For those of you out there serious about increasing your own happiness, I will once again recommend The How of Happiness. I am more than half-way through and, of the dozens of self-help, raise-those-endorphins books I’ve consumed in the past decade, this is by far the most practical. It is also the only one that has research directly tied to it (the author gives a suggestion, then tells you what research shows about it), which just gives it the feeling of being more solid than other books I’ve read on the subject. So, first happiness advice for today is get that book.
Second piece of happiness I want to share is this quote:
“(Optimism) is not about providing a recipe for self-deception. The world can be a horrible, cruel place, and at the same time, it can be wonderful and abundant. These are both truths. There is not a halfway point; there is only choosing which truth to put in your personal foreground.”
I LOVE THAT QUOTE!! As a culture, I think we suffer from a “He made me” mentality. We get angry and blame that anger on someone who was a jerk to us. But that’s a lie. We get angry because we CHOOSE to respond to the jerk by getting angry. You can also choose to ignore the jerk. (Caveat: Sometimes, anger is the only response to bullies who try to mug you.) We stress over a lack of time, but don’t want to take the time (ha!) to figure out how best to organize ourselves – and what to let go – so we don’t feel so stressed. Our attitude, in other words, is a choice, perhaps so habitual it is subconscious, but a choice nonetheless about how we see the world.
That said, we often are overwhelmed by negative information and struggle knowing what to do with it all. That can lead to the big killer of happiness: over-thinking/rumination. Now, if there was ever a ruminator, you’re looking at her. I have to constantly fight the tendency to obsess over what bad outcome might be forthcoming. It gets harder each day in this world of 24-7 information – there’s just so much to worry about! I feel like I’m in a reality show for perfection, especially since I heard an interview with the guy behind the No Impact Man blog and film. (Yes, yet another blogger who will become rich off of a movie. No, I am not jealous.)
The no impact guy, a self-proclaimed liberal, decided to live for a year without buying ANYTHING except locally-grown food. He gave up electricity (except solar produced), TV and transportation that could not be accomplished on his own feet or his bike’s wheels, toilet paper and stopped producing garbage. He did this as a married man with a 2-year-old daughter, with a smile on his face.
The interview was inspirational, but also overwhelming. Since I joined the ranks of the unemployed (or the very underemployed, since I did get a freelance assignment from the new downtown magazine Zocalo Tucson recently), I’ve been concentrating a lot on cutting back. But it was an economic thing, not an environmental thing.
I spent my high school and college years in Corvallis, Oregon. I was very big into reusing and recycling and produced very little garbage. When I moved to Texas, I was shocked that people littered and would actually chase these heathens down and ask, waving the litter in their general direction, “Did you drop this?” I was mostly vegetarian, and rode a bike to the newspaper where I worked and to most of my assignments – that was possible in Denton, Texas.
When I married my meat-and-potatoes husband, I brought him along in many of my austere ways, but not all. When we started having children and especially, when we started living on one income so I could be home with those children, austerity became our middle name.
We did everything on the cheap and, in many ways, resembled No Impact Man. We used cloth diapers, hung our laundry out to dry, wore sweaters instead of turning up the heat, ate beans and rice because it is a perfect protein and we couldn’t afford animal protein. We bought used toys, clothing and cars. We recycled, grew our own veggies, made homemade bread, and built beds for our kids – three of whom shared one room for a while.
Then, slowly, our income rose and we did what people do when their income rises – we bought more stuff. Lots more stuff. We bought the kids Lunchables for special treats at school, in spite of the ridiculous amount of over-packaging. We bought new clothes, ate out, drove a lot more, moved to the suburbs and bought a house where our kids could have their own rooms. We took two ski vacations and started flying across the country to see relatives. In other words, our carbon footprint increased commensurate to our income.
Compared to our friends, with their flat-screen TVs and their second homes, we probably looked poor (our kids sometimes thought we were – especially when their friends got brand-new cars as birthday presents and they had to drive a $2,000 “Granny car”). But compared to how we’d lived for a very long time, we were turning into a regular ad for Consumers Among Us.
The weird thing was, the more we got, the more we wanted, which, according to the research in The How of Happiness, is called “hedonic adaptation.” Humans get excited with new possessions, but after awhile, adapt to those possessions and no longer derive the same amount of enjoyment from them. That’s why it is important to put your happiness eggs into the right basket, which tends to be social relationships and not relationships with things … but that’s another post.
My layoff and our subsequent income drop has brought an end to the “Oh, let’s just eat out” mantra and other adaptations we made when we were raking in two incomes. Thus, I found myself washing and drying a piece of foil yesterday for reuse at another time, and telling a friend I couldn’t meet her down town unless it could be the one day I plan on driving that 20 miles for meeting at the Pima County One Stop. I just can’t, willy nilly, spend money on gas for my car now. And I can’t just buy whatever food I want at the grocery store, either.
How does this tie into No Impact Man? Well, I used to enjoy grocery shopping, but since I heard him – especially his rant on over packaging – I feel like I can’t buy anything. I was already saying things like, “You can just go bake brownies for half the cost of those bakery brownies” to myself because of the income drop (first thing to go in job loss is convenience foods), but now I hear a little voice that says I can’t buy a BOX of brownie mix, even if it is half the price of the bakery brownies, because of the over-packaging. I’m paralyzed in the bakery asile by a guy I’ve never even met because, lets face it, happiness won’t do us a whole heck of a lot of good if there’s no earth left due to our giagantic carbon footprint.
It is good to make changes that will help the world and ourselves. And, as No Impact Man says on his blog, his year project made his whole family happier, and his once retail-obsessed wife is now the primary prostletizer of sustainable living. But maybe for some people, it has to be taken one step at a time so they don’t get overwhelmed. Or maybe, those folks need to choose to not be overwhelmed. I’m still working that one out.
Your final bit of happiness advice for today is to watch this video. I wish we could post videos easily at TC.com so you could watch them right here, but for some reason, it is a long and tedious process that is rarely fulfilling or successful for lazy bloggers used to two or three-click posting. So you just have to watch it by going here. It is a 57 second video that will make you laugh out loud. And if it doesn’t, you’re way too cranky.