As the New Year approached, we were busy here at Lipstick-Chat talking about and making resolutions. One of mine was to watch at least three TED videos a week. For those of you not familiar with TED, it’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading ideas. To meet this goal, they’ve created a website that offers free “talks” from thinkers in a variety of disciplines, technology, entertainment, and design to name a few, that teach, inspire, and start great conversations. Their belief is that “ideas have the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.”
One talk I’m excited to pass along is The Surprising Science of Happiness, given by Dan Gilbert. Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, challenges the idea that we can only be happy if we get what we want. He believes, and research in his field shows, that our “psychological immune systems” lets us feel happy even when life throws us a curve ball. Gilbert calls this ability to “manufacture” happiness in adverse situations synthetic happiness, the opposite of natural happiness, which occurs after getting what we want. Gilbert believes that there’s no significant difference between the two, although society tends to favor the natural variety.
Some other findings:
- Our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong and make us bad at predicting future happiness.
- Given too many choices actually lessens our ability to experience happiness, both synthetic and natural. This may be why married couples are happier and couples in arranged marriages are even happier still.
- The amount of your positive experiences is a better predictor of happiness than is the intensity of a single positive experience. Many small, happy events in a day trump one mind-blowing one!
Why are we reluctant to believe in our power to manufacture real happiness? We make and use all kinds of synthetic things everyday- fabric, medicine, rubber, and food additives, just to name a few. So if we can create all of these nifty things, why can’t we construct a little happiness as well?
The optimism of this theory thrills me! I love it because it doesn’t suggest a wild goose chase that might end in happiness. Instead, it encourages contentment in the things we have today. This is not to say that we should stay at a unfulfilling job or in a bad relationship, but as James Oppenheim said, “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.”
So why don’t we take his theory for a test drive and manufacture ourselves some happy little experiences today- buy a friend a coffee, write a love letter, or make snow angels with your daughter! Please let me know what positive experiences you created! If it doesn’t work, we can always run out and buy lottery tickets…
Much Love ,
Last week I shared a little bit with you about practicing what I preach. (See Dec.1 column. The goal isn’t to make the right choice, it is to own that choice.) After hitting the send button on my computer I knew I would have to do what I said. I told you when faced with a difficult situation to;
- Feel what you feel.
- Don’t put a value on, or judge yourself but rather look at what that experience taught you.
- Be thankful.
- Push through.
Interestingly, the points I gave you came in reverse. I pondered my situation, got off my ass and got out of the condo. I knew I had to push through! I strolled through the streets of San Jose Del Cabo and took in the culture that continues to draw me back. I ended up at one of my favorite little restaurants and ordered my favorite local dish. Smoked Marlin Tacos! I sipped on a Margarita and struck up a conversation with a couple from Mexico. We ended up talking and laughing for several hours before I headed back up the hill to watch the full moon rising over the sea, and that’s when I was overwhelmed with how much there is to be thankful for. I could focus on the stress, loss or difficulty of life, or I could be thankful for the experiences that reinforce daily that I am not alone. I am surrounded by beauty and kindness. I am learning every day. I am not alone and I am loved by many.
So as I contemplated all there is to be thankful for, I seemed to naturally move toward what that day taught me. I would have been justified in feeling bad, but that would not have led to the experiences I had. I could have beat myself up for being emotional, but that would have kept me down and more likely than not, I would have carried myself in a way that made me less approachable. What I had learned in the past was again reinforced. I know what I am capable despite myself. I have to move past what I feel and act! I learned again that life is all about perspective. I have to continually challenge my perceptions and seek truth! Sitting stagnant will not lead to that end.
I was back at the spot where I began, sitting on a balcony looking at the sea. Because I pushed through I could accept my emotions with a calm that had escaped me just hours before, I was then reminded of something I often say to clients when the talk about being unhappy. I tell them that in my experience, looking for happiness is futile. It often eludes us. And if we were happy all of the time we would not have the experiences that teach and mold us. What I tell clients is to focus on finding peace! Peace can co-exist with other emotions and experiences where happiness cannot. Peace can remain amidst a plethora of chaos and emotion. This is why I so often end my writings with that salutation!