“Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.”-Tara Parker-Pope, “How To Be Happy.” The New York Times.
Open Question: What does it mean to be “happy”?
In brief, the author seems to take the ideas of Blue Zones:, i.e., places where people tend to be exceptionally long lived, and flesh these concepts out with “happiness” research. The nine key ideas of Blue Zones:
- Move naturally, or have a lifestyle that incorporates movement without doing movement for movement’s sake, a.k.a. as exercise.
- Have a purpose.
- Downshift, take time every day, week, month and year to do nothing or be contemplative.
- The 80% Rule for eating. Eat until you are 80% full.
- Eat mostly plants.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, 1-2 servings a day.
- Belong to a community.
- Prioritize your relationships.
- Make sure the relationships are with good people.
The New York Times “How to Be Happy” reframes these into categories: Mind, Home, Relationships, Work & Money & Happy Life. Then, it attempts to provide more detailed advice.
- Become acquainted with cognitive behavioral therapy, i.e., become proficient at managing negative thinking.
- Boxed breathing for acute situations and breath focused meditation to cultivate a more equanimical disposition.
- Rewrite your personal story, positive without the pedestal.
- Make an effort to look for the positive in any situation.
- Find a good place to live and a good community within it to be part of.
- Be out in a natural setting.
- Keep what you need, discard the rest.
- Spend time with happy people. Conversely, avoid the unhappy and the unlucky, the stupid, Hoodoos, toxic people, psychic vampires, and associated others. Obviously, the negative formulation is a hot topic here at cafebedouin.org.
- Get a pet. [Editors note: Pets, children and other people aren’t going to make you happy, save you, etc.]
- Learn to enjoy being alone. In this historical moment, with fewer communities and relationships mediated through the Internet, it’s an important skill. If you can’t manage it, find ways around it, e.g., join an intentional community. If you are turning on the radio or television to hear human voices and escape your own thoughts, you might want to think about finding ways of being better company to yourself.
Work and Money
- Money isn’t going to make you happy. The more money you have past a certain threshold, the more problems you will have. But, being poor is no virtue and is its own source of suffering. Try to avoid the material extremes.
- The New York Times wants you to find your purpose at work. Right livelihood is important, but defining ourselves through our work is a major issue post-industrial age. When surnames became necessary, people chose their occupation. Think of all the occupational last names: Smith, Miller, Cooper, etc. The problem with finding purpose at work is it often turns into our life’s purpose. Our life should be about more than work.
- Find ways to reclaim your time, which I interpret to mean work less.
- Be generous. Show gratitude.
- Do things for other people.
- Stop being a judgmental prick to yourself and others.
Something about The New York Times presentation leaves much to be desired. Is it the focus on work? Is it because much of it seems like platitudes? I’m not entirely sure. The ideas aren’t bad, particularly the ones that stem directly from Blue Zone suggestions. But, the focus on “nesting” in the bedroom, volunteering (with the implication that it be the modern form and involve some kind of institution) and so forth managed to rub me the wrong way. But, most of this is good advice, when you get down to the nut of it.