Why it makes me happy to read about happiness
One of my favorite all-time topics as a reader is happiness. There are a lot of books out there that tickle around the edges of the subject like the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and the much bally-hoed pundits and mentors and gurus who discuss, in a sort of Chautauqua-style, financial fitness, health and wellness, spiritual well being, etc. But what I’m after is pure happiness-reading, ergo “that state of mind in which one feels contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, joy.” There are some amazing books and articles on the subject, all of which are exciting to read, and full of mind-blowing facts and paradigm-shifting misperceptions. Here’re a few:
The famous psychologist/sociologist/anthropologist (don’t you love people who defy definition), Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me High, Chicks Send Me High) whose seminal work, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” shows that people are happiest when they are completely and totally absorbed in an activity for its own sake, like children at play. In a Wired magazine interview he describes this flow or happiness state as: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.” He goes on to write about how shepherds in the Italian Alps have some of the highest scores ever recorded on the happiness meter!
Jennifer Michael Hecht in "The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong" makes the claim that "the basic modern assumptions about how to be happy are nonsense" and claims that – surprise, surprise – money does buy happiness, drugs are often beneficial, and low-cal diets can and do prevent cancer and heart disease and improve well being. Hecht, an historian by nature, provides documentation to prove that shopping, dieting, sports obsessing, even drug taking have their happiness antecedents.
Similarly there’s an great article by John Gertner that first appeared in the New York Times back in 2003 called “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness.” Gertner, a Harvard professor of psychology, studied happiness for a long time and what he found is astounding: “You are wrong to believe that a new kitchen will make you happy for as long as you imagine. You are wrong to think that you will be more unhappy with a big single setback (a broken wrist, a broken heart) than with a lesser chronic one (a trick knee, a tense marriage). You are wrong to assume that job failure will be crushing. You are wrong to expect that a death in the family will leave you bereft for year upon year, forever and ever… That's because when it comes to predicting exactly how you will feel in the future, you are most likely wrong.”
All I know is I am in the “flow” and exceedingly happy when reading about happiness.
Richard Horan is author of "Life in the Rainbow" and "Goose Music." He lives and writes happily in Central New York.