Monday, August 13, 2007

What Will Make You Happy?

Continuing with my current musings on choosing joy (recent posts are here and here)....

This educational, inspirational video is 22 minutes long, but WELL WORTH the time. (If you're really pressed for time, skip the first segment...but then go back for it later!) Here's their blurb about it:

Psychologist Dan Gilbert challenges the idea that we'll be miserable if we don't get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel real, enduring happiness, he says, even when things don't go as planned. He calls this kind of happiness "synthetic happiness," and he says it's "every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for."

There is so much fascinating research in this entertaining lecture that pertains to the idea of choosing joy, but let me point out a few things especially.

One is that we are pitifully bad at knowing what really will make us happy. Some things that we think will make us happy--for example, more choices--actually make us more miserable, the research shows! Incredibly, so does having the option to change our minds.

We also overestimate the significance of desirable circumstances. We think that if we just get the promotion, win the election, get the big break, etc., etc,....we'd be more happy. And it's simply NOT TRUE. In fact, three months later, it's as if the big event never happened, in terms of our happiness--whether we gained or lost what we wanted.

In fact, there has been research on two different groups of people: lottery winners, and folks who lose the use of their legs and end up in a wheelchair. Believe it or not, one year later, both are equally happy!

You'd probably never guess that when we have no choice, we are the happiest. The speaker gives fascinating example after example of how this is true. He explains that in these circumstances, our brains actually manufacture what he calls "synthetic happiness" with our lot, and it's just as real as when we get what we want.

Applications abound, it seems to me. Apparently, commitment is a big factor in happiness, which makes me think immediately of marriage. Their levels of commitment explain why previous generations who did not view divorce as an option self-describe as truly very happy with their marriages, and why couples who live together before marriage are so much more likely to divorce. It also explains why, when we truly give up trying to change our spouses and accept who they are--bad and good--we feel happier and we like them better. (Don't miss that last link to one of my favorite books on marriage.)

Additionally, making a choice brings a lot more happiness than indecision, and for those who struggle with indecision, doesn't it make you happier to know that whatever you choose, you can be happy with it? I find this knowledge most comforting.

I think immediately of making a purchase, like homeschool curriculum or a house. These are both decisions in my near future, and it's so interesting to compare them. I told my husband weeks ago that even though we haven't been able to find "the perfect house" yet in Wisconsin, I just knew that whatever we end up choosing, I will find things to love about it. Choosing a home, of course, is almost as irrevocable a choice as getting married, in my book--unless you just love keeping your house realtor-ready at all time, and packing and moving all your belongings every couple of years. (Sigh.... Blegh!) So of course I AM going to be happy in my new house.

Choosing curriculum is another story. As all homeschoolers know, it is so easy to be dissatisfied with your decisions because there are so many other options out there, with someone, who has chosen them, just so happy with their choice! (Can I get an Amen?) So it stands to reason that homeschoolers with fewer choices because of budget, or who tend to choose reusable vs. consumable curriculum, are probably happier than those who continually revisit their choices. The same applies to plenty of other purchase decisions as well.

In fact, those of us who can make a choice and move on are happier than those who choose, but keep watching prices or reading reviews to see if something better comes along. Harboring regret sounds like a choice that is not conducive to happiness either.

Other obvious applications are that limiting our choices--and the number of choices we give our kids--is a happiness-producer, as is accepting our limitations like health, energy level, sleep needs, our geographical location, or circumstances like our children's current ages, our husband's job, or our income level. (See this post for more on that idea.)

I think the psalmist knew the kind of happiness that we all can experience from accepting our lot when he said in Psalms 16:5-6:

LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I've only unpacked a few of the things that this video made me think about. Maybe I'll take it a little further later. But in the meantime, do go watch. It's so thought-provoking; feel free to share your thoughts on it here in the comments, or if it inspires a post on your own blog, please leave a link here!


Wendy WaterBirde said...

Hi Jeanne,

I love this joy series of yours, and this post is no exception. That video hit something core with the part on choice. I remember i was at a talk some third world missionaries were giving one time, they were answering questions and someone asked what was the hardest thing for them. One of them said "coming back here" and they all laughed. But then they talked about it, and the area of choice came up.

Now all of them were very glad to come back to some things, like long hot baths and the like. But they were explaining how the body is so overwhelmed coming back in general, all the flashiness and noise and speed and consumerism, and all the CHOICES. One guy was saying how very hard it was for him to go in grocery store once he got back, how for every little thing there were a million (often meaningless no less) choices to be made in a typical supermarket, all packaged with words jumping out, colors glaring, competing and grabbing for his attention, for his choosing, it was just overwhelming. And all of them nodded at what he said, they'd all had that same experience coming back.

So the thing about choice in the video really jumped out. Too much focus on choice can be so much like the occult mantra of "setting intent" which has always made me nervous deep down, its subtle message is that we are in control, not God. And the guy in that video was right, something happens when you commit and accept rather than live in constant choice, it builds trust becuase you feel God is more in control rather than it being in your shaky hands, and that brings happiness (okay, thats not what he said, i'm paraphrasing big time lol).

Thank you for posting this...and i'm sure i wont be able to resist qouting you again either soon : )



Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

:) I choose to be joyful today! :)

and boy, can I ever relate to being "married" to a curriculum you don't really like! I've bought more than my fair share of those. I'm learning that we need very little curriculum, really!

Grafted Branch @ Restoring the Years said...

This is a great post! I am often exhausted (at best) and on the verge of a panic attack (at worst) over the number of choices I have in everything from curricula to toothpaste. I'm not kidding--I despise the grocery store for the number of choices I feel compelled to consider.

I'm off to watch the video now. Thanks again.