?  Do I count things like the chocolate cookie that I enjoyed at lunch?  or projects like planting the lettuce that I completed successfully?  What about things that are pleasurable?  or entertaining?  How about things that are simply a relief from worry?  In order to include all of the above, I’ve decided to list anything that I would call a “positive experience.”

So on the list so far I have listening to an old CD by Waylon Jennings, seeing that the vine we planted last month has begun to flower, and a phone call from my sister.  It also includes figuring out how to re-attach the kitchen cupboard door that inexplicably came off a hinge and hung precariously over my head when I opened it yesterday.  In fact, it even included looking at all the cupboard doors in the kitchen that seem to be swinging the way they should.

Actually, keeping this list has made me notice two things.  One is that there are an awful lot of little things on most days that give me delight.

The other is that these things are often rewarding because of something decidedly not rewarding that preceded it.  Like the door coming off its hinge.  It is often impossible to separate the positive from the negative experience.

Keeping this list has actually made me more aware of how much in my life I feel good about.  It is a practice I might recommend to someone who tends to suffer from depression.   Looking around and seeing the positive instead of the negative might be helpful for depressive types.

But I’m finding that this kind of list-making has already begun to feel too much like navel-gazing.  It’s making the pursuit of happiness feel hugely egocentric and short-term. The kind of things that give me deep, enduring happiness aren’t so short-term.  It is made up of relationships that are decades in the building.  It is made up of struggles and searches that take a lifetime to evolve.

Maybe that is why older people so often say they are happier than younger people.  Because at 18 or 28 one has hope.  One has plans and energy and goals.  At 68, the resources of energy are depleted.

But the sources of happiness may only be reaching their fulfillment.

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1 Comment »

  1. Yes – quite good cognitive behaviour therapy for those trapped in a pessimistic world perhaps.

    Like

    Comment by sanstorm — June 25, 2011 @ 10:31 pm | Reply


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