⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

March 14, 2013

Happy?

I’ve been thinking about being happy. Xavier and I recently watched a documentary about the subject. It was called, “Happy.” (On Netflix Instant Play)

One of its lessons was so old, but so true: money cannot make you happy. I worked for someone for a few years who was enormously wealthy – a billionaire. I was surprised by one thing – how much he was ultimately possessed by what he owned. The things he bought controlled his life. I guess the same principle applies to all of us. The documentary was interesting because it outlined how there is no real measurable increase in happiness between someone making $50,000 and someone making $5 million or $5 billion a year (money seems to have a relationship with happiness only for those who don’t make enough to survive. Interesting concept behind this: hedonic adaptation). So that is one thing.

Another good distinction the documentary made was between intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation – extrinsic focuses: status, money, image | intrinsic focuses: compassion, relationships, personal growth. People who source motivation externally are less happy.

Relationships were key. Close, loving relationships were a common point across all happy people.

Gratitude. Happiness is literally sourced from gratitude. I thank my parents for being people who appreciate – who are thankful. The makers of this film insisted that happy people are people who practice gratitude – they actively seek to name the things they are grateful for (things we all have).

And then, Flow. Flow is interesting. It is essentially when people are present. Activities where we are fully engaged – motivated. Enraptured by a task - where all of our emotions are harnessed around doing it. These are the moments where you lose yourself in the thing you are doing – the task absorbs you. Writing, sports, photography, drawing, so many things - different things for different people. It is often tied to physical activity. Flow could even be moments spent with a baby. People who are happy consistently experience flow and know how to access it.

My happiness baseline, if you will, has always been pretty high. I laugh easily. I look for the sunshine - for a good angle, one that will highlight beauty. I walk around pretty much OK with the world and the people around me. Lately, I've felt sad though. Having a baby is part of it. The impact of a little human is enormous - it sort of undoes the world you lived in and rejiggers all of the elements. I've felt isolated by a landscape that shifted fundamentally for me, but did not necessarily for a lot of my favorite people. Strangely, though, nothing has ever made me happier than Colette. So, I've been looking to understand my happiness. The way that documentary framed happiness was so basic, so blatant, but also so useful in exploring where I source happiness in a moment when it doesn't necessarily come easily.

7 comments:

Harlem Lovebirds said...

I watched the documentary a couple months ago, and it's stuck with me as well. As a mother I do find it amazing how much happiness children can bring. It makes me wonder, "What made me happy before?"

Jill said...

I'm going to watch this little movie tonight. I'm always fascinated with the science behind happiness. I know the gratitude piece is HUGE for me. Gratitude for what we have, instead of wishing for what we don't is such a key.

I can understand why you have felt sad even though the happiest things has happened to you. I always feel sadness when my life and focus completely shift. I personally feel sadness is often a common side effect of change. You are no longer the same person you were. You'll soon adapt to the new and then life will shift again. God wants us always progressing and this is how it happens.

Amy said...

I like this... Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder. It's just such beautiful imagery.

Aralena said...

I think I know what you mean about how having a child can put a hitch in your former relationship with happiness, bring a new dimension to sadness. Like you no longer have only yourself to worry about, there is a part of you externalized whose own happiness is right now yours, and vice versa, and it's sometimes utterly out of our control.

The relationships aspect of happiness is so key, I think, during the first years of becoming a mother. You need to be able to share and reflect all the happy and sad and challenging moments with other people who understand, have been there, or are at least open to listening without judgment. I remember how happy I felt after seeing you and meeting Colette last summer, and having an evening to share and relate.

Emily + Eric said...

I love this documentary. I think I'll watch it again. I echo everyone's sentiments here in the comments. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Emilie.

Brad said...

Excellent post. I am going to watch the documentary.

Rebekah V. said...

Steve showed me an interesting long term study that shows that people with children report much lower levels of moment to moment happiness but much higher levels of long term joy primarily because of the purpose and meaning children bring and the day to day worry and isolation and sometimes hassle they also bring. I should find this study and send it to you.

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