Is Happiness Overrated?

May 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured

Posted below is an excellent article I found today in the New York Times – albeit a little late, it was published on May 16th.

It’s about Martin Seligman’s new book, “Flourish”.  Seligman is also the writer of the 2002 bestseller “American Happiness” and founder of the positive psychology movement.

It is an excellent post because it states that happiness is overrated. The post then goes on to describe what the feeling of well-being is, and the necessary elements to get there.  It lists 5 elements and they are: 1- positive emotion, 2 – engagement, 3 – relationships, 4 – meaning and 5 – accomplishment.  These five elements together create a sense of well-being which is actually permanent and not transient like happiness.

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New Thoughts On How To Be Happy

August 16, 2010 by  
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I have just read two articles of note.  One published in the New York Times “But Will It Make You Happy”  the other on CNN “Homesickness Isn’t Really About Home”.

The reason why I’m bringing up both articles is because they both – for different reasons – relate happiness to relationship.

The NYT article discusses the new trends in consumers, due to the economic downturn, which is actually creating a higher level of happiness.  Instead of spending money on “things” consumers are spending money on experiences.

” New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.” – NYT

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Getting On With Life After A Partner Dies

June 15, 2010 by  
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lov1fetA friend of mine sent me a NY Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/health/15brod.html?scp=1&sq=Jane%20E.%20Brody%20Personal%20Health&st=cse) “Getting on With Life After a Partner Dies” written by Jane Brody.

The article describes how she and other widows and widowers have coped with the loss of a partner by filling up their days and trying to turn their loss into something positive.  She goes on to site examples of different people whose energy and attention turned to concrete accomplishments after the loss.  She writes experts call this phenomenon “psychological resilience”.

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Struggling With A Bad Thought

April 6, 2010 by  
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By Kathleen Norris, Special to CNN

April 6, 2010 8:16 a.m. EDT

tzleft.norris.courtesy.jpg

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Author: Acedia is profound indifference and inability to care about things that matter
  • Early Christians recognized acedia as one of “eight bad thoughts”
  • Kathleen Norris: Like spiritual morphine; pain is there, but you can’t give a damn
  • No remedy, but you can learn to recognize it and resist it

Editor’s note: Kathleen Norris is a poet and the author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Cloister Walk”, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” and “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She recently finished a tour for her latest book, “Acedia and Me.”

(CNN) — On a recent trip across America, what surprised me most was the number of people — over 200 in one city, 80 to 150 elsewhere — who wanted to discuss this odd word, “acedia.”

It’s an ancient term signifying profound indifference and inability to care about things that matter, even to the extent that you no longer care that you can’t care.

I liken it to spiritual morphine: You know the pain is there but can’t rouse yourself to give a damn. Read more

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A New York Times Article

October 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

A friend of mine recently sent me the below article printed in the New York Times a few months ago.  I’m posting this article here because I found the struggle of this young woman brave and touching.  We all have our demons, acknowledging and facing them is the first step to our own freedom.


July 26, 2009
Columbia

In Pursuit of Happiness

By CARONAE HOWELL

I’m the kind of woman who spends entire days thinking of nothing but birds: woodcocks, goldfinches, kingfishers. I look for loons everywhere I go. Sometimes I find herons in Central Park and they are mysteries. There is one thing in this world that I envy: the hollowness of bird bones. In the three milliseconds of liftoff, a bird separates itself from its problems. The sky is the freest part of the world.

I have always been depressed, and I have always wanted to fly — not to emulate Superman or to travel faster. I want to fly because of the elation. In my dreams I am a butterfly or a fairy or a honeybee. Depression, for me, is when you want to be a bird, but can’t.

There is a specific moment in which I became a woman. It was February — always the worst month with its aching light and its slip-induced bruises. I had been trying to fall asleep for at least four hours. At 3 a.m., I found myself sobbing and shaking and confused, sitting on my metal dorm bed in the bird-with-a-­broken-wing position. I dug my fingernails into my forearms, leaving shell-shaped trenches behind. I have the kind of skin that refuses to heal, just stays eternally raw and mottled.

It was five weeks into my fourth semester. In late January, a freshman hanged himself in my old dorm. I found myself asking, really, how hard is it to suddenly find yourself perched on a sink, rope around your beautiful neck, ready to fly? How hard?

My dad drove through four states to pick me up the next week. On the way home I had tea and ice cream. He asked me if I remembered the time he took too many of his antidepressants. I did not. Nor did I remember my uncle’s suicide (gun to the cerebrum) or my sister’s delicately sliced arms and hips. These were things I had only been told.

The space between my skull and my irises hurts sometimes — hurts like the shatter of a tiny bird that has fallen midflight. And so it was that sour February night that I took the delicate step into the adult world: realizing that I was too depressed to stay at college was realizing I had not only lost my flock; I had fallen from the air entirely.

Michigan has many birds. My favorite might be the wood duck, with its banded neck and flat little wings. When I watch birds take off, I hold my breath. They always make it to the sky.

Every Monday morning at 9 I see my therapist, mug of green tea and honey close at hand. I take new pills now. I have a routine: oatmeal in the morning, Wednesday nights with my father. I tell my therapist about Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” Who isn’t searching for their people?

I arrange my thoughts. (No, I have never been in love and I am, in fact, afraid of men; I panic in Times Square; I grow attached to almost everyone I meet.)

I have feathers and questions.

I moved to New York City for college in 2007. School did not grow me into an adult, nor did voting for the first time or doing my own banking. These things were not confrontations. How did I arrive at the place where I could look at my disease and say, “Yes, you are here, but I will not let you take the joy out of looking for birds”? I like to think it was New York, or my newfound discipline, but it was a more internal revolution. I acknowledged my traumas: I was not crazy, just damaged. I was molting.

Columbia gave me many new things: a copy of the “Iliad” with a note saying the first six books should be read before orientation, a job in the oral history office, a sense of time management. But without my sanity — without joy — these things had little value. I knew nothing until I knew I was hardly living. Hobbes and Locke and all the philosophers in the world could not matter when each day was insurmountable and burning. In my year and a half at Columbia, I began to learn how to love myself.

I tell my therapist about my earliest memories and the bizarre geography of my family. I’m anxious and I have no self-esteem. But I am mending. Fifteen lost credits is a small price to pay for happiness. Perhaps I am learning how to fly. My bones may not be hollow, and joy will never come easily, but the beauty is in the struggle. The birds are everywhere.

Caronae Howell, Columbia, class of 2011, history major

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If It’s Not Your Problem; Stay Away

August 7, 2009 by  
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I have just read an essay, in the “Modern Love” section of the New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/fashion/02love.html

In a few words; a couple who has been married for over twenty years and according to the wife, who is also the writer of the piece, have pretty much achieved everything they as a couple set themselves out to achieve, are having troubles.  Better, the husband is having troubles and out of nowhere says: “I don’t love you anymore” to the wife.

The wife, at the same time, had come to a decision that she would no longer have her feelings and life affected by how others felt or by any external situation.  She had come to the understanding that happiness and tranquility lives within oneself.

Anyway, this woman without getting into her husband’s turmoil maintained her peace and gave him space to work out whatever was going on within him.  She did no cry or begged him to stay.  She went about her life and her children’s lives reminding her that what he was doing had all to do with him and nobody else.

This process took four months and at the end of it he had worked out his demons and was back as the loving father, husband and lover he had been before.

What caught my attention was that what this woman was describing was exactly what a therapist friend of mine had just gone through.

My friend was dating a man who had recently separated from his wife of fifteen years.  My friend and this man had known each other for a very long time but did not start dating until the man’s separation.

In the beginning it was a great relationship but soon his guilt for leaving his family started to really interfere.  He was no longer as loving and supportive of my friend and she seemed, at least to me, to be doing all the heavy lifting to keep them together. 

A few times I asked her why she would put up with such behavior.   I even said to her that she should consider walking away.  But every time she answered: “I know it is not about me.  It is about him.  When I know he’s looking for a fight so our relationship can become like the one he left, I don’t respond and give him a break. “It was amazing to me that my friend had the wisdom not to take his behavior personally. And she was right, nothing that he did was about her and by not engaging in his behavior she actually helped him deal with his own issues.

I think sometimes our ego gets things wrong and we end up making a situation worse by not understanding that not everything is about us.

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Love Vaccine; Coming To A Store Near You

July 21, 2009 by  
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Here I am again in search of interesting news about love to share with you.   A New York Times piece about a love vaccine and/or a love potion has caught my attention.

In this piece author John Tierney discusses recent findings by neuroscientist Larry Young about the science of love.  While I personally believe the scientific component of love, desire and attraction, I also believe the heart/spirit/soul (whatever your belief system calls it) component which inspires – commitment, loyalty, and joy. 

As we are made up of body, mind and heart/spirit/soul our love also is composed of contributions from all three parts.

Click on the below link for John’s article and let me know what you think.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/science/13tier.html

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Friends

July 20, 2009 by  
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I truly know the value of friendship.  If not for my friends I wouldn’t have made it when I lost my husband.   

At that time, I had friends staying with me, taking me out and calling me for months.  Actually they still do that, no longer because they are concerned for me “making it” but because they love me and I love them.

I’ve always been a people person.  When I commit to a relationship, I’m there, no matter what.  I’ve had friends for over thirty years and many are in different parts of the world. But now with quick internet connections we can Skype and email and its easier to stay in touch.   

I’ve always known that friends are important but I’ve recently come across a New York Times article that states that friends also allow you to live longer. 

Check out this link from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21well.html?_r=1&em and then call a friend and let them know how you are and ask them how they are, if you want to live longer :)

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A Longer Response to A.

July 16, 2009 by  
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Today I had the below exchange between A (I’m omitting her name) and myself on Twitter.

I wanted to say more to A but Twitter only allows 140 character exchanges.  So today’s post is for A.

“I was reading your blogs, I really admire how you can stay so positive. Most people would just give up myself included.” – A

“It’s really important to transform pain and sadness into something worthwhile and positive. There is great power in that.” – Deborah

“I agree but it seems like everywhere I look there’s always something there to remind me how unhappy I am.” – A

No one is always happy or unhappy and lots of things in life are beyond our control. But what we can choose is how to deal with the good and the bad. 

I really don’t want to come off preachy or that I know it all, trust me I don’t.  But I’ve had my share of misfortunes so I came to a point in my life that I decided I would look at things and deal with them in a different way. It was about survival.

First I learned, and continue learning, not to sweat the small stuff.  The small stuff is just that, small, and it isn’t worth my anger, frustration or disappointment.

As an example, when I need to call a bank, store, service supplier and I know it’s going to be an annoying call I tell myself to breath and to stay calm before I even pick up the phone. If I get angry,maybe  for that short period of time, I feel good (blowing off steam) but what the anger does to me for the rest of my day is not worth it. There is actually a very interesting New York Times article Happy Days: When the Heart Pays the Price of Anger that talks about just that.

If someone doesn’t like me or says something derogative about me, it makes me sad but it doesn’t stop me.  As long as I’m okay with my own sense of right and wrong, I’m fine. I tell myself “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I’m also learning that I don’t control everything and I shouldn’t blame myself and others, in certain situations, for when things don’t work out. I’m learning to let it go.

Often having a feeling of well being can come from small things.  For me, is playing with my dog, sitting outside in my yard, having a great meal (I love food) or having a nice glass of wine (I love wine).  Everyone has something that if they stop for a moment to enjoy brings a smile to their face.  So I make a point of stopping and playing with my dog or sitting outside or having great food or a glass of wine every day.  I’ve also started doing Thai massages.  They are inexpensive and amazing.  A little time to pamper myself.

I also try not to think about what I don’t have in my life that I would like to have and try to concentrate on today.  We never know which way life is going to go so worrying about it or pining for the future is a complete waste of time.

Before my husband passed, I was much more obsessed with achieving success.  Others had it and so I should have it too.  The same energy has shifted to doing things that I can be proud of, in my case it is this site, my book, my volunteering.  I have not become a softie.  I think I’m as daring, funny as I ever been.

We all have to make a living.  We need to pay for at least food and shelter but doing something that we can be proud of, whatever that is, can shift how we feel about ourselves and life.

I don’t think people have to go through tragedy to make big changes.  All we need is the desire to live differently.

I’m not giving A or anyone else advice, I’m just sharing what I think.  I like everyone else have my struggles. But I do know we need to transform all that is sad into something else or the energy contained in sadness weighs us down too much.

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Social Games

June 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

In a recent article by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that examines the brain’s predisposition for liberal or conservative biases, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia is quoted: “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.” The professor’s statement it seems, takes aim at the human capacity for rationalizing biases and behaviors, the unique talent that allows for the reconciliation of mean to ends.

Our skill at rationalization is often called upon in the social games Prof Haidt refers to, helping to move along the strategies and schemes that we hope will serve our desired ends. It is the unguent that binds together traits and agendas that may be wildly at odds with one another, enabling us to overlook inconsistencies in the courses of action that we pursue. Within the domain of the human brain, the truth often becomes so malleable, so porous, it consists more of empty space than hard fact. The crowning jewel of evolutionary processes, this brain that has developed such an exquisite facility in crafting the truth, has been very well matched with a reality that is itself utterly unreliable. Perhaps there is a grain of poetic justice in this arrangement. Two kindred, dancing spirits, mind and cosmos, spinning the world into existence.

Everyone has encountered situations in which thoroughly likable people resort to strategies that range from inconsiderate to Machiavellian. My own sense of exasperation at these occasions is in response to the ease with which civility and consideration can be swapped for expediency, selfishness, even ruthless disregard. On the other hand, reflecting on my behavior reminds me that I have a remarkably thick skin (and skull) when it comes to the oblivious pursuit of my own desires. Inconsistency of behavior can be an astonishing thing, and trying to guess how incongruous actions and values can be reconciled in the human mind is a fool’s (or neuroscientist’s) mission.

The latest model of the human brain comes equipped with a wide range of potential behavioral patterns – from bottom feeder all the way up to better angel. When these don’t add up within an individual it is easy enough to slap on a label of hypocrisy as a blanket characterization. While this may be an apt judgment, it doesn’t shed light on the smoky rooms of the mind out of which behaviors emerge – or creep. As they say, no one sees them self as a villain; it’s just not a self-image we care to wake up to in the morning.

A snoozing conscience promotes a good night’s sleep.

To this end the human mind has found ways to compartmentalize matters of self-interest. The brain’s capacity for moral elasticity (a.k.a. self-delusion) is in keeping with its penchant for weaving associations, often out of thin air, between aspects of experience that are entirely unrelated. This characteristic plasticity expresses itself in ways that are both blessing and curse. The imagination is the birthing ground of creative enterprise. Likewise, it blurs and blends experience to create and sometimes tyrannize a picture of the world. Bending reality to conform with our designs invariably comes with a cost. In the form of inner conflicts and tensions, bad karma, another blemish upon the immortal soul – pick your metaphysical framework – or simply a mind that is mired in delusion. Take the great man with fatal flaws, or just the good man who ends up in a jail cell for the weekend.

Considering this aspect of the human condition brings to mind a simple maxim that describes an enlightened, upstanding character: He is one who does as he says, and says as he does. Period. The simplicity of this characterization issues a challenge but also sets an inspiring standard. It provides a handy mirror by which to gauge one’s trajectory on the spiritual and moral continuum; i.e. whether one is ascending Jacob’s ladder or taking a swan-dive into the abyss. It provides the clearest of roadmaps by which to orient a creaky moral compass.

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