Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happiness and Choices

This week a friend sent me this:

11 TED Talks That Will Help You Lead a Happier Life

The first one I watched, Dan Gilbert Asks Why Are We Happy, was brilliant in that it had the answer to the question I hadn't even asked yet.  In it, Gilbert points out humans have something that is called a "Pre Frontal Cortex," which allows us to have experiences in our heads before we try them out in real life.  Remember that, it's important.  He also tells of a variety of experiments where humans receive an outcome other than what they had wanted and afterwards report of being happier with the outcome they received than they would have been with their previous choice.

Of course, my question was about those people who didn't feel that way.  Were there any people who were still unhappy that they hadn't received the outcome they wanted?  Because I was positive I was probably in that group.  Those were my people.

It turns out the people who perceived that they had a choice were the people who were unhappy.  The people who received the outcome and it was done, over and there is no going back, simulated happiness.  The people who were told they had a choice, worried themselves to the point where they couldn't even be happy with the outcome they had wanted in the first place.  They weren't even happy when they reversed their choice.  Essentially nothing could make them happy.

I have lived a very blessed life, but those few moments where I was disappointed or where things didn't turn out as I would have liked?  My "Pre Frontal Cortex" has driven me mad with endless scenarios of things I could have done differently to produce a different outcome.

A long while back, I watched a show called "Celebrity Rehab" and saw something that actually delivered a very similar message.  I knew I had witnessed something important, but I didn't personalize it quite as well.  In the show, Sean Young was trying an exercise where you try and get a horse to lift his foot.  No matter how she pushed or pulled at the horse's leg, he stood firm.  While she was trying, a therapist was talking to her about her life and she was focused on the notion that her career went sideways and her life went all wrong when she lost a certain movie role.  The therapist asked who got the role instead of her and when she answered, he asked, "What have you seen her in lately?"  Of course, the answer was "Not much."  The actress who won the part got to be in that movie, but otherwise, her career and life was not measurably more desirable than Young's.  It was a living demonstration of another point Dan Gilbert makes.  Humans tend to give too much weight to the difference between two outcomes.  The difference between a happy person and an unhappy person was simply an individual's capacity for saying, "Well, that didn't work out, but I've got this other possibility on the horizon."

Another thing I listened to this week was CD 1 of The Sedona Method.  In it Hale Dwoskin, while he makes similar points to the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, regarding the impermanence of emotions, he also references our desire to analyze or understand why we feel as we do.  When he asked his recorded audience, "Do you know why we do that?"  I found myself answering aloud, "To prove we are right and justified in feeling that way."  Dwoskin's answer?

"Because we are planning on feeling that way again."

Essentially, I think we gave the same answer except for one important aspect.  Repetition.  Dwoskin takes into consideration that which I did not.  The fact that we will do this over and over again throughout our lives.  Half of us will repeat it, perceived offense after perceived offense; while half of us will literally stop in our tracks at one outcome, label it as a mistake that we made, and never recover.  We will replay it over and over again.  Worrying the details to death.

If only ..... if only ......   if only.

A lifetime ago I heard a safety lecture at my workplace at the time.  An OSHA representative gave a presentation about back injuries.  In his slide show, he showed an employee and an IBM Selectric Typewriter.  (If you haven't seen one of those things, take my word for it, they are very large and very heavy.)  The typewriter falls off the table and the worker grabs it to protect it from falling and permanently screws up his back in the effort.  OSHA's point?  It may take a bit of money to repair the typewriter if it breaks, but the damage the worker can do to himself is far greater.  In other words, DROP THE TYPEWRITER.

A close friend of mine who also heard the lecture and I have revisited the words "DROP THE TYPEWRITER" many times when we have witnessed someone holding onto something he or she should have let go of long ago.

You know that saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?"  If life gives you lemons, the secret to happiness is to either make lemonade or give the lemons to someone else who wanted lemons.  Do either or something else entirely.  Just don't sit there, holding your lemons, thinking "if I had done this better or differently, maybe I would have gotten strawberries or apples or oranges." 

Let the typewriter (lemon, ex-partner, missed job opportunity) drop.

It turns out your happiness depends on just how capable you become at simply letting things go.

That ex who hurt you?  The job you didn't get?

Try it.  Just let your feelings go.

Let them drop.

It's time to move on to something new.

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