go ahead, be happy!

the keys to happiness are available to anyone, says this article in lifescience.com today:

Money that lifts people out of poverty increases happiness, but after that, the better paychecks stop paying off sense-of-well-being dividends, research shows.

One route to more happiness is called “flow,” an engrossing state that comes during creative or playful activity, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found. Athletes, musicians, writers, gamers, and religious adherents know the feeling. It comes less from what you’re doing than from how you do it.

Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California at Riverside has discovered that the road toward a more satisfying and meaningful life involves a recipe repeated in schools, churches and synagogues. Make lists of things for which you’re grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, notice life’s small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into friendships and family.

The happiest people have strong friendships, says Ed Diener, a psychologist at the University of Illinois

okay, now we know it. not that we didn’t know it before. so what’s up? how come that, armed with this knowledge, we don’t all go ahead and be happy?

there’s probably many reasons. one of them has fascinated me quite a bit lately. many of us have this great reluctance to take seriously really ordinary, run-of-the-mill recipes. let’s take the one about gratefulness, something i’ve discussed in other blog entries before.

here’s a scenario:

mick: “i’m so unhappy! what should i do?”
terry: “i write a gratitude list every day – 10 things i’m grateful for every day. wanna try that, too?”
mick: “geez, i’ve heard that one before. if it was so easy, everybody would be happy!”
terry: “exactly, it’s easy, and if everybody did it, they’d be a lot happier!”
mick: “oh, leave me alone with these mom-and-pop ideas. you have no idea how complicated my life is!”
terry: “ok, before i leave you alone with this, can i ask you just one question. have you tried gratitude lists before?”
mick: “yes! i did one once, and it didn’t work! it didn’t make me happy!”
terry: “oh. well, i guess for me it works because i do it every day.”
mick: “it’s easy for you. you are already happy!”

so mick is unhappy. he uses words that sound like he’s looking for advice. then terry comes along with an idea and mick turns it down. it’s because a) maybe he wasn’t even looking for advice; b) the advice is too “easy”, which c) devaluates the depth of his unhappiness.

mick has been unhappy for so long that his unhappiness has become quite important. he does not wish for his unhappiness to be devalued.

he expresses the depth of his unhappiness by saying that his life is “complicated”. because he feels unheard (and because he probably has been unheard for many years), he is not interested in what terry has to say/offer. also, mick thinks that because the simplicity of the remedy does not match the depth of his unhappiness, it cannot work.

also, because he has used this remedy once and it did not work right away, he feels justified in not trying it again. it didn’t work, and it does not match the depth of his depression – so why try it again?

unfortunately, mick does not know that this remedy does indeed work in most situations if applied on a consistent basis. he doesn’t know it because it’s an experiential thing.

remember when you were 8 years old and you saw people kissing and you thought, “eeeeek, what a gross thing to do!” and then when you were 17, you couldn’t get enough of it?

experiencing the cumulative effect of gratitude lists (and other ordinary remedies) is a bit like that. it’s as simple as a kiss. and can be as life changing.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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