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Posts Tagged ‘happiness research’

Back in November at the DMB show, I was catching up with one of our friends who asked me if Ryan and I were still enjoying our apartment. We have a fabulous apartment in the middle of downtown Cville: hardwood floors, 10′ ceilings, built-in book cases. So, yes, of course we are still loving it! We can walk to almost anything we need and we only have to use our cars about once or twice a week (for errands, visiting friends, meetings, etc.).  In this conversation, he mentioned a theory that I’d never heard of but that I haven’t been able to get out of my head, so I thought I’d share it.

He explained to me a theory called the “Triangle of Happiness”— it claims that the smaller the triangle between where you sleep, work, and shop; the happier the human. But, instead of me defining it, you can read about it here— don’t worry it’s short and has a diagram!

I like to think that Ryan and I are very happy, but I decided to mathematically test exactly how happy we are! So, here are the stats:
– distance from our house to my work= .2 miles
– distance from our house to Ryan’s work= .2 miles
– distance from our house to Barracks Road= 4.2 miles

Less than 5 miles total, pretty amazing, right? There are definitely some downsides to our apartment: it’s a one bedroom, we don’t have laundry in our apartment, and our bathtub is plastic and I refuse to take a bath in it. In general, we probably pay a little bit more for some basic necessities, like groceries and personal items. We hardly ever go to big box stores like Target and favor, instead, paying a higher price but staying within a smaller radius. This not only saves on gas, but by staying away from places like Target, we avoid the inevitable Target impulse shopping— you know, you go into buy toilet paper and shaving cream and come out with half of the households department, two pairs of earrings, a sundress, some flip flops, a soy candle, and a garden stool. So, maybe we do save money in the end? Note: all of the things listed in the “theoretical” impulse shopping list above are things that I have actually purchased from Target.

I think this happiness theory is so fascinating because it so starkly contrasts the idea of happiness that I think most people have. When I think of “happiness”, the first thing that comes to mind is an image of a pure blue swimming pool by a villa in the Hollywood Hills, a stainless-steal sub-zero fridge stocked with fresh Whole Foods produce, and a pilates instructor that makes private house-calls. But, I guess, it turns out, my little routine of walking from my one-bedroom apartment to work in 18 degree weather might make me just as happy.

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A few months ago while reading The Hook– a weekly newspaper here in Charlottesville- I came across a column by Penelope Trunk that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. Penelope is a syndicated columnist and blogger and I’d read several of her columns before but nothing had caught my attention like her column, “Test: Are you happy or interesting?“. At the time, I don’t think I took the test, but I didn’t need to— the first sentence of her column was all I needed to read.

Allow me to paraphrase: her conclusion was, after having done “years of research”, that you have to pick: do you want to be interesting or happy? You can’t be both. I felt offended in a sort of way given that, when you boil my life’s goals down, I basically want to be both happy and interesting. I want to live a comfortable life with my family but I also want to do exciting, passionate work. Who the f#%k (see her article on the f word) was she to tell me (okay, maybe not tell me to my face) or at least insinuate that the life I want, the life I work toward every day, is not possible?

As you might be beginning to notice, this column didn’t just offend me… it left me paranoid. For the past year-or-so, I’ve thought about this annoying assertion everyday in a round-about way. You know the old saying that “pain and suffering make for great art.” Well, I think of this principle a lot as I look around my beautiful, dream of an apartment and stare over at my husband with that newly-wed glow still in our eyes— actually, I should say, I think of the inverse of this principle a lot, which must be that happiness makes for bad art.

Let’s say, I’m happy right now but I also want to make good art (or, in my case, write a great song). Does that mean that I have to sabotage my happiness or wait for something bad to happen to me before I find the inspiration to make good art? In other words, do I have to be unhappy before I can do something that I think will… make me happy? Why not just stay happy the whole time… skip the whole making myself feel unhappy part just so I can feel happy again? To me, the whole exercise of making art, is a way for an artist to alleviate some pain, some weight, by getting it out into the world and out of the artist’s head… hence, making the artist happier. So, maybe, the desire for happiness both feeds and destroys the ability to make art.

Even people with the greatest ambitions who lead the most interesting and sexy of lives, who want to build the biggest companies and the tallest towers, aren’t they driven by the fact that once they accomplish what they’ve set after, they’ll feel happy? Maybe they don’t always think of it in those terms, but I think when you strip away the layers of ego and greed, that’s what’s there. That itch-you-wanna-scratching feeling of, if I can just accomplish this one thing, I can die happy.

So, I guess what Penelope is saying is, that feeling never happens for those people? They never realize happiness? Maybe she’s not saying that at all. Maybe she’s trying to say that greatness comes from making great sacrifices. And, great sacrifices don’t make you happy… at least, up front.

When I got the idea to write this blog post, I decided to go ahead and take the test (I gave myself a 0 if I felt the question didn’t apply to me or I fell into neither category) and I scored, in total, a -1, which she defines as, ” … suspiciously well balanced. Or lacking a self-identity. I’m not sure which.” Hopefully not the latter.

I got -1’s (things that make you interesting) for rearranging my life to do something great, having been to a therapist, and having tried on $200 jeans. I got +1’s (things that make you happy) for being a happy child and having friends that pray. All the rest I left as 0’s.

I suppose if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy. But, I’m banking on the possibility that the road to interesting might also lead to happiness.

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