Monday, April 30, 2007

Why perfect <> happy

There was an interesting article on Yahoo Finance the other day about how trying to be perfect will actually leave you less satisfied and happy. (This idea is also discussed in length in Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice).

The most memorable part of the article was this:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works' quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an A.

At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
This is something that all of us (most notably myself!) should take to heart. Stop trying to get things right, and just do things. That's how you get them right, by trying...and learning along the way. I'd be pretty surprised if a series of small failures leading up to a success didn't make you happier than not even getting to the success at all...

Friday, April 27, 2007

The last thing you want is the first thing you need

When we're sad, we want to crawl into a hole and not communicate with anyone. For whatever reason, we withdraw and crave "alone time". Is it because we don't want people to see us this way? Is it because wallowing in misery is for some reason more appealing than trying to be happy?

Next time you're feeling unhappy, do yourself a favor and get in touch with your friends. Call them, visit them, or simply email. You don't even have to tell them that you're down (although certainly do if you think it will help!).

Don't waste your time bitching about what's going on in your life. Explain the problem, but don't ask for a just want company.

So why does this work? It helps you forget about your other problems. Know why your other problems are so easily forgotten? Because they aren't important. It's the people in your life that are.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Daily Unwind

For years I've always been hearing about how people need to "unwind" when they get home from work. I didn't get it. I never felt that way. I couldn't relate.

The last few days I actually have started to feel like I need to unwind. I don't want to do anything (except 'escape' activities like TV or video games) and I don't want to be cheered up. Instead of being excited the workday is over, I'm already thinking about all the shit I'll have to do the next day.

I can't imagine a life where I came home feeling like this every day. How do people go on for years like this? I guess you'd just get used to it, but why bother? Clearly something needs fixing.

Any readers out there consistently feel this way? Why keep working in a job that makes you unhappy? I realize that money is usually the issue, but honestly, what good is money if you aren't happy? What is the point of life if you aren't enjoying it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One minute happiness

Truthteller gives us 7 Steps to Happy. The most interesting?
In a recent study the test subjects were asked to think of 3 positive things that had happened in their day before they went to sleep at night. Every single person tested, moved their set point upwards. And almost everyone found it so effective and pleasureable that they continued the process long after the study was over.
I'm going to give this a whirl starting tonight. Who can't spare an extra minute per day to make themselves happier? Some days, you'd have big things to be happy about, other days, you'll be forced to appreciate the small stuff.

Tonight, I'm going to need to think of some really small stuff...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Falling, losing, and tearing

This comes to us from Janet:
Humans can adjust to almost any amount of bad news, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. In his book "Stumbling on Happiness," he shows that we think losing a limb will be terrible, but in fact we adjust to it pretty well. In fact, in the long run it generally doesn't affect our level of happiness.
Thankfully, I haven't lost any major limbs (or minor limbs for that matter), so I can't personally attest to this, but it is an interesting idea. I've always said that it isn't what happens to you, but how you react to it that determines your happiness.

Think about those people who are always miserable and bad things seem to happen to them. Now think about your life and the worst things that have happened to you. You've got some pretty comparable stories from your past, don't you?

I tore my ACL a few years ago. After surgery, I remember thinking: "Wow, this really puts things in perspective. There's no WAY I am going to take walking for granted". Perhaps predictably, it didn't take long for me to lose that mindset altogether.

My friend who fell 110 feet already seems to have that perspective. Take a look at the article and slideshow.

If neither losing a limb nor cheating death doesn't affect our overall level of happiness, what on earth does?

Passing the figurative buck

Sorry about the late post. Sometimes you close your eyes for that extra few seconds in the morning and then they shoot open 20 minutes later and you wonder if you already missed work.

Today, the landscaping crew came and did some work around my office building. Well okay, the building isn't mine, but my company lives there. Well okay, it's not my company...but you get the picture.

They blew off all the sand, dirt, and debris from the grass, edges, and planter areas. Awesome right?

The sand, dirt, and debris now lays on the asphalt of the parking lot, two feet inward from where it used to be. But hot damn, those edges are clean as I've ever seen them!

There are so many things wrong with this, where do I start...
  • Is this just their way of passing the buck?
  • If it still is their responsibility, why didn't they just clean it up instead of leaving it for another day (it will be blown around and driven on between now and then)?
  • It looks worse now. If someone else is coming to clean it up, why not coordinate that?
  • Why not just suck up all the debris instead of blowing it somewhere else (this technology must exist, mustn't it?)
Anyway you slice it, it boils down to this: doing things the right way, and doing them thoroughly the first time will make for less work in the end.

Even if you have to spend a few extra minutes doing "someone else's job", it's still a better way to operate. You can have them do a smaller task for you...something they can do from start to finish.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Being ready

I'll talk more about this in the future, but I'm starting to believe that all these tips, self-help, change-your-life type strategies out there, primarily only work for people who are on the verge of change anyway. Someone who is unhappy is not going to read a "7 Steps to Happy" article and have everything click. It may be able to nudge them slightly in the right direction, but even that is a longshot.

Probably what happens with people who need change is that they may read about how to do it, but it doesn't mean that they're ready. And don't kid yourself, you can't change if you aren't ready. It probably won't be until they've done some deep thinking about their own life and potentially have some major triggering event that proves the need for change.

So, do these "get happy now", "change your life", "become a millionaire" schemes really work? They certainly appeal to everyone, which makes them an easy sell. I believe that most of the people doing the selling realize that it isn't going to work for most (because they aren't ready), but they can justify it to themselves because they can give that final nudge to those people who were on the verge.

I thought about this while reading over a few "steps to happiness" lists on other blogs, and wondered why I never try anything like that here at On Happiness. Perhaps I think it's a bit pretentious? Or maybe it's because I know most people will read the ideas, think they sound good, but then never act upon them? That's pretty much what I did after reading those blogs anyway.

But then again, I want people to be happy and maybe the point of that information is to create awareness for those who aren't exactly ready. The key to happiness clearly isn't learning a bunch of tricks, but you have to at least be aware that it's truly is an option for everyone.

Instead of tricks, think of them as habits. Actually, I'll invent a term right now. You've heard of work ethic? How about "happiness ethic"? No one goes from being lazy to being a hardworker overnight (though it certainly seems that some people are just born hard workers!). It's a gradual process.

Treat yourself right, and make decisions and choices that promote happiness. You owe it to yourself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The "not-now"

The last two weeks hasn't been that great. While talking to a friend, I had to remind him (and myself) that my life is pretty good in general...but the day-to-day specifics have just been bogging me down lately. So what better way to remind myself of my happiness than taking a quiz on Oprah's website!

The "quiz" (not necessarily worth doing yourself) is just 5 quick questions. I missed "extremely happy" by 1 point, and was offered this automated advice:
If you scored somewhere in the middle, happiness expert Dr. Robert Holden has some advice on how to live a more satisfying life. Dr. Holden says the key to being happy is overcoming "destination addiction," which he defines as "living in the not-now."

"It's always about tomorrow, so you're chasing 'more,' 'next' and 'there,'" he says. "You promise yourself that when you get there, you'll be happy. And I promise you, you won't, because you'll always set another destination to go for."

Instead, Dr. Holden says if you are unhappy with your life or looking to improve your score, there are two things you can do. "We have to learn to let go of our past, we have to give up all hopes for a perfect past. Let the past go, it's gone." After that, he says, "Take a vow of kindness. Be kinder to yourself and to others.
Sounds good to me, but much easier said than done. My 'destination addiction' isn't fueled by making my life better necessarily...just the feeling that I want to contribute more and be using my skills to their fullest. Until that happens, I'll still be a little restless, thinking about how tomorrow can be a step forward instead of just shifting my weight.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lip Service

There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for something definitive
The closer I am to fine
Either the Indigo Girls read "The Tao of Pooh" or the whole "don't overthink things" idea is catching on.

For the first time in a week I have time to think. And things somehow seem confusing again. I don't want to eliminate these moments all together, but I'm glad that I have a fairly busy schedule, so that I'm not regularly stuck in this mental no-man's land.

For the moment, I've snapped out of my regular life. I can barely remember it anymore.

When someone dies, it amplifies what is important in your life. People. Maybe my family is more important to me than I realized? Nothing else seems real or important at the moment.

For a while now, I've been saying that people are the most important thing to me, but looking back, it feels like lip service. It's something I'd like to change...

Friday, April 13, 2007

When you love what you do

"Look at me, I should be retired but I'm working harder than I ever have before" - Mickey
"But it doesn't seem like work" - Me
"Exactly!" - Mickey
Those are the kind of conversations you have when you love what you do for a living...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Life is Precious

There's a reason to be happy. If something goes wrong, you can be proud of yourself and your life. When you lose it all, you'll be left with your memories and the impact you make 'em good. A friend of mine recently feel 110 feet in a climbing accident:
a trained EMT, held me in a c-spine stabilization while another climber at the cliff ran to his car to call for help and led search and rescue to us. I was helicoptered to the UMC in Vegas and their trauma team took great care of me. By that night we had a comprehensive list of my injuries: fractured right calcaneus (heel bone), shattered left calcaneus, shattered left olecranon (elbow), five stable fractures in four of my lower vertebrae (L1 - L4), one fractured rib (#8, right side), and a "pulmonary contusion" ... or bruised lung, under that rib. I had reconstructive surgery on my left elbow on Tuesday the 13th, and surgery on my left heel that Friday, the 16th.
Happiness means you don't regret anything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And we don't get happier

From the article The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective on Cato Unbound:
Richard Layard, for example, one of the most influential proponents of using the new science of happiness to guide public policy, concedes that “In the West we have a society that is probably as happy as any there has ever been.”[13] And yet he and others point to survey data collected since the 1950s that asks citizens whether they are "very happy," "pretty happy," or "not too happy." Essentially, those numbers have not changed, despite massive increases during the same period of Gross National Product (GNP). Layard and his colleagues regard this data as indicative of what the journalist Gregg Easterbrook calls the “progress paradox”: as people get richer, they don’t appear to get happier, or at least not very much after a certain minimum threshold has been crossed.

For some reason, I always have this feeling that there is more unhappiness and discontent than there used to be just a few decades ago, but perhaps it isn't true? Does anyone else feel this way?

The baby boomer generation today certainly seems to think that today's youth is unhappier than they were at that age. Is it possible that people are just more open now? If in the 50's you were supposed to suck it up, internalize your unhappiness, and make everyone think you were doing alright, then it would make sense that kids today seem different...even though the only difference is that it's "okay" to be unhappy?

There are more "gateway" outlets for expressing your unhappiness (primarily through blogs, email, IM, and sites like MySpace). It's often much easier to divulge your innermost feelings in a medium like email or blogs, because you have more time to think, and you don't have to worry about the reaction from whoever happens to be reading in the same way you would if you were having a face to face conversation.

The fact that wealth doesn't increase happiness shouldn't surprise us too much. Although many people confuse things, believing that wealth will make them happier (or give them more opportunities for happiness), only to realize later that it doesn't matter much. An unhappy poor person who becomes rich will probably still be unhappy.

It's hard to believe that happiness levels have not changed much over the years. You'd think it would have to be going one way or the other. Does the fact that it hasn't changed make you more or less hopeful?

Of course, I'm an optimist, so I interpret that as "it doesn't matter what your situation is, happiness is internal, and it's up to you".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I just read the autobiography of Kevin Liles President/CEO of Def Jam records called "Made It Happen". Within the first few pages he writes:
Real success is happiness. It's the joy of focusing on a project or cause you truly believe in and the very act of making it happen that is its own reward.
If real success is happiness, does it follow that happiness is success? Either way, the suggestion that happiness is linked to success is a good one, because success is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

What does that mean? Managing your definition of success is important to your happiness. It doesn't mean that you need to make a lot of money or launch a successful singing career, but it means that you need to be in a place in your life where you feel that your contributions are succeeding.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

No. No. Are you sure? Thank you.

I helped a guy move his washing machine the other day because I happened to be nearby and I had a dolly (hand truck). As he was thanking me, he shook my hand and tried to slip me $10. I tried to refuse. Several times. Grudgingly I accepted (and thought about running back to his place and sticking it in the doorway).

This is a guy who (aside from the new washing machine) looked like he really needed every $10 bill that came his way.

He was genuinely appreciative and thankful, but I felt bad because the money meant more to him than it did to me. I had to remind myself that sometimes you just have to let people thank you in the way they feel is most appropriate, whether you like it or not.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wild swings of emotion

Some people just have more built in emotion. You know just the type I'm talking about. Those bubbly, excitable people. The littlest things make them so happy.

But if they use up all their excitement on the little things, won't they run out when big things come along? The answer is: no.

Excitement breeds excitement. It's contagious. You can't help but smile a little bit more around them. I often wish I could be more externally excited, but it never seems to work. I can tell that I'm faking it.

Could I become a more excitable person? Sometimes I just don't think it's in my nature. It's like I sacrifice the highs for not having the lows.

But, then again, those bubbly people don't always seem to have lows...or maybe they just keep to themselves during them?

Cut back on obligations

I recently posted about the highs and lows of watching professional sports, and a friend of mine called me out for eliminating both the highs and the lows, wondering why I would just want to be neutral. Although I hadn't realized at the time of the post, I later realized that much of my devotion to watch the Packers was more ritual and obligation than anything else. I was watching the games because I had to...that's what made me the fan I was, and it further cemented my Wisconsin heritage.

I realize that we all have obligations. But once in a while, it's good to take stock of those, and see if there are any we can eliminate in favor of something else...something we actively, and happily, choose to do. I know I could have done a lot of amazing things over the course of 160 or so Sunday afternoons.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How relevant are your dreams?

I usually don't dream about things directly related to what has been going on in my life. But the two previous nights have been different. In general, I would say that most of what happens to me doesn't affect me too much, good or bad. I don't get worked up about bad things. I enjoy the good things, but I'm usually not ecstatic.

I'm glad to know that things till affect me, that I'm not some emotionless robot...but to be thinking about it and dreaming about it so much means that it is an extraordinary situation. Not the good kind of extraordinary.

It's hard to analyze thoughts and dreams, but I wonder about people who have extremely relevant dreams all the time. Do they think about things more than I do? Is it because they worry more? Is there more drama in their life?


I dreamt that my grandma's house burned down and she escaped. She wouldn't be able to fall down those stairs. Realizing in the morning that it was just a dream was one of the most depressing thoughts that I can ever remember having.

I'm usually such an optimist that it's hard to know what to focus on when you can barely see even the slightest hint of good that could come from something...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

On Fairness

We often use the concept of fairness to justify when something bad happens to someone. "Well, that's what you get for drinking and smoking your entire life" or "That's where greed will get you". This works all well and good for when bad things happen to bad people, or good things happen to good people, but how do we explain when bad things happen to people who "don't deserve it"?

As I see it, there are two possibilities in life
  1. The universe is fair and people get what they deserve
  2. The universe doesn't give a shit because everything that happens is just random and we try desperately to come up with feel-good explanations for it whenever we can because no one wants to believe that they have no control over what happens to them
Thanks to the events of yesterday, put me down for number two.

So then if we can't affect what happens to us, all we can to is change the way we react to it. Sadly, that isn't going to do much for the person you love that will probably never walk again.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Turning 100, a mini-history

This is On Happiness' 100th post. I'd like to thank everyone (all 168 of you!) for your interest and support thus far. I particularly love getting feedback (both online and offline), whether it be comments on my writing or the content. I've gone through my posts thus far and picked out a few highlights for you to enjoy.

Most Comments: The Difference Between Virtual and Reality
Longest Post: Road Rage
Shortest Post: Proof that we live for tomorrow
Most Controversial: Blanket Honesty
Reader Favorite: Don't do what you want
Proof that several of my readers don't take kindly to 'cat bashing': Find your inner ferret

Remember, if you've missed some posts over the last few months, you can look back at old ones under "my recent posts" along the right (which actually shows all posts...they're just divvied up by month and year). You can also use the search box in the upper left if you are looking for a post you remember, or want to see if there has been a discussion of a certain topic.

When looking back through my old posts, I realized that the post with by far the most attention so far was one that I linked to within my comments left on another blog. I'm going to be doing more of that in an effort to bring in even more readers. Spread the happiness, right?

Also, if anyone out there has favorite blogs or blogs of their own, let me know and I'll include them in a future post.

Again, thank you for all your love and support.