Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Friday, May 10, 2013

If You Want To Be Happy...

Most of the time, I really don't think about being happy...there's always too much to do or remember to do to focus on something like happiness. Strong emotions like anger and sadness are easy to realize since they are so powerful. Happiness, on the other hand, is quiet and peaceful, the younger sibling, perhaps, of joy, the desire to shout out loud and love the world. Anyway, happiness does concern us if we stop to think about it: what makes us happy or keeps us from being happy is always there. There are many theories...take your pick. Sonja Lubormirsky thinks she's got the answer.
Lubormirsky is a psychology researcher at the University of California has written two books on the subject: The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness. The subtitle to the first is The Scientific Way to Get What You Want, and that makes me a little nervous. It seems that there is some kind of manipulation behind it. I have yet to open it, but I am interested in the concept.
According to ideas set forth in the second book, everyone has a "happiness set point" and we deviate from that to one side or the other as we move through life. Some of the ideas expressed are more cynical than others, representing people as achieving happiness only at others' discomfort. "Schaudenfreude" is the term Germans use in such cases: I'm happy when you are miserable. Some of Lubomirsky's research actually DOES point to this idea as being predominant in humans. For example, in one experiment, people were given poor job evaluations but were happy when others got even poorer evaluations. I hear this all the time as students report to me the test scores that were less than positive. "I was in the top five in the class," is a common refrain in such incidents.
On the other hand, the Yiddish word "shepnaches" is also evident on occasion: it reveals happiness at others' success. Whether others succeed when we do not is an aspect not discussed. I can always be happy for others' success if it does not reflect poorly on me... Lubormirsky conducted experiments to test just that: in this case, she used pairs of people, telling each one that he or she did great but the partner was better! Even when respondents did well, they were somewhat dispirited that a partner had done better. Good, it seems, was not enough!
All of this leads us to one of Lubormirsky's theses: our happiness is dependent on the degree to which we compare ourselves to others. The generally unhappy people tend to compare themselves to others a lot, and they CARE A LOT about the results of those comparisons. Happy people might compare themselves to others on occasion, but they really don't care much about the results of said comparison.
Makes sense. Maybe I'll start reading this weekend to find out where I fall.
I hate self-fulfilling prophecies!


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