Friday, November 17, 2006
The Downside of Happiness
I thought producing this week's House Call on happiness would be pretty simple, but as it turns out, happiness is a tricky business. Research shows that happy people live longer, laughing can lower your blood pressure and optimists beat out pessimists in a number of health measures.

Being a perfectionist, I thought perhaps we should strive to be happy all the time - after all it's good for your health! However, our guest, Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, says not so fast. He says we're not programmed to be happy all the time, so people shouldn't strive for constant happiness. Anxiety, anger, and fear all play critical rolls in our survival. Gilbert's example: If you were happy all the time, you might happily let your child go out at 3 a.m. for bread in a bad part of town.

During Gilbert's interview with Dr. Gupta, he talked about where Americans go wrong in their pursuit of happiness. In fact, he said, we don't even know what makes us happy.

Tune in to House Call this weekend at 8:30 am Eastern and hear what this expert says is the key for finding your bliss.
Being Happy all the time would be a nuisance when living in the real world. One must be able to experience the full gambit of emotions and feelings in order to be able to "decide" what is happy or not. Once you are there you can be "mostly" happy but to strive for being happy all the time leads to unwanted stress and we know where that leads.
Well, I will start out by saying that I am a very happy person and I can honestly say that my life seems so much easier and carefree. When you are happy you are more apt to letting little stupid things go that some people will let get under your skin. But I do experience my share of fear, greif, and stress. It wouldn't be fair if I didn't experience a monster pimple due from stress.
People who don't know what makes them happy will never be happy. Of course, some of know what makes us happy. Maybe it's just harder in the U.S.
Anxiety, anger, and fear may very well play a roll in our survival, but what is really the harm in the pursuit to be happy all the time? Granted it probably is not possible to attain, all the time.. But Happiness is nothing more than being completely content with your life, with what you are doing. Whether it is something as simple as a chore or task at work. All the difficulties we encounter from day to day can give us something to be happy about - Just the fact that we are alive to deal with them is reason enough! It's all a part of life, and isn't living, with all it's ups and downs worth celebrating?
Happiness requires an ability to live in the present because that is the moment of "life." The momentary smell of fall leaves in the air, a look of love exchanged by a passing couple, a baby's smile, a chatterbox squirrel, dogs playing. It's all there. But can we see it, delight in it, or are we in our usual trance state preparing for tomorrow and/or trapped in the past?
I'm pretty much screwed. I'm a type A personality pessimist w/ a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Oh well, I didn't want to live to be 100 anyway. But not so fast. I love to laugh and I love a good joke. My daughter and husband make me smlie as just much as they stress me out, and recently I re-discovered a few things that I had let go of in life that make me happy and that I love. Music, it's not good to blast the Rolins Band when the baby's trying to sleep. But now she's 10 and developing a taste for music that doesn't air on PBS, and Joy of Joys her taste is as varried as mine. Art and writing, it's hard to sit and draw or pen a short story when dishes need to be done or it's time to nurse the baby, but she hasn't nursed for 9 years and I've learned that the dishes will be there when I get there. And last but not least pets I had given up on pets after losing a few that were dear to me, but in the spring someone gave my daughter a dog for her birthday and this week we found a stray kitten that needed our help and love; both of these pets have only added to my stress, but also to my joy. The moral of this story? You may have to put some of the things you love on a back burner for a while but DON'T let them go. Make time for them and time for your happiness. Of course we all have stress and sorrow but these litte nuggets of time for ourselves will make those stressors and sorrows bearable. Maybe there's hope for me yet, butI still don't want to live to be 100.
I agree. It seems that analysing happiness from a myopic view point of one's immediate life as a cog in the wheel of international commerce (and commerce does seem to permeate everything, at least in societies dedicated to consumerism) isn't quite enough - there dosen't seem to be much coverage or talk about the relationship of happiness to ignorance/knowledge. As a yesteryear philosopher once said: "Ignorance is bliss - touch it and the bloom is gone".

We seem to live in a world with exponentially increasing information content - so perhaps the programs here could also talk about happiness for these information consumers and truth-seekers, for people who can't ignore the human condition with all of its comcommitant tragedy and for those who can't get over world views that sum things up as 6 billion monkeys (plus others) on a rock that circumnavigates a big ball of fire at great speeds and other such inconveniences, that have been the product of 600 odd-years of scientific/technological renaissance. Any analysis without talking about the numerous reasons to not be happy at all, seems superficial.
I think that people are about as happy as they decide to be. I've met many people who seem to be on the wrong side of joy -- ill, poor, unemployed--and still, they seem truly happy.
It's nice to see a balanced perspective, especially in a world where pharma advertising would have us all believing that there is no downside in popping antidepressants and sleeping pills, and that depression, sleepless nights, or any other inconvenience couldn't possibly be a natural condition that ocurrs for some logical and purposeful reason.

The real issue isn't happiness or sadness so much as how one lives one's life. Americans' rampant pill-popping, all of it in the pursuit of happiness (or avoiding inconveniences and perceived unhappiness) needs to be looked at in more detail.

I read - with great distress - CNN's recent article "Are Antidepressants Safe?" which quoted/featured a lobbyist who is not depressed but who takes such medication daily. Aside from the ethical aspects of who pays for such wanton abuse of the healthcare system in a country wuth spiraling healthcare costs, this is a great lessons for our kids: "Say no to drugs, Little Billy and Jenny, but if it comes from a doctor, well that's ok. It's okay in that case, because some people NEED it."

Happiness, no matter how one reaches it, is all that matters, right?
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