Saturday, March 02, 2013

On Being Happy

This is from an article I read yesterday:

While the United States has one of the world’s largest per capita GDPs, it trails most other wealthy countries and some poorer ones in many ways. A few examples:
  • Americans are more likely to report experiencing stress than are people of 144 other nations. Rich and poor Americans are more likely to be anxious or worried than people in 88 other nations. The United States ranks 11th in “life satisfaction” according to the Gallup-Healthways poll, but well below Denmark, Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands.
  • Americans consume nearly two-thirds of the world’s antidepressants.
  • More than a third of Americans over 45 report being chronically lonely, up from 20 percent in 2000.
  • U.S. life expectancy is 50th in the world according to the CIA World Factbook, shorter than in any other rich country, despite the fact that Americans spend twice as much on health care per capita than other countries do.
  • Rates of poverty and child poverty in the US are the highest among wealthy countries, and more than double the average in Europe.
Yet sadly, the American economic model is becoming more dominant, even in Europe. We are sacrificing our health, happiness, social connection, leisure time, and the environment in the blind pursuit of growth. We can’t go on like this.
From - The Happiness Initiative: The Serious Business of WellBeing

When I was reading those statistics I was reminded of Will McAvoy's opening speech in the fictional HBO show The Newsroom, where he points out that the USA is not the greatest nation in the world. "We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and in defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined," McAvoy says.

I guess if you want to be a nation of poor, miserable, lonely drug addicts with prison records who die early deaths, we're doing just fine.

I would like to think we're better than that, but obviously we are not.

As I write this, we are into our first full day of something called a "sequester," which entails $85 billion in cuts to federal spending. The cuts are across the board and who knows what the fall out will be. Will grandmas who depend on Meals on Wheels end up with no lunch? Will children in Head Start fall behind? Will our shores go unprotected because we're still outspending the world in defense efforts?

I don't know. I am fairly sure that these cuts will only add to the happiness quotient of certain rich white men and others who call themselves "teapartiers" because they don't know any better. And I think that last category of folks will ultimately end up miserable because of it but likely will never know what hit them. They'll be too busy blaming something else.

But back to being happy. What is happy, anyway? This article says this about happiness:

According to psychology research, . . . about 50 percent of how happy you are depends on genetics, 10 percent on environmental factors (such as the state where you live!), and the remaining 40 percent on things that you can control day-to-day. -- Revealed, How Happy Your State Is
Okay, that is how happiness happens, I suppose. According to this article, my state, Virginia, has a 67 rating in the happiness scale, just a little above average. Hawaii is number one and West Virginia, right next door, is dead last. As best I can tell, the results are from a couple of years ago. I hear a lot of grumbling about the state government these days; maybe we're not so happy here anymore.

Many people confuse pleasure with happiness. I take great pleasure in eating fine chocolate, but is that happiness? Maybe momentarily. But happiness, I think, is something long-lasting, that is there nestled in a corner even during times of great grief. It is that little grain of happiness that allows people to endure and go on, perhaps.

According to this article, you need three things to be happy:

  • self esteem
  • a life purpose
  • reliable "tools" (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) that work to bring you joy.

I am not a happy person. I am the first to admit it. Life has been tough on me, and frankly I have had way more than my fair share of crap and BS over the years. On occasion, I have told people bits and pieces of my life and made them cry, so I don't talk about it in public. I certainly don't write about it in my blog where the world can see it. I don't like to make people sad.

I will say that my self esteem is in the toilet and generally always has been. Part of that comes from being born a girl, a misfortune of nature that I could not possibly overcome. It is the biggest reason I find feminism and women's liberation so heady, because I have known from birth that others thought me inferior simply because I didn't have a penis. Finding out that that inferiority is unwarranted is a wonderful thing.

However, many folks seem hell-bent on proving to me that I am inferior, a nothing, and to ensure I know my place. I find that continues to happen today, often to my great surprise. Sometimes it comes at me from completely unexpected quarters - there I am minding my own business and boom! someone lets me know that I should not be strong-willed, express an opinion, attempt to do my work, try to better myself or my world, or what-have-you. I guess this is because I think differently than most, I am analytical, and, I have finally learned, I really am a fairly smart girl and few people like smart women. It is not because I am wrong, because frequently I am right or proven right later (if I'm wrong then by all means correct me, says the doormat). Sometimes it feels as if the entire world has gathered at my doorstep explicitly to rain anvils down on my head and beat me to the ground until I'm a sobbing, bloody pulp.

Frequently, they succeed.

However, I always get back up again. I may not be a happy person, but I am a resilient one. I am growing older, though, and I don't bounce back quite as well as I once did. I also find that with each knock-out punch, however brief, I become more cynical. One of these days I might even wake up from one and find I have become mean due to brain damage.

I have had a tough time lately. I will be turning 50 in a few months, and I am not taking it well. My health is in decline despite efforts to do better. I've been diagnosed with a number of problems that are chronic and that will require attention for however long I have left. My life probably peaked about six years ago and its all downhill from here. My happiness outlook is not very good, to be perfectly honest.

I've even thought about stopping my blog, because I have been unable to keep thinking of happy - or at least neutral - things to write. Maybe it is time to move on.

But I do like making others happy, or at least giving them pleasure. I may not be able to do it for myself, but I wonder, can I do it for you?


  1. Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy or not. Over a decade ago, I chose to be happy, and I have not regretted the decision.

  2. Oh, I daresay some people could be happy if they lived as the right think they should, on peanuts in hovels. That doesn't make it right to make other people live like paupers, or right to watch poor people die young of disease or illnesses that the rich can afford to have treated, or right to watch old people forced out of their homes and have to sleep under bridges. Maybe some people can be happy in such a cruel world. I couldn't.


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