Signifying Nothing

Gretchen Rubin is so wise. Today she lists some examples of ways NOT to boost happiness. I’m most struck by the idea that venting doesn’t work; indeed, I too get whipped into sound and fury, which doesn’t help at all.

4. Expressing your negative emotions. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger only aggravates it; as Plutarch observed, “Anger, while in its beginning, often can be ended by silence, or neglect.” I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I get going, I can whip myself into a fury. It’s better to stay calm.

5. Staying in your pajamas all day. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. As improbable as this sounds, it really works. Sometimes it can be fun to hang out in your sweats all day, but if you’re feeling lethargic, powerless, or directionless, not getting dressed is going to make you feel worse. Put on your clothes—including your shoes—so you feel prepared for whatever the day might offer. While you’re at it, make your bed.

On the happiness note:

A few nights ago walking in DC I heard this tenor sax pumping out Christmas carols. For some reason the sound made me immediately and irrevocably melancholy. Occasionally the musician stopped playing to thank a passer-by for her donation; perhaps it was the sound of his gritty voice against the nostalgic sax that drove me into such an emotional place.

I tend to postpone listening to Christmas carols until I’m through with all the pre-break stress. That sax player struck me hard enough to make me wonder why I’m feeling so detached from the holidays this year. It’s been a long semester, but detachment has never been my problem.

Today on the metro my melancholy lifted. A little old man stood up and demanded the entire car’s attention. He burst into song in a Chinese accent so strong that I had to wonder who on earth is “Chlist.”

When he finished, the entire metro car burst into applause. Bizarrely this lifted my melancholy and suddenly, suddenly I’m in the mood for Christmas!


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