THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Select More Than One
Health Care Reform (Again)

Happiness

I doubt what has happened to the “pursuit of happiness” in recent years is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Happiness has become a research industry, being poked and prodded, dissected and investigated with the intensity of fetishists. Hardly a week goes by without a new happiness study.

Most surprising to me are untold numbers of people who call themselves “happiness coaches.” Go ahead, google “happiness coach” and see how many returns you get. Never mind – it's nearly 35,000, almost all of whom are selling books and expensive seminars mostly about how to become a happiness coach.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy wants to replace the traditional GDP as a measure of a country's economic health with a happiness GDP. Talk about squishy statistics.

One happiness study reports that to be happy, you need friends who are happy. In fact, according to the year-old study, if the friend of a happy friend of yours is happy, your chances of being happy increase not by five percent, nor 10 percent, but by precisely six percent. Uh-huh.

Last month, they told us that women aren't as happy as they were 40 years ago and in fact, men are happier than women. This is being called the “happiness gap” and no doubt someone somewhere takes this stuff seriously, blaming it on women's success in overcoming the “gender gap” that was a popular talking point in the women's movement 40 years ago.

A year ago, just a week or two before the presidential election which was looking good for Barack Obama at that moment, a Pew Charitable Trust survey found that 37 percent of Republicans were “very happy” compared to 25 percent of Democrats. Go figure.

Poor people are happier than rich people. Oh, wait. There's another study that says the opposite - that is, if happiness is measured by the amount of leisure time one has.

One survey reported that all types of parents – married, single, stepparents and even empty-nesters - are less happy than childless couples. This caused an uproar of belligerent emails from parents who disagreed.

And several surveys report that money won't make you happy. They're probably right, but it does pay the bills. Another survey says that financial security is more important than wealth in determining happiness.

Time Goes By being what it is, I'm most interested in what researchers say about happiness in old age. There was much to-do last year when a study reported that people become happier as they get older. But not so fast. Other reports say that women become less happy than men in old age or, if you that bothers you, try another study that says men become less happy after age 65. Take your pick.

In keeping with the dubious nature of all this happiness stuff, you can find a study to prove anything you want to believe about it which shouldn't be a surprise. Happiness is like a joke – try to explain it and it's ruined.

Most of these studies are done with what is called the Day Reconstruction Method. For a day, subjects keep a diary of every activity. The next day, they rate their mood and feelings about each of those activities as they were doing them, on a 12 point scale.

Some people give high unhappy numbers to such things as paying the bills, dusting and washing dishes which seem odd tasks by which to judge happiness. Dusting may be boring, but it's not important enough to cause unhappiness.

While I've been writing this, I've been trying to check my happiness meter which is difficult because I have never been able to say what makes me happy. Joy, I think, those momentary events that elate us for a short period of time, aren't related to overall happiness and well being and, in fact, can happen even during miserable times.

The reverse is also true – that terribly unhappy events take place during times of general happiness so the negative measurement of such an event hardly bears on one's overall well being.

Right now, I've just finished (I hope) a two week period in which car repairs, a broken furnace and computer problems cost me about $2,000 – a hefty sum for someone to whom a surprise $200 expense can make a serious dent in the budget. Does it make me unhappy? Not particularly. Annoyed would be a better description as it will cramp my style until it's paid off.

But I've got a secure roof over my head, enough to eat, something to do every day that I enjoy and I'm healthy. Is that happiness? I don't know. Is satisfaction, curiosity, interest in the world happiness? I don't know.

What I do know, however, is that happiness is too subjective, personal and ephemeral to be picked apart and entered into charts as all the researchers think they can do.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Wings

Comments

I finish 70 years on November 9th. I still act and sing and read and walk and audit classes at a local university.

Finding humor, helping others to laughter not just by telling jokes but seeking fun in the moment, is my fountain of youth and happiness.

As an example, I say this coming Monday I leave my "SEXagenarian" years behind and enter those "SEPTuagenarian" years when everything makes you septic! One person laughed!

Check out "The Happiness Project" http://www.happiness-project.com/ as another take on today's topic.


Another great post here on Time Goes By. Funny that I should have the same topic on my mind of late. Here's a small part of my thoughts on pursuing happiness that was recently posted on my Southern Roomers Blog:
Happiness is a state of being, a destination, a condition most human creatures desire to find themselves in, and yet, it seems so few have pursued it diligently enough to be successful in acquiring it.
I have a thought concerning happiness and life which I would share with all of you at this time. "If happiness is the Flower of Life, then might I suggest that Joy is the fragrance of that flower."
I base that thought upon one of my life’s' experiences. Stationed in Germany in 1960 through 1962, I remember the times when someone at home would write me a letter. I would study the envelope, take note of the return address, and if it was from my wife or one of my Sisters, the first thing I would do is smell the envelope, searching for the scent of some new perfume which they would often apply to it. I can't explain why, but if a fragrance was detected, I experienced joy. After I had opened the letter and read its contents over and over, I was happy for a length of time.
The pursuit of happiness in life is very much like that experience. There is joy in the pursuit of it and life is what it was meant to be when happiness is achieved.

I think the researchers have way too much time.

Emotions are fleeting and one person's happiness is another person's ho-hum. Even if they could accurately measure happiness, what does it prove? Happiness can turn into misery in the blink of an eye.

I think contentment with your lot is a better measure of one's state of mind because it is more constant on a day-to-day basis.

Not to split straws by any means but….

Where a majority of people have always used the word “happy” to define the context of their life, I have personally felt that “content” (as in contentment) was the more appropriate word for me. Happy for me has always been a moment in time or event that has caused me exceeding joy or pleasure. Contentment on the other hand is more encompassing of my day to day, week to week, year to year existence and life.

Mr. Webster defines ‘happy’ as (1) favored by circumstances; lucky; fortunate (2) having, showing, or causing a feeling of great pleasure, contentment, joy, etc. (3) exactly appropriate to the occasion…

On the other hand, Mr. Webster defines ‘content’ as happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; satisfied.

I realize some may make the case that happy and content mean the same thing in the context of the word but I feel there is a marked difference. I personally am not always happy, but I am always content.

You mentioned dusting along with other mundane tasks. When I am dusting I am not a happy camper by any stretch of the imagination but…..I am still very much content.

All of us can relate to your recent household problems to include the furnace, the car and the computer since on any given week we can all experience that same calamity. But for many of us it is mood imposing, irritating and inconveniences us - that is all. I doubt any of us are ‘happy’ at that moment but if I can manage the problems, financially and otherwise, I remain in a solid state of contentment without the slightest thought otherwise. After all, that is what being content is all about. If on the other hand this crisis creates despair and a financial turmoil, then you are probably neither happy nor content, either before the crisis or will you be after the crisis.

I remember some many years ago being in a large Sunday school class of some 40+ year olds and the teacher asked how many of us were content. My hand immediately shot up and I found myself quite taken back by the fact that my hand was the “only” hand that went up – and I was in a room with some fairly successful folks. And I got some strange looks implying I was simply trying to suck up to the teacher! To this day I remain amazed at how many folks who have successful careers and a family life will not declare themselves as being content.

In the context of my life, I always strived toward a goal of contentment salted with many happy moments throughout.

Darlene, totally agree with you.
I have always described happiness as being at peace. I am more at peace at this time of life then ever. A lot that would have bothered me in past years - I just accept. Like you Ronni, I have a roof over my head, plenty to eat, stay busy doing what I enjoy. So this One Woman is happy.

I decided years ago that "happiness" is over-rated. I just want to be content. Happiness is fleeting; contentment is forever.

Being "happy" seems to not go past the moment for me, and I do treasure those moments. But with the others, for me the key word is "content." When asked how I am, my stock and true answer is, "I'm fairly well content." At this time of life (75), who could ask for more.

I agree with Alan and Arby. Happiness is over-rated; I seek contentment with my lot in life. Being happy all the time is tiring!

I don't think about whether I am happy much at all but do notice when I begin to get depressed. So is happiness the opposite of that? I bought a book by the Dalai Lama some years ago about the art of happiness, can't recall the exact title. I never read it and is sits on my bookshelf but every time I notice it, I don't find the topic interesting enough to pick it up.

A few weeks ago in one of the blogs I sometimes float through, I saw a quote on happiness that I really liked and saved.

"If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that had rolled under the radiator, striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of each day." by W. Beran Wolfe

You sound as if you are happy. Even when you are grumpy you sound happy to be grumpy. I found the post really tongue and cheek. It sure picked up my spirits.

Happiness coach... what a ludicrous sounding profession. In the links you checked of 35,000 available links, did you see happiness coach outside of the US?

I have everything I need; most of what I want. The majority of days I am content; some days, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I just picked up a book by Barbara Ehrenreich entitled Bright-sided in which she discusses forced optimism. BTW--There is a course being taught at Harvard called Happiness 101.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed", has a new book out:
"Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America." I haven't been able to get hold of it yet, but I'm thinking it's about time to explode the Happy Bubble. (I hate it that we can't properly underline books in comments and have to resort to quotation marks. See, it doesn't take much to harsh my mellow :)

Martin Seligman and crew, of www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/, were doing some useful research initially but the bandwagon has gotten overloaded since and the whole thing has gone downright giddy...which ain't the same thing at all.

Believing that we can bypass the normal range of human emotions by relentless positive thinking is like believing we can survive this sweat lodge experience by pushing through our perceived physical discomfort. Baloney. The real "Secret" is that life is both tough and tender, both sweet and sour. Of course, everybody knows that, so it doesn't sell.

Love this post, Ronni. You stole a march on me; this was on my blog topic short list for Mature Landscaping.

Maybe we've confused the word happiness with the term, feeling thrilled. To me, happiness is a quiet, passive state, the result of an abundance of physical and emotional support, and a lack of disruptive stress.

Ah surveys....how funny they are. I do them for one organization and often wonder what questions are all about. Dusting. Oh, it makes me physically miserable. I'm allergic to dust. Sometimes I find I am allergic to researchers tho never to happiness....what ever it is.

I would have thought the "happiness gap" was the result of failure to overcome the "gender gap" after 40 long years.

Happiness is a warm puppy, end of discussion. ;)

Hi Ronni,
As a former bookseller who thrived on recommending good reads, let me suggest a superb novel I just finished reading--and is certainly related to your great post today. It is called "Generosity-An Enhancement" by Richard Powers who is a NBA winner. It is set in the near future/now and one of the protagonists is a refugee from the Algerian civil wars. She eventually becomes an art student in Chicago and she has such a happy personality that her friends call her Miss Generosity. A geneticist hears about her and wants to harvest and market her "happiness gene." This sets up the age old conflict of nature versus nurture and does so in such a compelling manner that I found this one of those impossible to put down books. The book is more than believable and contains several plot lines being run simultaneously which all come together at the end. I can't recommend "Generosity" enough and believe that you and many of your readers will be equally enthralled.

Cheers,

Warren Cassell

Reminds me of what Einstein considered the most important question: "Is the universe a friendly place?"
Here's all I can say for sure: I love my life.

Claire Jane mentioned that there is a class at Harvard titled "Happiness 101.

In my post dated September 20, 2008
I quote Tai Ben-Shahar's "Six Happiness Tips." He teaches that class at Harvard.

Read those great tips and "be happy."

I think it's in the genes, folks. Some are just born to be happy.

The happiness industry, Ehrenreich, and what Nance said about Seligman all reminded me of the work Chris Locke has been doing at Mystic Bourgeoisie for the last four or five years (and more recently as "Kat Herding" on Facebook). His "rogues gallery" of numinous lunatics and sanctimonious narcissists lists Seligman with a clutch of other "positive thinkers."

The "happiness coach" industry is just the tip of a chilling iceberg of irrationality that seems to have supplanted reason in our post-enlightenment value structure. Chris shares his research and draws some surprising and truly startling conclusions about cultural icons from Emerson to Jung, Dale Carnegie to Deepak Chopra, even Oprah comes in for her share of the criticism. I'm hoping he'll draw it all together into a book, but meanwhile clicking around at the Mystic Bourgeoisie blog is an interesting journey through the junkyard of American mystical thinking. I recommend it. (But be aware, the language is strong and Chris doesn't have a governor on his mind... he's full throttle at all times).

p.s. I also agree with la perigrina that "happiness is a warm puppy." Took my mutts to McDonalds and bought them a Happy Meal. Tessa, the puppy, even now is happily gnawing on the "My Little Pony" toy that was included with her chicken McNuggets.

With "Happy Meals" on the menu, how can any of us be sad?

Happiness is an inner feeling and mental state and I'm not sure which one comes first -- the feeling creates the mental state, or the mental state generates the feeling.

I do believe the language we use in our thoughts and minds generates our actions, influencing our feelings.
Language is the mediator.

Nature vs nurture are so intertwined that I'm not convinced the threads are ever as clear as some research concludes, so attributing one or the other as the absolute causal source of happiness would be a mistake. Likely happiness is a highly individualistic perception. If a person perceives they're happy, no matter how they arrive at that conclusion, or how many people might think otherwise, then they're happy.

I expect each and every one of the "happy" definitions are true for someone, somewhere. The problem comes when one answer is selected to be "the one" or "the true way" to happiness for all others.

I do believe that experiencing a sense of security contributes greatly to many individuals ability to experience what they might characterize as "being happy." There are many aspects of security. From that security can come contentment -- whether it's being secure in self, physical security, financial security, or all of those.

I think happiness will be elusive for those directly seeking to find it. Happiness arrives when we suddenly become aware of its presence in our life -- when we are just being.

Contentment, to my mind, is having all that you need and a peaceable existence. But happiness to me is sourced by having a mate or friend with an incredibly funny, silly, and light-hearted personality. The kind of person that forces you to laugh when you are mad, sad, or truly disappointed. It's that combined sense of humor that creates soul-felt laughter and good humor(without expectations that another should daily provide amusement).
My advice to young people - a good job and security is not to be scoffed at, but even with that, dump him/her real quick if he/she doesn't have a good sense of humor.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. We never successfully strive for happiness, find it and live "happily ever after"
Like" x#2*", it just happens, when you're not looking for it, when you least expect it.
" So, Ned, what are you up to today?"
"I'm looking for happiness"
"You wouldn't recognize it if it bit you in the butt"
"No, but it sure would be fun"

Asking what makes people happy is like asking which food tastes best. It's all subjective. Here's something to ponder: Maybe happiness, the kind that people keep pursuing, doesn't even exist. :-)

I am all atwitter with the new ways of communicating. However, to access most of the new communication systems one has to have a password. Now I have to have a filing system for my passwords.

I once put my name first on my husband's and my joint tax statements. My first name is Georgie and the government, thinking I was male, sent me a draft notice.
I called in to enlist and was told to forget it. I didn't have the right plumbing to be trained to kill or be killed on the front lines.
So I am still around at age 89.

Wonder if the government ever realized that a woman's job is to do the societal duty of bearing children. I once wrote to my congressmember to start a momument to all women who have died in childbirth. No takers.
So those women are still unheralded.

Oh, well. There may be a women's museum someday if the male giants who determine who gets land for museums ever decide women deserve one.

In the meantime, I will keep on keeping on--dancing, singing, going on the comedy stage, writing,
and stirring up trouble until all citizens of the world gain their right to eat, be housed and have education and health care.

This is a very entertaining read. I love it! The bottomline is just do the things you like and you'll be happy. You don't need a happiness coach or to dissect this subject some more. You don't need statistics or some kind of exercise to know where you stand in the happiness meter. Just do the things that make you smile. Be happy. LIVE MORE.

OH SO WONDERFUL ALL THE VIEWS, RONNI...I love to read the opinions expressed by your readers...in the Ethics of the Fathers it says - "Who is rich...one who is happy with her lot...Who is wise...one who learns from others.....Who is strong...one who conquers negative impulses and If not now...when" .... so BE HAPPY!!!

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