Monday, October 24, 2005
It's what we all say we want, though some of us close our eyes and politely pass whenever it's offered to us on a cocktail tray. Others take a more vigorous approach, stamping it beneath our feet, flinging it into the sea, making school yard faces and cursing whenever it tries to make our acquaintance.
It sounds irrational, but of course, so much of being a human being is irrational. Figuring out how to play on your own team is a lifelong task, and one that many of us never learn. Myself included. Though most of the time I consider myself pretty optimistic, there are moments in every day when I make myself miserable, or allow some circumstance or person to do it for me. Needlessly.
I think there ought to be a remedy for that because you know, we only get so many moments. Why spend any of them, even a single one, in a self-conjured pissy mood? Martin Seligman agrees. In fact, he has turned happiness into a science. Something that can be tested, measured, and yes, increased. In some cases, our happiness quotient is genetic, like the color of our eyes. Extroverts with lots of social contact have more or it. (Not good for solitary writers.) (Do blog friends count, I wonder?)
An article in the London Times, points out the following:
Statistically, marriage makes you happier.
Ditto for pets.
Children? Not so much. At least according to the scientists of happiness (though the two pictured above make me plenty happy). Anyway, I'm wondering if that is particular to our place and time. In the days when having lots of children meant free labor on the farm, or help in the family business, when parental authority was more revered, was the happiness quotient different?
Virtue also makes you happy, specifically these six which were culled from various philosophers and religions: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence, though not necessarily in that order.
But it is the things that make us unhappy which seem more easily altered. It seems the most serious impediment to happiness is not the things we most fear--poverty, or a serious accident, or a failed relationship. It's what Seligman calls learned helplessness, though of course the link to those feared events is evident.
So if I'm reading this thing correctly, it's competence that makes us most happy. That and of course, having a couple of beers and a few laughs with your friends in the bar at the end of the day. At least, I've mastered the second part.