Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Although I Felt the Freak in Many Other Ways, There Was This Month in Seventh Grade When We Did Track in P.E. Class, and As It Turned Out, I Was Pretty Good at Standing Broad Jump and the 100-Yard Dash.  Whenever I Feel Down, I Remember Out-Jumping and Out-Running All Those Cute Little Things Who Had Boyfriends, and Suddenly I'm Humming Again, Which Indicates That My Happiness Stems from a Place of 'In-Your-Face, Bitches'"


A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a book.

I think she's making up for all those years in childhood when she insisted a "slap fight" was actually a "fun game" as she pinned me down and proved her superiority at fun games. Plus, once, she took my Bass ballet flats and threw them across the room at me (how Bush in Baghdad 2008 of her!). As sisters do, we were occasionally awful to each other; however, she was the first--and for a long time, the only--person in my life with whom conflict felt comfortable.  We could fight like reality show bimbos clawing each other to win the Rock of Love...yet our battles somehow felt safe.  Even though she threw things at my head, she wasn't going anywhere.

That noted, I still like to think she owes me.  While she doesn't feel that way at all--from her point of view, she had to protect her space from a marauding wisenheimer of a ginger-haired douchnozzle--she is, as an adult, generous to a fault.  Hell, there's a Darth Vader costume under our Christmas tree from her right now, and we don't even run with the Sith.  She's just equipping us for future possibilities.  Currently, we have an Anikin.  But in twenty years, if Count Dooku takes him on, our Anikin may have need of a Darth costume to help cover his missing limb and scarred face, and all we'll have to do is clamber down to the basement and dredge it out of the costume trunk, thanks to her foresight.  Yea, my sister is a regular Nostradamian benefactor, like "What if, down the line, light turns to dark, and you need to dress the part?  Just in case, I should send something!"

In addition to providing for Paco's potential future, she has satisfied my present by sending a book.  It could being recompense for hurled shoes, but it also may be an apology for her insistence in 1981 on watching Ryan's Hope when the clearly-superior General Hospital aired during the same hour.  Middle school was wrenching enough, without the added drama of jousting over the dial.  I mean, seriously, at an age where my armpits were getting hairy and my glasses frames ever more enormous, the least she could have done is let me eyeball Luke and Laura in peace.



Ssssssweet Car-o-line, but those platters ate up half my face.


Her apology came under the title The Geography of Bliss.  Written by Eric Weiner, an NPR foreign correspondent, the book is one of those conceit-driven nonfiction tomes that is easily packaged and promoted for sale to customers who "actually only came in for one of those Gingerbread lattes."  Despite its being a conceit-driven nonfiction tome that is easily packaged and promoted, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Never let it be said I'm anything less than easy.

The premise is that Weiner, an avowed curmudgeon, travels the world and tries to find where happiness lives--basically, he explores a variety of countries and attempts to determine who on the planet is happiest and why.

Okay, timeout.

1)  Weiner never comes across as the grouch he claims to be; in fact, I'd go so far as to assert that he rather likes traveling around the world, talking to people.  While he may be a man who feels down sometimes, who tends towards negativity on occasion, he's no Sith.  Thus, the conceit of the book ("life-hating writer travels the globe and maps joy") feels manufactured;

2)  Hello?  What is happiness?  I'd argue that since it's his book, Weiner can define the concept however he wants, but, repeatedly, he finds the idea of happiness so relative, so individual, so unquantifiable, that he can't even set down a baseline from which to work.  As a result, the book is more about exploring what passes for happiness in various regions than discovering who wins the gold in the Happiness Olympics, and so I need to take a moment to holler, "Listen, Gomer, if you're going to take my sister's money for this book, you sure as hell better pony up with a concrete answer by the time I'm done reading.  If you don't end with a firm conclusion like 'Incontrovertible happiness is to be found in Nasinu, Fiji,' I'm going poke out the eyeballs of Amazon.com with a pair of really long chopsticks";

3)  Despite the basics of the book being contrived and slippery, it's an interesting read, and not only because Weiner gets really stoned in Amsterdam.  There's also the fact that Bhutan, as a nation, has a GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) quotient, as declared by the king--and, frankly, the very fact that a king can declare such a thing ups Jocelyn's Cheer Meter Reading to the level of WOW!.  Here and there, when the author is particularly sardonic, my Meter Readings have even escalated to Slam, Bam, Thank You, Ya Big Weiner

So gracias for this book, Dear Sister.  It's the perfect end-of-semester read:  I can attack it in chunks; it makes me smile; it is intelligent without taxing my toasted brain overmuch; and if you ever come at me with a pair of ballet flats again, I can throw this paperback volume at you, and I will aim for your head.

Should I have piqued your interest (or perhaps I've piqued your pique), and you find your own Cheer Meter Readings plummeting because you don't have Weiner's book nearby, here is a taste of one of the early sections, during which our intrepid explorer spends time in the Netherlands (learning to say "I'll have seconds on the hash brownies, please" in Dutch).  At one point, he visits a Happiness Science Center, which, at first, I thought was the official name for Wavy Gravy's LSD lab, but, as it turns out, the Happiness Center is a place where people who call themselves real scientists try to figure out the variables of an upbeat state of mind. 

Heading the lab is researcher Ruut Veenhoven (like I don't want to have another kid, just so I can use that name), who has a compiled a database of findings (which Weiner characterizes as "alternately obvious and counterintuitive").  So take the test, Gentle Reader.  According to one Dutch guy with an awesome name, are you happier than most?

Veenhoven has found that:
  • Extroverts are happier than introverts  
  • optimists are happier than pessimists  
  • married people are happier than singles  
  • ...though people with children are no happier than childless couples  
  • Republicans are happier than Democrats  
  • people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not  
  • people with college degrees are happier than those without (at the very least, they are more smug)
  • ...though people with advanced degrees are less happy than those with just a BA
  • people with an active sex life are happier than those without
  • women and men are equally happy
  • ...though women have a wider emotional range
  • having an affair will make you happy but will not compensate for the massive loss of happiness that you will incur when your spouse finds out and leaves you  
  • people are least happy when they're commuting to work  
  • busy people are happier than those with too little to do
  • wealthy people are happier than poor ones, but only slightly
According to this list, I'm about 3/7ths happy, which is odd because I really am feeling more 6/7ths-ish today.  Perhaps if I align myself with the values of Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Jeff Miller, Ed Schrock, Strom Thurmond, Randall Terry, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Joe Scarborough, Jimmy Swaggart and--oh, fer Christ, do you really want me to type them all out?  It promises to take weeks--I could become an affair-having Republican and increase my happiness fraction. Provided I manage to hide my infidelity from my spouse (Groom:  stop reading two sentences ago, please), my happiness levels should soar.

After looking at Veenhoven's data, Weiner notes, "Social scientists have a hard time un-raveling what they call 'reverse causality' and what the rest of us call the chicken-and-egg problem. For instance, healthy people are happier than unhappy ones; or is it that happy people tend to be healthier? Married people are happy; or maybe happy people are more likely to get married? It's tough to say. Reverse causality is the hobgoblin that makes mischief in many a research project."

I take his point.  At this very minute, for example, I'm unsure if I'm happy because I'm eating a salad...or if the salad chose me because I was already a happy person.

Um, huh?

I think I need to keep reading.

16 comments:

geewits said...

I love the old school pic! I can not see how happiness could possibly be quantified. I'm guessing they used polling which is always somewhat questionable and would vary between cultures. Anyhoo, I do believe the Republican/Democrat one is true because I have always heard "Ignorance is bliss."

Jeni said...

Your description of the conflicts between you and your sister, in years past, hit me as something my son should read and compare all the many issues he had trying to survive living as the "in-between" child with two pretty darned bossy, sometimes very obnoxious sisters to contend with. And maybe he -and his sisters too -might benefit today reading this particular book too.
But as to you, please keep reading this tome and when finished, tell us your conclusion about how to gauge if you are really happy or what to do to make yourself -and us -also really happy too.
Tonight -it's a little thing making me happy and that's because we are now down to one kitten left! YAY, YAY! And he's laying on a throw rug under my computer desk at my feet, just sleeping away. (Last night, the dog and he slept there, together! So sweet, ya know!)

Anonymous said...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20091217/sc_livescience/happieststatesrevealedbynewresearch

Jazz said...

I love that last sentence of Geewits comment...

I can vouch for the unhappiness while commuting point.

As for the last, my mom says, "Money might not buy happiness, but it makes unhappiness a helluva lot more comfortable."

PS: I had the same glasses

secret agent woman said...

Statistics - what is true on average isn't necessarily true for an individual. I don't meet a lot of the things on the list, but in general, I am a pretty happy person.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

One awful comment: if Republicans are happier, it must be because ignorance is bliss.
One good comment: I am a very happy person. And I'm pretty liberal at heart. It must be because I'm an optimist.
One happy comment: your posts and stream of consciousness just kill me--I can totally imagine talking to you in person.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

100 yard dash and standing broad jump - I excelled at those two also.

The Geography of Bliss - I read that although I believe it lagged quite a bit toward the end. Maybe I was just tired of reading about happy people or just wanted to go to Amsterdam.

Send another email. Hope this one gets there, dear Jocelyn. Enjoyed this post.

chelle said...

I am SOOOOO hoping that with three sweet children they will have the experience that you and your sister had ... as am only kid I have no conflict happiness.

choochoo said...

yeah, me and my sister fought like screaming banshees too. love the old picture :D And I totally relate to happiness coming from an in-your-face-bitches kinda place. Mmmmhm.

Jim Berg said...

Not to detract from the brilliance of this post, but it has all the hallmarks of PROCRASTINATION. You better be grading gobs of papers now, Missy.

Fragrant Liar said...

Lovely review, and I do like what the Weiner had to say per that last quote. And I too am confused. Am I unhappy because my weekend is over, or is it that the weekend is unhappy to lose me yet again to that slaveshop downtown, and is therefore pushing its unhappy agenda upon me? I know! It could be door #2.

lime said...

i dunno the commute thing utterly confounds me especially since i live in very close proximity to the place one major new organization has pinpointed as the one with nation's longest/worst commute. lotta seriously unhappy people on the local roads, lemme tell ya. and that does not up my happiness quotient though it does make other things go up.

Pearl said...

1. You and I had the same glasses. I'm sorry for both of us.

2. Republicans are happier than Democrats? This flies in the face of just about everything I know!

3. I'm a pretty happy person because I choose, nine times out of ten, to "be" happy. That 10th time, though? It's a b*tch!

Pearl

steve said...

I needed some holiday reading. I'm off to the bookstore!

Sprite's Keeper said...

With a name like Weiner, how could one be a curmudgeon?
Boondock Ramblings sent me over and I'm glad she did. I love your choice of words!

Vic said...

We have way too much in common.

Can you do the Fosbury Flop? I could do the high jump better than anyone else in the sixth grade. That year was the highlight of my athletic career.

No glasses, but the same hair, in boring brown.