I signed a contract yesterday!
I sold a story and I signed a contract. The glow of this hard won success still sits inside me making me dance around the house and do silly things. It won’t last. Happy moments like this never do. Thank goodness – because the adrenalin surge that occurred wore me out.
But it made me think about happiness and the decisions that we make.
My guru on happiness isn’t the tenants of religion or the rules of a self-help writer. Rather I turn to science and the work of Daniel Gilbert to help me understand what makes us happy.
Right now I am happy – not surging with bliss by any means – but happier now than last year or the years before that. In reality the last time I felt this content was when I worked at Borders and before that my job at the Vollum taking care of Fruit Fly stocks. At the time I didn’t know how lucky I was. Each time I left chasing money and benefits thinking they would have a positive impact on my life. Each time I got the money and the benefits but they didn’t make me happier.
According to Dr. Gilbert, what we think will make us happy is wrapped up in the desires of our genes to procreate and the need of our society. More money, more things, better jobs, etc. are all part of the push that society gives us in order for it to exist. Thus the lure of the “American Dream”.
Apparently us humans are not able to clearly define what future choices will make us happy. We can play with future events, imagine ourselves in future situations, but are usually really bad at deciding what will make us happy. People tend to overestimate outcomes both negatively and positively.
I have a friend who made a huge life change last year because she imagined it would make her happier. The reality of the situation is very different and at times she is despondent. There were all these things that the new job was supposed to do and I believe not a single one has materialized. It also appears that the stress has eliminated the ability for her to manufacture happiness by making what she has, what she wanted.
I explained that poorly.
One of the things that we do to create happiness is reframe the situation. (This again from Dr. Gilbert) We’ve all done this. Look at the relationships that have imploded in your life, jobs lost, or promotions denied. We mourn then and then we reframe the story. We say things like “we really weren’t a good fit” or “I’m better off now than if I’d gotten that job” or the classic “it wasn’t meant to be”.
An aspect of depression is not being able to reframe. People get locked into the mourning phase and are unable to move on. There is an advantage to depression. It keeps us from acting on our emotions of the moment and gives us time to adjust to the new situation. It is only when it continues beyond its useful period that it becomes a problem.
But I digress.
The reason I was thinking about happiness is that I got lucky. And I’m not sure how or why. Maybe it was just blind luck that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life and that I’m actually enjoying it.
Not all of it – this isn’t easy.
A friend asked me the other day if I got up excited every morning. I don’t. I still love my bed and hate getting up. But I do and I write almost every day – we all need days off – and I just did the numbers and found that I write more than 5 days a week. This is my job after all.
But I was thinking about my friend and her inability to forgive herself for her decision and start reframing the situation so she can be happy again. It is a different life but it isn’t a bad one and she’s had some tremendous successes. She just can’t seem them.
In the end, we make our own happiness. No matter how bad things get we bounce back and move forward. Nothing in our lives will bring us as much pain or as much joy as we think it will.
And even that is transitory.