Thursday, January 18, 2007

Happiness

Yesterday's meeting topic was happiness, taken from a daily reading. It was a really good meeting because so many members had simple yet profound things to share about their versions of happiness.

I grew up in a very funny family. Laughter was the strongest common denominator that we shared so using humor was the best way for us to connect to one another. When I came into the rooms, I had completely lost my ability to laugh.

Of course, there was nothing funny. I never paid my bills until the cut-off notice came, the police had confiscated my vehicle, I weighed 102 pounds, when I looked in the mirror I saw nothing looking back at me, and my dog had run away. And that's just for starters.

Before I could be happy, I see now in retrospect, I had to quit drinking and using. There was no joy in my life when I hung out with lowlifes (as one member said, "I hung out with lower companions until I became one"); couldn't hold a job; did whatever I felt necessary to drink and use; and ran roughshod over everyone who ever loved or tried to help me.

I’m a person who is prone to depression; often sees the glass as not only half-full, but with a hole in it; and has worked at cross purposes many times in my life pursuing financial security over what I believe God put me on earth to do. Today, I’m trying to change these things because I’m tired of living the way I’ve always lived. It seems like many people are in the same boat, but new research can help us adjust our attitudes and live happier, more contented lives.

What makes us happy? In 1998, the American Psychological Association’s president chose as his theme for the year expanding mental health to include not just studying mental illness, but understanding what makes people happy. Now, thousands of researchers throughout the United States are studying happiness. Here are some key findings, which I find strangely in tune with our program of recovery.

  • Once basic needs are met, more income increases our satisfaction with life very little.
  • Faith lifts the spirits.
  • Social skills and friends are very important to our happiness.
  • Reconstructing our day to discover what we enjoyed as opposed to what went wrong. (I guess so that we can do more of it. Sound like a 10th Step?)
  • How things end is often more important than what really happened. (Maybe that’s a good hint that even when we have unpleasant encounters, prompt amends or immediately attempting to “patch things up” can help us avoid alienating others.)
  • How we spend our time is a great indicator of happiness. It’s not the pursuit of happiness; it’s the steps along the way. (I’m almost always happier on the days I attend a meeting.)
  • Genetics account for about 50 percent of our attitude, social scientists have postulated. (I used that excuse for years: "Oh, I was born pissed off.")
  • Most of us have a “happiness set point” so that no matter what we encounter either good or bad, in a short time, we return to that baseline.
  • Two life events seem to be hardest to overcome: The death of a spouse and the loss of a job. With the loss of a spouse, it’s five to eight years before one returns to equilibrium. With a job loss, unhappiness can linger even after we return to the workplace.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. One researcher found that those who wrote down their gratitude once a week were more satisfied with life than those who did not write a list. (Now I know why my sponsor sometimes makes me write a gratitude list.)
  • The broader the span of things we’re grateful for, the greater ability we have to reduce our fatigue and pain.
  • Interpersonal virtues like selflessness and the ability to love are strongly tied to happiness.
  • Acts of kindness and selflessness makes our lives more meaningful. Most people, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a well-known and highly regarded social scientist and author of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, are happier when they’re with others than alone.
  • Happiness is a habit. We need to, every day, recommit ourselves to happiness.

A Google search brings up scads of information about how to be more happy. A neat website, www.reflectivehappiness.com, is devoted to helping us discover more about ourselves and feel better about ourselves. There are tests (if you’re wondering if you’re depressed, there’s a test for that) and an interesting “Signature Strengths” test. Answering a series of 240 questions, the test reveals our top five strengths compared to others in your demographic. My core strengths from top down were: Forgiveness and mercy; appreciation of beauty and excellence; curiosity and interest in the world; fairness, equity and justice; and humor and playfulness (now there’s a surprise!). There are also some exercises which are touted to help us to learn skills to “build emotional well-being.”

One member yesterday remarked that she had stopped striving for happiness; what she now looked for was contentment. Today I know this. I'm happier now, more contented, even given all the challenges I've had over the past two years, than I've ever been in my recovery. Those challenges include a transplant; loss of my job and what appears will be a career change; the loss of my beautiful home; being away from twodogs for months due to my illness; three moves; still having most of my belongings in storage for two years (see, we really can do with much less); limited income and blowing through every dime I had due to the illness; continued medical visits and a slowly deteriorating sense of foreboding that, any time, my transplant could fail.

Why is that? It's again the grace of God, my friends and family, and in short a great support system built on the back of the Fellowship. Each day I have a great sense of adventure, a great sense of the absurd, an ability to laugh at myself, a beautiful place to live, great, great relationships, and strong hope for my future. Oh, and twodogs. How can I ask for more?

1 comment:

SCoUt said...

Beautiful post.
Thanks for sharing your E, S, and H. I want what you got.....
I don't know happiness -- not even sure what it means -- but I DO know contentment, definitely.
A good reminder of what I HAVE.
Peace,
Scout