Monday, January 28, 2013

The Myths of Happiness and Life Hacks

Sonja Lyubomirsky
Does this woman look happy?  She would probably say, "Happy enough."

I mean, who's really happy all of the time?

We'll get back to how to be happy, and the myths about happiness in a second. This is the positive psychology school that passed me by. Six years ago you heard me question it, seriously wonder how far people can fool themselves. After all, we can't just dismiss the throes of depression, can't not grieve death. And you can't ignore your worries.

It turns out that you can grieve, surely, without making a sad event a life-defining event, life absorbing. And worries, well, we all have them, but we can ignore them for a little while. If we want to be happy we have to experience life, travel maybe, not invest it all and wait to live. We have to reframe positively, see the best of our past, we have to keep our relationships new, and yes, we have to be frugal.

But a quick word from 50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World.
Life hacks are mini ticket to happiness, so why wouldn't we take a detour here? Someone sent me the link, and I had to know, naturally--What are they?

Twisted Sifter's Life Hack
According to Twisted Sifter,
Life hacks are little ways to make our lives easier. These low-budget tips and trick can help you organize and de-clutter space; prolong and preserve your products; or teach you something (e.g., tie a full Windsor) that you simply did not know before.

The thought of that bagel in the CD spindle worked for me, a person who nibbles between patients. Like they don't know. The point is that little things, like new solutions to things, do make us happy.

But about worrying. A patient texts me in the middle of the night, just as I'm about to turn in: Things aren't good! Can you suggest something I can do to control my freaking anxiety?

She wants a psychology life hack!

An Edna Foa groupie, I've got a few dozen of her cognitive behavioral life hacks in my head, and supplemented with a few dozen more over the years. Anything you read by Dr. Foa is worth the few bucks she charges (as long as we're doing book reviews instead of blogging about Perfect Pitch.)

Adapted from STOP Obsessing: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions). I text back: Whatever you are worrying about, accept the worst, but tell the worry to wait five minutes, you have to do something right now. Then do something else for five minute or longer. If you can postpone for another five, do that, and if you can keep postponing, keep postponing. In the interim do anything, watch TV, call a friend (don't talk about the worry), get on a treadmill, read the funnies-- anything.

The therapy works because the intensity of the obsession diminishes over time, so if you can push it off, even a little, you are golden. Stay home and worry, you are somebody's patient for life.

The Myths of Happiness
Now let's move on to Sonja Lyubomirsky and her new book, The Myths of Happiness.

What if I were to tell you, after reading it::
If you only have enough money to buy one good self-help book this year, The Myths of Happiness is up there with the top reads! 
I have been paraphrasing Dr. Lyubomirsky all week (forgive me, Sonja).
You know, people who stay single are just as happy as people who marry. You have a heck of a lot more time to enjoy your money, nobody steals the remote, you can do what you want with your time. You can get to know your nieces and nephews.
 (I just noticed I had some when my kids became teenagers, they are now in their late twenties.)
You know, you might not like that job, but you didn't like the last one, either, and that one sounded pretty fabulous. It could be that your expectations are too high. The happiness experts tell us that if we keep our expectations fairly low, and we don't aspire to too much material glitter, we'll be happier over all. 
 (Readers know I've spleened about high expectations on this blog for years. High hopes translate to reality blues.)
You know, it isn't at all weird, that now that you've had that Lexus a few weeks, that it doesn't make you happy anymore. This is your hedonic adaptation talking. If you buy an even better car the same thing will happen. Happiness isn't something we get to keep, it is momentary, we get used to that higher standard of living really fast.
(Your therapist will tell you, as does Dr. Lyubomirsky, that it is having meaning in life that makes us happy, and learning new things, new skills, striving, (shteiging, in Yiddish, rhymes with styling). Working towards something, even if we never reach our goals, keeps us content, even happy-- not money. Not that money ever hurts, just that the thrill of whatever it buys  wears off.)
You know, we all prefer the romantic phase of a relationship, but that feeling, predicated on the newness, the thrill of a new life together, only lasts so long (not very long, for most). It's up to you to work to keep it new. It's up to you not to be boring. It is why I keep telling you to speak in code.
Me repeating things in therapy that I find in a book, even if the ideas are constructs I've known all along* (but now hear validated) only tells you that the book made me happy, stretched my skill set. If my telling over Dr. Lyubomirsky advice doesn't sound particularly new, rest assured, she is the real thing, has her own laboratory at the University of California (Riverside) with an army of research assistants and over 400 literature citations in the back of her book to back up her up.

You won't get that here, friends, over 400 citations. I've always told you to keep your expectations low.


*The adage from the Wisdom of the Fathers, or Ethics of the Fathers, the mishneh, Pirkei Avot (rhymes with dear-play ah-vote) Who is happy? He who is satisfied with his portion, is surely somewhere to be found on this blog. It doesn't mean you can't strive for more, only that stewing over not having more won't make you happy.


Marcia said...

you text your patients!? wow. I will have to get this book.

I recently read Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, I could have written that book.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Yes, I loved this book, too. Very wise.

Here’s myHappily Reading The Myths of Happiness. Stop by, if you can, and share your thoughts.

therapydoc said...

Thanks Deb for more books on happiness. Who could ask for more?

And Marcia, here's the thing. I can only text or email with people who aren't using insurance, private pay, not third party, for whom HIPPA isn't an issue. In general, because anyone can look at anyone else's phone, I tend to write nothing particularly about therapy, only appointment confirmation.

But there are exceptions and my patients know the following.

I delete EVERYTHING as soon as I get it, write it, etc., because I'm afraid that if I'm hacked, identities will be compromised, and I think everyone should do the same.

Although we live in an amazing age, and communicating is easy and delightful, when it comes to protecting privacy, we all have to be really careful.

I know. It's a pain.

trish said...

"we get used to that higher standard of living really fast." That is the truth! I try to remind myself of that when I want the latest and greatest of something. It's hard!

Thanks for being on the tour!

Purple Pineapple said...

This sounds like a great book, I will definitely check it out!

Cheryl said...

It warms my heart that you text with your clients. I do the same with my therapist & have been doing so for years. Sometimes people criticize me for it. But the way I see it (& my therapist too), if it's not an actual emergency, it's less an invasion into her personal life, her non-work time, then trying to reach her on the phone. & say I'm in her office lamenting that my depression has made it impossible to do my dishes for the past 3 weeks, or as just happened a few weeks ago, how clearly I remember the day I last bought soap for my dishwasher (Feb 14, 2011) because that was the same day [insert traumatic experiance]. I see nothing wrong with texting a picture of the empty sink, or as I did 80mins ago text that I FINALLY used up the last of the dishwashing soap...

Cindy said...

I just found your web site today and I love it already. No time to read much so I really do look for life hacks often. I think I should hold back my favourite comedy shows on my computer. When I have a late night anxiety siuation I can watch one. As for happy I really am pretty happy most of the time, but I am very creative so that helps.