How to be joyful all the time
TIME The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life by The Editors of TIMEThe biggest benefit of reading this - book? booklet? - is the reminder of all the reasons I have to be happy, all that is going well for me that I dont always consider. One of my teens showed interest in it, and I picked it up in the supermarket aisle.
Do I seek happiness? Somewhat, but not exclusively. I believe we have deeper purposes than just our own enjoyment. The philosophy of seeking happiness at the expense of all else is hedonism, and that can endanger much that is good.
For the most part, I did enjoy this read, but I was disappointed in TIME. I thought they wouldve done a better job with notes to the exact scientific reference. But for most of it, they just said, Science says ... or One study says ... without ever telling us whom, exactly how such a thing was tested, how large of a sample size they had, etc, much less giving a link where we could find the data. I was disappointed because I considered TIME to be more reputable than that.
In fact, Id just told my aunt the other day that whenever someone tells me, Science says ... without ever referencing what study theyre talking about, Im already suspicious. I was disappointed to have to apply that same criterion for TIME. Sigh. They did, however, give the reference part of the time. What was up that the editors didnt catch that? Or did they want to minimize the pages and ink?
I had heard the quote before: Most folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be. But, I hadnt realized that Abraham Lincoln had said it. Thats a fact I find interesting, because Lincoln himself had his bout with depression, and was, perhaps, even suicidal at an earlier stage in his life.
Ill argue a little with the advice to Forget self-improvement, in which the authors reference Willibald Ruch. Yes, we do need to have an awareness of and appreciation for our own character strengths. But it does need to be balanced with some form of character growth, or we will end up stubbing our toe on the same piece of furniture over and over again, figuratively. If we can appreciate our current strengths, AND become stronger where we are weak, I think that would help overall, mentally and physically. But the effect of having both wasnt studied, just the effect of one or the other on happiness - appreciating our strengths or focusing on self-improvement. And I suppose it would matter if one were overcoming some big troubling aspect of oneself and seeing progress or just nit-picking oneself.
Maybe I shouldnt have been, but I was surprised with the section, How to Bounce Back about resiliency. I was pleasantly surprised that the topic had even been considered in a book on happiness. It makes sense, because part of happiness is learning to be resilient with the unhappy parts of life, and working our way back to a happier state.
For about a year, I had read about resiliency when, with my dads illness, I became part of the sandwich generation, trying to balance the needs of my parents and children. My quest started with reading Shelly Radics Momology: A Moms Guide to Shaping Great Kids. The first chapter, four sections, were about resiliency and being resilient ourselves as moms. The book had been the theme book for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and our mentor moms discussed the topic of resiliency in the meeting, too. I discovered that I already, routinely, did not just some, but EVERY stress-reducing, resiliency enabling thing on their list, both in the book and from our mentors. I still felt overwhelmed, and my take-away note was just that, yes, we should try to strengthen our resiliency, but life can just be hard sometimes.
TIMEs The Science of Happiness did have a few things to add to my reservoir about resiliency: Like the animal whose pulse returns quickly to normal once it has outrun a predator, resilient brains seem to shut off the stress response and return to baseline quickly. I think, in my original readings of resiliency, I had focused more on 1) getting through the crises at all, rather than quickly and 2)taking some of the sting out of the process. The idea of trying to return quickly to a state of calm is an interesting one to me.
I had already discovered, about myself, that I can do pretty well through a crisis, or even a series of crises, depending on their severity, of course, but I seemed to have almost routine trouble after the crisis had ended. Thats when Id have more trouble either in overreacting to others or in my own thoughts. I called it, in my own mind, the denouement. In literature, the part of the story after the crisis ended, when it should just be a wrap-up of any loose ends, is the denouement. And the denouement, in real life, is where Id have my trouble. Coming off of the adrenaline rush to a more calm state didnt go smoothly for me. Or, as the TIME booklet phrased it, the shut off the stress response and return to a baseline quickly.
For me, what has helped the most in that scenario, has been meditating on the verse Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. - Psalm 116:7. It was, in effect, reminding myself to calm down, be at rest, reminding myself that the crisis was over has been, and reminding myself to be grateful for all the little ways that Id seen goodness through the ordeal, for the Lord has been good to you. That, more than anything, has helped me through my denouements.
Another of TIMEs quotes in this section: ... worrying about the future, fretting about the past. The more we use this neuronal superhighway, the more efficient it grows, and this mode of thinking becomes our default. But new research shows humans can train their brains to build and strengthen different connections that dont reinforce the fear circuit. Over time, if people use this new pathway enough, it can become the new response to stress.
Ive thought that before, that we need to be careful what kinds of thoughts we feed our minds, what kinds of thoughts we allow our minds to routinely pursue.
Ill note the recommended book, in case, in the future, I should ever want to find it: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Lifes Greatest Challenges. - Charney and Southwick, 2012
The article on resilience went on, moving past Charney and Southwick to two studies, one in which scientists tried to make Marines more resilient and one in which they tried to make BMX cyclers more resilient. Although the Marines showed more biological ability to calm down after trauma than they had previously, interestingly, the Marines didnt feel more resilient. My take on it was that there was a difference in the way the Marines bodies reacted, but their souls still felt unsettled.
In the BMX study, the participants were told that the training could affect their brains, and afterwards they reported that they felt more resilient. So, in effect, telling them that in advance biased them to feel differently. Although the articles author didnt spell it out as the placebo effect, I have to wonder. Maybe such training can lower our biological responses to stress, which certainly would help greatly and is a great place to start. But, the Marines could still feel something was amiss. They didnt trust that they had healed from their experiences. And the BMX cyclists could feel differently because they had been told they would.
In the chart on how different family structures affect happiness, they left out the category entirely of people who were single with no kids. That seems, to me, to be a significant portion of the population! As well as overlooking some of my friends.
In the article, Jump for Joy, I liked the suggestion of the act of savoring - mining pleasant moments for their joy - is proven to increase happiness. Or, as one friend told me during a time of grief, focus on the moments of peace, even if those moments were rare. I found that in doing so, the moments of peace stretched longer and longer, until they began to blur together.
The same article mentioned a study in which it was found that the more people went on Facebook, the more their life-satisfaction levels declined. I had read a different, and I think, later study mentioned by Psychology Today that said that it depended on how one uses Facebook. Those that post (and are affirmed by others) actually are happier, but those that just scroll and read the postings of others, without posting themselves, are less happy, presumably because they are either envious of others situations or not receiving the same level of affirmation, because they are not posting. That study didnt mention those who post and are not affirmed for it.
Another TIME quote: Chatty commuters - introverts and extroverts alike - reported having the most pleasant commutes. First, Im glad to see that they evaluated introverts as well as extroverts. Some of the rest of this booklet seemed to be more geared towards extroverts, without considering that introverts might feel differently. Secondly, not all introverts think alike, either, and I suspect that some might find the silence, and the chance to process their workday more refreshing.
In the section Money Cant Buy Happiness, I liked the quote, And perhaps most tellingly, they [happy people] arent bothered by the successes of others ... They dare not to compare.
The authors considered whether children make one happy, looking both at modern peoples answers, as well as various religious texts. I thought that they did a pretty funny, but accurate synopsis of the Biblical ones - Abraham and David, among others - and ended up with a mixed bag of whether or not children make one happy. Im surprised they didnt add Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. - Psalm 127:3
They couldve also included this verse, which shows what a mixed bag it can be: A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. - Proverbs 10:1
I did like this TIME quote: The idea that happiness should be the goal of religion is a fairly recent one, and it would have been unrecognizable to the stern Protestants who landed on Plymouth Rock, who believed that the point of existence was the glorification of God - not human happiness. Thats the past, though; today, many of the descendants of those flinty Protestants now preach the prosperity gospel. Ah, yes, the prosperity gospel, the watered-down twisting of belief. The prosperity gospel, I believe, in the long term leads only to disillusionment and discouragement, not happiness, as God does not fulfill promises He never made (or promises that were taken out of context.)
I was sad to hear that the Dalai Lamas book The Art of Happiness also fell down that path as well. Even if I dont agree with their philosophy, I would have at least agreed that the purpose of life is beyond our own gratification and pleasure. Life can be such a beautiful mystery. Lets not degrade it by making it all about us. That goes back to hedonism that I mentioned at the beginning of this review.
It was interesting to note the finding that religion often does not lead to happiness if one does not believe like the majority, whether thats atheism in the Netherlands or Christianity in the United States. That study may not have investigated the extreme case of that, in which a minority religion is persecuted, but it makes me think of it. Its hard to be happy when one is being persecuted for beliefs, whatever those beliefs are, and there can be such a thing as verbal harassment and bullying, which are a slight form of persecution.
It reminded me of what the Apostle Paul said 1 Cor 15:19, speaking of persecution: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. - 1 Corinthians 15:19. He then went on to say what his hopes were.
If we are to choose Christianity, we should choose it for reasons other than immediate happiness, although, yes, God often does grant peace and even joy. But those are not the same thing as happiness.
Are you content...or joyful?
Happiness is the ultimate goal of life. However, most of us feel it for a certain period of time and then it disappears. You just have to experience it. It is present in every moment. If you hear a good news you feel happy and then a bad news comes and it all goes away. The answer is there is no secret. You just have to observe some realities that you are already aware of.
Are you moving too fast to enjoy life? Are you caught up in problems and struggles? Are you pressing forward on automatic, burning the candle at both ends? Even with the best of intentions, before we know it, we find ourselves moving mindlessly through life. We go through the motions, taking care of obligations, inhabiting habit patterns, and meanwhile longing for a time when the to-do list is empty. Our minds are caught in mental whirlwinds while we are missing out on what is already here.
The good news is there are always fresh opportunities to be happy. Imagine life is like Grand Central Station, where happy times arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. For whatever reason, you are unable to shift your focus to notice and appreciate it. When you shift your focus and the way you think, your perspective changes. When shift happens, your life changes.
Things that continue to surface when you think about living your best life, being happier, more fulfilled and joyful, those are the things you must be must be doing because your spirit is calling for them. If you're constantly saying you wish you painted more, wrote poetry or short stories, started meditating, drank more green juice or got to be outdoors more When we see something we connect with on a deep level, we know it. We're drawn to it in a way we can't explain. We long for it. Those that need to paint, are captivated by other people's artwork, pore over art supply catalogs, long to buy and begin expressing themselves on canvas.
We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday. One day many years ago, I was taking a short cut through a carpark. Hearing those words stopped me in my tracks. Nothing had happened that morning to make me angry, and there was no specific incident the anger was about. In that moment I saw myself as if my mind had taken a photographic snapshot.