Tag Archives: Happiness

Thursday Links

Y Chromosome evolving faster than the rest of the genetic code.

Do optimists have better lives?

Supermarket: 100% my new favorite online shop.

“Victim” in Richmond gang rape says it didn’t happen after all, because crying wolf is the height of prudence.

Great example of necessity as the mother of invention: Solar panels save lives in Haiti.

If hard cases make bad law, emergency-induced sloppy decision-making makes for permissive legislation.


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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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Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Watching Walt Disney and the Sherman brothers pitch “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” feels a little like reading Romeo and Juliet as an adult: It seems so cliche, like it’s been done a thousand times before, until your realize that this was what started all that.

Whatever you feel about Disney, the man, it’s very hard to disparage Disney, the concept. There’s something to be said for keeping a childlike grip on one’s dreams.

Perhaps more urgently there’s something elegant and durable about the optimism behind Imagineering and the captivating Fantasia films, which served as constant background to more than one of my younger summers.

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Get More Sleep

Once again The Happiness Project taps directly into my brain w/ this prescient suggestion I always forget I should remember:

Get more sleep!

It’s easy to become accustomed to being sleep-deprived, but it’s not good for you. Many researchers argue that not getting enough sleep has broad health consequences, such as raising your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity, but in addition to those, it has a profound effect on your happiness.

One study showed that a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two reasons for being in a bad mood at work (the other? Tight work deadlines). Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for your daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise.

Roger. Halloween makes this a bad weekend to set this resolution into effect, but the time change makes this a good week to remember to remember.

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Gretchen Rubin: Manifest Destiny

Sundays are when I learn Tax law, so you’ll forgive me if I plagiarize one more entry. Here’s one of my favorite works in progress, Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” suggesting that we establish a Mission:

Writer Jean Stafford scoffed, “Happy people don’t need to have fun,” but in fact, studies show that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you feel good; you must strive to find sources of feeling good. Research shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times more likely to feel happy.

Recently, I noticed a pattern among activities that people find fun: Have a mission. There’s something about having a playful purpose, of trying to achieve something, that makes an activity more fun.

For example, a friend told that she loved visiting flea markets and antique stores to look for old globes – not fancy ones, cheap ones. She has a rule that she’ll never pay more than $20. She’s the kind of person who loves poking around in those kinds of shops in any case, but having a mission makes it more fun, less aimless.

For that matter, having a collection of any sort is a very popular way to have a mission. You get the little zap of satisfaction whenever you find another piece of blue sea glass on the beach or another out-of-print book by Charlotte Yonge. Or you collect experiences, like attending a game in every Major League Baseball stadium or running in as many marathons as possible.

Taking photos is a common way to incorporate a mission into traveling. Not only does this help keep memories vivid, it also makes you more attuned to your environment while traveling. (Although for some people, taking photos can become a barrier to experience; they get so focused on getting the photos that they don’t enjoy the reality.)

For example, during my most recent visit to New Haven, I had a lot more fun wandering around once I set myself the mission of taking tourist photos of my own romance.
Some people have a mission to take photos during everyday life: taking a photo of people’s bare feet whenever they get the chance, taking a photo of every red barn they see. Artist Nicholas Nixon did a series called The Brown Sisters, a series of black-and-white photos of his wife and her three sisters taken every year from 1975-2006. It’s absolutely riveting.

Why is this true? The First Splendid Truth holds that to be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

The more I’ve thought about happiness, the more surprised I’ve been at the importance of the “atmosphere of growth.” I think this is a huge engine of happiness, and when you have a mission, you create an atmosphere of growth whenever you pursue that mission.

Have you found a way to have a mission? What is it – and does it boost your happiness?

P.S. I’m chuckling away at my choice of image [Star Trek ship]. Get it?

* On Gimundo, I read about a very reassuring study that concludes that workers who are permitted to spend time each day (less than 20% of total time) puttering around the internet are actually more productive than those who aren’t allowed to do so. Phew.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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The Power of Subtraction

Recently I posted a piece from a women’s magazine on The Power of Negative Thinking, i.e., how to avoid immense pressure from positivity and just go with the flow.

Today I read this piece on the power of “negative” thinking.  While the first article discusses keeping away from positive demands on one’s emotions, the latter recommends “subtracting” from your psychological default to understand the importance each piece plays.  Appreciating your sight, for example, requires imaging what it would be like being blind.

I find all this fresh attention to negativity fascinating.  We have become a Type A culture, where it’s not enough to make yourself and your spouse happy.  I can’t help thinking of the Angelina Jolie model: to *truly* make a difference, the neurotic attitude doesn’t stop at making yourself and your spouse happy, if you can afford to spread happiness to the third world through adoption, and donations, and birthing in remote African hospitals.

It’s refreshing to think that psychologists are starting to look to stopping as the next step forward.  Doing something isn’t always the right thing.  It makes more sense to pay attention to your psychological cues—if putting positive pressure on yourself to feel happy doesn’t do it, then stop.

There’s something similarly negative about playing the “what if” game: What if I’d gone to a different college; what if I were blind.  Rather than demanding some positive step forward, the “subtraction” method takes a contemplative step backwards.  It considers reality, but how it may (or may not) have been had something fallen differently into place.

I like this negative model.  It considers change without placing pressure on some protagonist to effect it.  I like the idea of removing neuroticism from the equation and allowing oneself to stop, consider, and incorporate that contemplation into decisions moving forward.

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Thirst for Knowledge

Learning makes your brain happy:

This preference for knowledge about the future was intimately linked to the monkeys’ desire for water. The same neurons in the middle of their brains signalled their expectations of both rewards – the watery prizes and knowledge about them.

All the neurons in question release the signalling chemical dopamine. While the monkeys were making their choices, Bromberg-Martin and Hikosaka recorded the activity of 47 dopamine neurons in their midbrains. These neurons became very excited when the monkeys saw a symbol that predicted a large amount of water, while the symbol that cued a smaller drink inhibited the neurons. The same dopamine neurons were excited during trials where the monkey only saw the symbol that heralded forthcoming information, and they were inhibited if they monkey only saw the other non-informative symbol.

From Boing Boing: Why information is its own reward.

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