Sunday, March 13, 2016

An Evolution of Happiness

I just want you to be happy.
Thanks Mom. 

That felt like a ton of bricks when I went off to college. I didn’t know what would make me happy. I thought I was alone in this particular confusion, that I was born this way. There's some truth to this. Researchers at the University of Minnesota studied identical twins separated at birth and found that half of our happiness is hard wired; it’s in our genes. I’m a fairly serious, randomly funny, person that lives a messy life full of distractions, pot holes, and time warps. I would not say that I’m gentically programmed to be extremely happy, but I get that I, and you, are uniquely, genetically endowed- no other snowflake is like me or you. I thought happiness was follow this path to a good job and have a family on this timeline. However, who knew that learning the how and what it is that makes me, specifically me, happy would be so hazy.

Sometime in the mid two thousands with small babies in the house, my husband came in crowing about having heard the secret to happiness on the radio. I cocked my head.

It’s not what you think. It’s not the lottery, a powerful job, or money.
It’s two children under two?
It’s how close you live to your job!

A study had found that proximity or living close to your job, a short commute, was the key to happiness. At the time, we lived in Washington, DC, where no matter where you live, it takes forever to get where you need to go. A frustrating commute could turn a sane person crazy. From DC we would visit Athens and marvel that we could get anywhere in town in less than fifteen minutes. That moment was the set up for our intention to live some place that we could readily traverse.

My next external happiness clue came from a National Geographic story about the Blue Zones where pockets of longevity were studied that included, Loma Linda, CA, Sardinia, Italy, and Okinawa, Japan. Diets varied from vegan to Mediterranean, required no unusual exercise regimens beyond natural activities like walking but all of them had faith, family, and social networks that supported healthy behaviors. Happiness again seemed to be partly about location, a community having certain things in it.

The Harvard Grant Study which looked at a group of Harvard undergraduates over a seventy-five year period concluded that the best predictor of happiness is not the perfect job, not money, health, nor good looks, it's relationships. All you need is love.

Ok, so love and location.

The thing was, I was married, with kids, but I mostly wished I had some space, another location, from all that relating, love. Space to think in complete sentences. I missed my job where people listened to me, paid me money, and did what I said. I missed that, but not all of it, not the fifteen hour days, not eating takeout most nights, and not the just work, work, work. I wanted a better handle on my commute, my community, but also on my day to day life. I wanted to cook my own dinner. Read more books. There was something else I couldn't quite put my finger on. What else? Some big goal?

Research says one off events like getting a dream job or moving to Athens impact happiness but that these kinds of huge goals dissipate quickly which bring us to the ongoing twelve percent rooted in valuing faith, family, community, and work. 

I attend church regularly, I meditate occasionally, I work in the community frequently, and that family it keeps on loving me whether I’m happy or not, but work? Not eighty hour weeks that give us health problems. It’s co workers those social connections, but it’s also rewarding work. 

Rewarding work?

Rewarding work is about earned success, and you define how you earn this success- sales? Students taught? School lunches changed? Stories written? Films made? If you can discern your own project and discover the currency you value, work will be rewarding.

The pursuit of happiness is about discerning what makes you happy, but that is a kind of slippery thing. You have to notice what excites you. What do you love? What fuels your interest over time? Pay attention to what excites you. Notice your taste. Pay attention to your attention. I'll steal a line from Ira Glass, What make your world seem bigger, like a world you want to live in? A world with surprise? Joy? Then you have to learn to throw up the question, what's amusing to you? You have to figure out how to do this from where you are doing the work you do... so choose wisely. 

It's in your choices that you'll find your happiness, but you'll have to choose what makes you happy again and again and again. Happiness evolves.

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