Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Harpooning Happiness

Ah yes, harping on happiness. That's what we do; we harp on the subject, plucking that one string, over and over, in the hope we will hit the perfectly right note, get the right vibration, usually never even considering to harp on another string, perhaps on the other end of the scale.

Or maybe it's
harpooning happiness, vigorously attacking the object of our desire -- even if it kills it, or us, in the process.

I gather this makes me sound like a Midwestern Methodist minister, to mumble alliteratively, but here's what got me thinking about all this. In last Saturday's New York Times I spied a banner advertisement (advert, as the Brits say; ad, as we say) anchoring (can a banner anchor?) the bottom of a page. It was red and white and featured an overturned bowl of cherries [obvious cliched metaphor of sledgehammer weight and proportions for "happiness"].

The ad announced the arrival in paperback of a book called
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It looked interesting enough, so I unevenly tore the ad away from the rest of the paper, discarded the day's dreary news and kept the sloppily torn-out shred for future reference. Days later (today), I Yahooed a search of the book title and got this.

Then I browsed around and got this very cool video. Very intriguing.

In short, it appears the gist of the findings of Gilbert's lab at Harvard, and of others who study affective forecasting, is that we don't quite know what makes us happy or why. He seems to be saying two things:

a) that which we think makes us miserable may not, not quite -- at least not in the way we imagined or predicted

b) the same for happiness.

Some of these heavy-duty techno geek psychology experts call this, er, the Big Wombassa.

Why didn't someone tell that to me when I was salivating over all those centerfolds in, um, my earlier years?

There's some solace in this, too (not that I've read the book yet, but I think I will): namely, after dreaming of my Giants' winning the World Series since 1955, and not having that dream come true (tantalizingly and agonizingly close in 2002) I can now imagine nothing could ever live up to what I've imagined that "happiness" to be, not now. Just ask Red Sox fans. Was it really that fulfilling? Maybe.

Speaking of bats and balls, is sex, for example, usually as thrilling and as fulfilling as imagined?

In his
TED lecture at Oxford, Gilbert says something like this: studies show that a year after either winning the lottery or being paralyzed, people are about equally happy! Does that mean both events are equally desirable? Of course not. But he does provide scientific, and entertaining, data on the human ability to synthesize, create, happiness. And I guess that's why I've got to read more about this subject, this so-called happiness.

I'll be in Berlin for a week, so you may be happy (or unhappy) (or unharpy) to know I'll be out of pocket, more or less.



Glamourpuss said...

I hear the sex in Berlin is most fulfilling - if you like that sort of thing...

Safe trip.


azgoddess said...

this is a great post...something i happen to be questioning myself lately...

making plans to be happy -- or just be happy for today and let tomorrow take care of itself...humm

i choose to be happy for today...

enjoy berlin!

Army said...

It's interesting that no matter if we hit a high point or low point, we eventually find ourselves back to our set point. That personal balance.

But it makes sense, in that material happiness quickly fades, and we tend to persevere after we face adversity.

Perhaps another latent, internal tendency toward equilibrium. Those darn Buddhists were right all along!