Monday, December 13, 2010

Can you trick yourself into happiness?

I try to keep up with Penelope Trunk's blog, partly because she has some good advice, partly because she's so freaking crazy it's entertaining, but mostly because she makes me think.

She says stuff that makes me instantly angry, and then I get to think about why I'm angry, and whether I'm angry because she's challenging my assumptions, or because her assumptions are so, so very wrong the only appropriate response is a verbal smack-upside-the-head. Sort of like the verbal indignation I could get into in the comment threads over at DovBear's, before all the good trolls left.

Her most recent posts have me rethinking whether I really want to be happy - given that I've set myself to be able to be happy OR right, but not both.

Do I want to be happy, by accepting the fact that Bad Cohen really is permanently disabled, and re-imagining what our future life will be like, given that he can't work for pay or at home at anything like even his former capacity (he's a lazy git, but then so am I, so that used to be ok), or do I want to keep feeling oppressed and indignant and confused that *everyone* around me seems to be more well-off, financially?

Penelope links to Ben Bernanke's commencement speech at some Southern college, where he mentions (of course) Easterlin's studies on happiness. Have you ever noticed that you can be perfectly happy living in cheap quarters, being poor (the Western definition of "poor" of course, in which you still have running water and heat), as well as with a good expensive Scotch and a nice house, etc? We adjust. So long as we're not worse off than the majority of the people we spend time with, we think we're doing pretty well.

I was happy being poor and struggling after college, because so were all my friends.

But what happens when you're 35, working all the time at a job that doesn't interest you, just so you can make enough to pay for daycare and medical bills (and maybe heat), when all your friends are doing fascinating jobs, living in beautiful and/or giant houses, taking vacations, etc.?

Maybe I need to make friends with some single moms who are struggling. Or find some other grad students with kids who are broke and stressed out.

But of course, I really love living somewhere quiet, somewhere with a garden, somewhere where I don't have to feel constantly bombarded by noise and other people. And that takes money (or a family house, like the one we're squatting in now--although I'd prefer one with up-to-code electricity and plumbing and insulation).

The more we focus on what we can't control, the more miserable we get. (there's science behind this, I'm just too lazy a git to go find a link)

SO, I figure I can jump-start happiness either by convincing myself I'm actually in control of what's happening, by getting involved in Bad Cohen's doctoral program search and choosing to embrace the next really sucky step in our lives, or by giving up on the idea of personal wealth and stability and focusing on very, very small things I CAN actually control, like what I eat, or repainting the kitchen, or trying not to smack The Kid when he drives me crazy for the fifth time in a single hour.

Clearly, reading Penelope Trunk is likely to make you just as crazy as she is.

Don't say you weren't warned.


Blogger Penelope Trunk said...

Tzipporah. Your post makes me think about two things: First, you have such a good understanding of anger. I need to approach anger differently. It's actually a window into understanding ourselves better, if we use it. I usually just pick a fight. Totally unproductive. I think I'm a better person for reading your post today.

The other thing about your post is that I love your courage in writing about the money your friends have and how it relates to your happiiness. I was absolutely exhausted trying to find friends in NYC who did not make me feel poor. It was disheartening. So I moved to Wisconsin, where the median income is so low that it's easy for me to feel on the rich side of that. The difference is incredible. I feel so lame for saying this, because I wish it weren't true, but in fact, I know it's true for all of us: Our sense of well-being is relative to how much money the people around us have. I confess to be a little miffed that I can't feel safe and secure living among the super rich (and super interesting) in NYC. But it's so easy to feel secure in Wisconsin.


12/14/2010 5:29 AM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

OMG, you commented on my blog!! (swoon)

"I feel so lame for saying this, because I wish it weren't true,"

yeah, that whole thing of wanting to be as we SHOULD, and not as we are, that's always a trap.

12/14/2010 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Leah Caruso said...

These are all very interesting questions. I like your honesty. The last few PT posts have also challenged me to think about how I think about being happy. It's funny, I've always said I can't help my children be happy, I can just raise them to be mensches - the happy part they have to do on their own. But I've never given much thought to my own happiness, either.

I think for me, and what I hear from you in this post, is that it would be nice simply not to struggle so much. I don't need lots of $$ I'd just like to not have to struggle as much. And figuring all that out with a spouse and a child and whatnot. It's hard. Sometimes I'd like it to be less hard. Anyway is anyone truly happy? What does that even mean?

12/14/2010 9:11 PM  

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