There’s a lot going on in the world right now that is negative, depressing or just makes you want to throw up your hands and say why? Yet yesterday, after spending a few hours with neighbors and people I did not know well, I felt uplifted and did something I’ve been told to do since childhood—I counted my blessings. And I decided to shake off negative feelings—a conscious decision. Will I be successful? Will I earn good marks on some happiness scale?
PEACE WINS OVER HAPPINESS
Eckhart Tolle writes that the concept of happiness is actually quite superficial and that peace is deeper and has more meaning in day to day life. He states: Peace is immune to the polarities of life: the highs and lows, the hots and colds, the so-called goods and so-called bads. This is why peace is so crucial.
Tolle acknowledges that there isn’t anyone who goes through life unscathed. We all hurt. We all lose someone or something. And when that happens we cannot feel happiness. But then he asks the question: But do you need to feel in absolute despair? Do you need to feel devastated?
An amazing concept, though one that might take much work to achieve. In our culture happiness is prized and pursued as everyone can relate to these familiar words found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
YOUR BRAIN WANTS A HAPPY THOUGHT
Alex Lickerman, an internal medicine doc at the University of Chicago, conducted a study with patients requiring colostomies (a procedure that would create a major change in one’s elimination system). He found that six months later those patients told the procedure was permanent were happier than those told the procedure was potentially reversible. Why? Lickerman explains: Because uncertainty prevented the latter group from adapting to the change, keeping them focused on and attached to what they still stood to lose. Uncertainty about the future has almost unequaled power to lower our life-condition in the present. Think: ISSIS, EBOLA, CANCER, UNEMPLOYMENT.
So what do we do? Lickerman found that the converse also seemed to be true—that anticipating something pleasant seems to have almost unequaled power to make our present glow. Anticipatory joy is often greater than the joy brought to us by experiencing the very things we anticipate.
Let’s say that again: the anticipation of the pleasure to be experienced is often more joyful than the experience itself. Do you agree?
You can create your own happiness experiment by keeping a short diary for a week. At the end of each day ask yourself where you might fall on a happiness scale. Then ask yourself if you were looking forward to something that day. Lickerman states that the days with anticipation are probably happier days than those empty and containing nothing to look forward to. He advocates experiencing anticipatory pleasure by planning experiences that give us joy.
He writes: Anticipatory pleasure is so important to my sense of well-being…that I now plan my life in such a way that I almost always have something to look forward to. For me, this can be finishing an interesting blog post, working on my next book, going to a movie or a play with my wife, playing with my son, reading a good book, getting errands done, or even organizing my desk. I’ve learned the activity needn’t be large or significant or meaningful—just something I look forward to, even a little bit.
But Lickerman cautions that this might be hard to achieve if our lives are in a crisis mode and something looming large is depressing us. He also cautions that clinical depression requires clinical help. But on the up side, Lickerman says: …our brains are so constituted that we’re able to feel more than one thing at a time—even diametrically opposed feelings…So even when we’re depressed, placing something in front of ourselves that we look forward to can bring anticipatory pleasure… I’ve been amazed at how much of a boost to my life-condition even a small anticipatory pleasure can bring, even when I’m feeling anxious, sad, or depressed.
THE BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project would agree that doing errands and being organized are pleasurable activities and contribute to happiness. She cites the concept in law enforcement known as the broken windows theory. It states that we humans take lots of cues from our environment. Translation: if your neighborhood portrays evidence of minor lawbreaking like vandalism, graffiti and piled refuse and people living there fail to right these wrongs, the chance that bigger and more consequential laws will be broken increases. The cure is to immediately address the minor infractions and then people start to behave better. Though a controversial policing theory, Rubin is convinced that it’s true when applied to one’s life.
She writes: There are small indicators of disorder that unleash in us a feeling that things are out of control. Even if the trigger is just a stack of unsorted mail, that feeling begets other, bigger feelings—namely, guilt and defeat. Maybe your broken window is dirty laundry, a sink full of dishes, clutter on your counter. Whatever it is, it undermines your goals because it gives you a sense of chaos. The act of fixing broken windows, however, is liberating. The task takes on symbolic weight. It doesn’t just feel like you’re sorting the mail you’ve been meaning to sort—it feels like you’re taking the first step toward doing everything you’ve been meaning to.
Taking the first step. Moving toward everything you’ve been meaning to do. Moving toward usefulness and having anticipatory pleasure because the leaves will be raked and you’ll burn some calories in the process. The mail will be sorted and you’ll unexpectedly find a rebate check. You’ll connect with an old friend and make his day—maybe even bring some peace into his life and yours.
The happiness scale can certainly change from day to day. But like Dr. Lickerman does, it’s a great idea to schedule something that gives your joy, something to anticipate and help you through other parts of your life. If you have a happiness theory, please share. And again I will quote a wise woman: “Feeling sad today? Then go out and help someone else.”
To take a test to see how happy you really are go here.
Thanks to Google Images