Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Label Cloud

I have just added label clouds to my blogs. This makes me very happy. I had always liked the look of them and this code was easy to implement.

Clouds, real and vitual, are happiness!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Philosophy of Happiness

I am very excited to be traveling on from Turkey but I must admit, it would have been nice have been able to attend this year’s Philosophy in Assos conference. The conference sounds like a real joy in terms of location and atmosphere and this year’s program is all about happiness! The program is full of interesting topics and heavy hitters – Christopher Shields was at CU when I was but I didn’t have the opportunity to take any courses with him – registration ends June 30th and while it is aimed at philosophy professors and students, it looks like anyone with an interest can apply to participate.

Something I have been very interested in lately is how definitions of happiness have changed, if at all, through the ages, and the last time I read a classical text on the subject was in one of my philosophy courses in college. It would be interesting to look at these issues again after I have been thinking about happiness and what it is / means etc., because of my own intrinsic desire to examine this subject and not because it is in a syllabus. It looks like this subject is talked about in the proceedings.
Yes, the conference does look like a good one indeed! If anyone reading this blog, I think there are only two or three people who do, but in case someone who does read this, does go, please let me know how it goes!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Spring in Ankara

Just three days ago we had some friends visiting us from Canada. We took them to the castle at the top of Ulus and then to dinner in Kizilay and then to a little smoky bar to hear folk music. It was a warm spring night and for the first time Ankara actually seemed nice to me. My jaded perspective was jarred into seeing something different through the eyes of our guests. Not that Ankara has ever seemed so horrible to me but it is the biggest city I have ever lived in (population near 4 million) and is undergoing a kind of urban renewal so the abandoned sixties style soviet looking buildings that first greeted me here are being transformed with new facades and updates and the city is starting to look almost sleek and stylish in parts. And in other parts, I have seen a donkey pulling a cart, open fires on the sidewalk and all sorts of rubbish on the side of the road. But in the spring, when the trees are green, flowers are in bloom and the nights are warm, things look much more attractive and I can see the charm of the capital of Turkey.

Ankara is a livable city but not one people around the world want to visit. Which is a bit sad. I think it’s nicer than Istanbul, actually. Of course, its not Istanbul but I personally think Ankara is a bit classier and more manageable. It doesn’t have the Bosphorus or skyline of Istanbul but it’s got some nice broad boulevards for walking, a funky old district (Ulus), a stylish embassy area and adjacent shopping and a fun, comfortable, relaxed dinner/drinking district. So a few nights ago, even though being here in Turkey has been overall very stressful for me, I was enjoying Ankara and thinking that overall I am happy to have had this experience. I don’t want to challenge myself in this way ever again, especially with the reality of the bomb two days ago in Ulus, but I have gained perspective, confidence, compassion and understanding by being here.

Happiness is tricky and paradoxical, as it seems that hard work; challenges, discomfort and patience are necessary conditions for happiness. That happiness only emerges from these sources – surely, that is not the case, but it seems to me that happiness does require pushing the envelope in terms of what we expect from others and ourselves. And also, being willing to forgive and accept to a huge degree when these expectations fall short or are not met at all. I suppose it’s that idea of reaching for the moon so that even if you miss you will still be among the stars. Although, more accurately, given what we now know, is the idea that you should reach for the stars so that even if you miss you may be near the moon or Mars.

I just wonder, how come no one ever said: happiness isn’t easy? I think we all hope that it will be and is, and that when we have happiness, life will be easy. But happiness is more like a job than a beautifully wrapped gift under the tree; happiness needs to be nurtured, noticed and something that is consciously sought: like money. We try to accumulate money, we always think about money and we are always after money. Well, I think happiness needs the same constant attention – it’s just that it’s a different kind of currency. And my feeling is it’s a good idea to attempt to spend your happiness notes in places your might not at first think worthy of them, and to look for them in places you least expect!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reality Check

Envirowoman blogged about an article describing the huge amounts of plastic debris in the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas that is well worth the read, sad though it may be.
While the topic is not a happy one, being aware of the state of the world makes it much easier to make choices that ultimately make us happier as we choose things based on their positive affect on ourselves, others, and the environment. I don’t really like reading depressing news, and often I skip right over all those headlines about troops dying in Iraq and clashes in Lebanon not because I don’t care or I want to be uninformed but because reading about Elizabeth Taylor’s Van Gogh – though that too is controversial – is much more neutral and easier to deal with. Also, I like to read things related to animals – someone’s Berenese Mountain dog had a litter of 13 pups or the stories about the little polar bear in the zoo in Germany – these are heartwarming and always have cute pictures.

Pictures of men running with guns and bloodied bodies are not nice. Nor are pictures of turtles choked by plastic ties cinching their middles. But even though these things do not make me happy I shouldn’t only read about celebrity gossip, developments in science and other things that do not cause me emotional distress or cognitive dissonance because then I lose sight of how fortunate I am. I am not suggesting that we only read bad or troubling news in order to give us a foundation of comparison so that we know how great our own lives our, but this is one reason to do it. And if I said otherwise, I would be lying. But also, knowing what is going on allows us to again, make choices that we can feel good about. Feeling as though I am in control or part of something that is a force of good or change is a component of happiness. Granted, I haven’t been doing much in the way of keeping up on US politics since I moved away three years ago but I have become more aware of systems elsewhere and have been attempting to keep an eye on things (if only politicians were fuzzy animals with innocent eyes, I would pay so much more attention to them!) in an attempt to make better, more informed choices the next time I vote absentee.

Balancing what to read in the news is a hard thing for me though. I am not an unintelligent person but it’s hard for me to follow a lot of what is going on around the world. Which is to say, I am not particularly well informed about past events around the world. I took a number of history courses in high school – world history until the mid-1800s and US history until the mid 1900’s but I managed not to take any history courses at university given my majors and quite frankly I lack a lot of the knowledge base to keep up on things. But that is a lame excuse for not trying and I am trying to be more aware of things. But sadly, the plight of those two folks building their dream home (their third home!) on an island in Florida published on The New York Times online gets more of my attention. As do blogs on design, crafting, personal finance and happiness. But I do try to give myself a reality check because my own happiness ultimately, is in some small way tied to everyone else’s and in a huge way, contingent upon the well being of the planet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reply to Robin

Robin’s comment:

“I think this level of discipline is challenging for many people though (including me). How can we not make ourselves miserable by beating ourselves up if we don't reach a goal? It's a tough dilemma!”

is a great one.

I think discipline HAS to be a very personal matter. It has to be self-initiated and self-defined. My idea of discipline with regard to exercising probably seems lacking to a tri-athlete but for me, it requires a huge amount of discipline. Now, how to avoid misery? I think the first and most important thing is to focus on what you have done to reach the goal each day. Always focusing on what has happened or is happening each day alone is important for not beating yourself up about what you have done in the past or might not do in the future.

So for me, I am still trying to build in a regular yoga practice. I have only practiced twice for about 15 minutes just before bed over the last four days. My goal is to do yoga everyday but instead of focusing on not having done as much as I wanted to do, I focus on what I can do today. And, this is why I do practice for a few minutes before bed. Because it is the time of day when I say, “oh I wish I had practiced!” So when I say that to myself, I decide, “why not practice?” Just spend 10 or fifteen minutes gently stretching and over time that will make a difference and become a habit even though it does not feel like enough. Clearly, this does not work for all goals but I have a checklist in my head and ask myself throughout the day what I can tick off and if I haven't checked one off I try to figure out if I can fit it in somehow.

This brings me to the important point, I think to avoid beating yourself about discipline, there are two measurements, if you will, to consider. 1) The act of undertaking action towards a goal which is binary – either you have or have not done it. And 2) The extent or amount of action towards a goal which can vary in all sorts of ways or be measured in all sorts of ways: minutes, number of pages written, number of laps around the track, number of thank you notes written etc. For me, I have decided that addressing Number 1, is key, at first. Before I can be someone who has great, endurance building runs 6 times a week, I have to be someone who at least attempts moderate exercise six times a week. Right now, that is my focus. I am aiming to just attempt an action towards my goal each day – it doesn’t matter if I do 20 minutes or 40, just by following through each day on that goal, I am making the action I want built into my life a habit and building up discipline.

Later I will focus on the extent or amount of action towards a goal. I can’t be biting off more than I can chew! The same goes for yoga. Even 5 minutes a day counts as a gold star in my mental chart. Later, after I have built up the daily discipline, I will work on increasing the duration of things like yoga and running. I think this is one way to avoid beating yourself up about goals and reaching or not reaching them. Really, I think what I mean to say is to focus on each day relative to the goal and do what you can in that day. Focusing on what could have been done yesterday is pointless and you can’t jump forward in time so really, it’s about what can get done towards the goal today.

Obviously this does not work in the same way for all goals and doesn’t even address other factors like the weather, other people, your own health etc., but I think separating the urge to equate doing something with doing an explicit amount is helpful. Just doing something at first is enough. Later working to accomplish specific amounts after something becomes a habit is the way I am approaching my own journey towards more discipline in my life.

Envirowomen is an interesting case of discipline as she attempts to live plastic free. Here is a great case of someone living with a huge amount of discipline but not letting her MAJOR SINS as she calls them, of plastic consumption, stop her from living plastic-free. Plus, I really like her blog and what she is doing and I like reading about plastic free resources she has found so I wanted to give her a shoutout.

Also, this person has a whole series of posts on self-discipline that are interesting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Steinbeck inspired me to try writing my own fiction. It’s a bit lofty I know, but what the heck? Right now is a good time for me to try it and I found this website that made it seem remotely possible. Plus, it is a way for me to write about an issue in my life that causes me much distress. So it’s more like therapy and thinking about the story and working on it makes me happy! So one goal related to discipline is to spend some time every work day on my story.

Also, I just decided to start running/walking six days a week. This too seems like a huge impossible task but so far I have made it four mornings in a row with a run/walk between 20 and 30 minutes each morning. The goal of this is to build up some strength and endurance in my body. I am a tall woman and fairly thin but with big hips and bum. I don’t mind my body so much and generally am quite happy with it. What I am NOT happy about is the fact that I have lived in a country without a car for almost a year, I walk everywhere and yet, I still feel tired after walking 20 minutes. This seems wrong, wrong, wrong, to me. I am going to turn 26 this month so it seems like now is a good time to try to build up some physical strength and endurance. If it smoothes out some of the bulgy edges that is fine but mostly I just don’t want to feel like I have the lung capacity of someone twice my age - which is how I feel lately.

Hence, the idea is to run/walk six days a week. This actually is not very much. And I did not set out with that idea on Day 1. On Day 1 I just wanted to see if I could do about 30 minutes of walking / running. And I could. I emphasize the walk/run idea because I do not run for 30 minutes because quite frankly, I am just too out of shape for that. But I did some reading on websites, which suggest that the best way to build up strength and endurance is to start slowly by interspersing intervals of slow jogging with fast walking, so that is what I am doing.

I do know though that one of the keys to performance and improvement and production in ANY area or skill is consistency. I think back on how I used to practice the violin an hour and a half a week thinking that made up for not practicing for five days but realize now that if only I had practiced even just 15 minutes a day instead of lumping it all in one day a week, I might be doing something else with my life. Although I have no natural rhythm so that is unlikely! But I also thought about this idea of short consistent practice in terms of other habits. Like brushing your teeth. Most of us brush our teeth twice a day for a few minutes and that keeps them fairly clean and healthy. But think! If we thought that brushing once a week for 30 minutes were the equivalent of all those mini sessions the state of our teeth would be very different! Of course, it’s better than no brushing at all but the effects are not even comparable. So thinking that taking care of my physical self is like taking care of my teeth prompted be to make it a goal to run/walk six mornings a week.

I have to admit that I have yet to want to do this run/walk each morning. No, I’d much rather sit at home and have my breakfast while surfing the web. But I do truly feel better even once I am just out the door and walking outside - it is very warm here now so I do this in the morning between 7am and 9am before it gets too hot. And when I have finished my run/walk, I do feel good. Not great. That would be an overstatement but I feel ready to start my day. So really, this is hugely about discipline for me. About just getting on with it even though I don’t really want to.

Also, when I took some of the tests on Martin Seligman’s site, the number of questions related to goal setting and discipline struck me. I don’t know much about his research apart from what I have read in my undergraduate pysch textbooks (I do a very different kind of psychology) but it makes sense to me that happiness has a lot to do with discipline. This is related to feeling in control of things, being productive and achieving goals which one sets. Happiness seems very related to setting challenges for oneself and then tackling those challenges consistently in smallish increments everyday. This of course, results in achieving goals and conquering challenges while not letting them overwhelm you. Let’s see if I am singing the same tune in two weeks time!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The End

The story has several threads but one of the threads is that Doc needs a microscope to do his research on octopi. His friends on Cannery Row save up to buy him one in hopes that it will make him happier:

“And here they came down the chicken walk, balancing among them the tripod and long black tube. They crossed the track and the lot and they set the tripod down beside the car.

Mack cleared his throat. “Friends,” he said, “on behalf of I and the boys it gives me great pleasure to present Doc with this here.”

Doc looked at the gift – a telescope strong enough to bring the moon to his lap. His mouth fell open. Then he smothered the laughter that rose in him.

“Like it?” said Mack.
“It’s beautiful.”
“Biggest one in the whole goddam catalogue,” said Mack.Doc’s voice was choked. “Thanks,” he said. He paused, “After all, I guess it doesn’t matter whether you look down or up – as long as you look.”

A perfect ending to a tale of discontent as Doc's friends help him out of his rut. Friends are good. Friends are happiness incarnate.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Now it really is Sweet Thursday

I am not taking excerpts from the book that tell the complete story but they are chronologically correct and I think I just enjoy the descriptions and way with words and that is why I am sharing these. The last installment will be tomorrow.

Looking backward in time, you can usually find the day it started, the day of Sarajevo, the day of Munich, the moment of Stalingrad or Valley Forge. You fix the day and hour by some incident that happened to yourself. You remember exactly what you were doing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

There is no doubt that forces were in motion on that Thursday on Cannery Row. Some of the causes and directions have been in process for generations. There are always some people who claim they felt it coming. Those who remember it say it felt like earthquake weather.

It was a Thursday, and it was one of those days in Monterey when the air is washed and polished like a lens, so that you can see houses in Santa Cruz twenty miles across the bay and you can see the redwood trees on a mountain above Watsonville. The stone point of Fremont’s Peak, clear the other side of Salinas, stands up nobly against the east. The sunshine had a goldy look and red geraniums burned the air around them. The delphiniums were like little openings in the sky.

There aren’t many days like that anyplace. People treasure them. Little kids are likely to give off tin-whistle screams for no reason, and business men find it necessary to take a drive to look at a piece of property. Old people sit looking off into the distance and remember inaccurately that the days of their youth were all like that. Horses roll in the green pastures on such a day and hens make a terrible sunny racket.

Thursday was that kind of magic day.”

I wonder if everyday is like this for someone, somewhere? I would imagine so. To a sweet Thursday!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

More on Doc

I love this book because of it captures moods with humor and accuracy. All too often I have been in this same situation as Doc:

“For days the flame burned in Doc, his phoenix thought. True, he didn’t have a proper microscope, but he had eyes, and he had, thank God, an analytic mind that could slough off sensations, emotions and pains. As he stared at the octopi his thesis took form.

Doc bought a package of yellow pads and two dozen pencils. He laid them out on his desk, the pencils sharpened to needle points and lined up like yellow soldiers. At the top of the page he printed: OBSERVATIONS AND SPECULATIONS. His pencil point broke. He took up another and drew lace around the O and B, made a block letter S and put fish-hooks on each end. His ankle itched. He rolled down his sock and scratched, and that made his ear itch. “Someone’s thinking about me,” he said and looked at the yellow pad. He wondered weather he had fed the cotton rats. It is easy to forget when you’re thinking.”

Feeling ambitious yet utterly stuck. I think a good deal of happiness comes from these ambitions or challenges we set for ourselves but it is so hard translating them into reality!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sweet Thursday

I have just read Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday and I have wanted to share a few excerpts for the past two Thursdays. I can't upload the image I drew though and it is frustrating me so even though I like my posts to have an image at the top, this time, words alone will have to suffice.

There is too much to post at once so I will just have to post the joy I discovered in this book over a series of days. I forgot how much I enjoy Steinbeck. I am remembering how happy reading makes me…

From Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday:

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there's time, the bastard Time. The end of life is now not so terribly far away - you can see it the way you see the finish line when you come into the stretch - and you mind says "Have I worked enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I loved enough?" All of these, of course, are the foundation for man's greatest curse, and perhaps his greatest glory. "What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me?" And now we're coming to the wicked, poisoned dart: "What have I contributed in the Great Ledger? What am I worth?" And this isn't vanity or ambition. Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay, no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him, and if he tries to make payments the debt only increases, and the quality of his gift is the measure of the man.

Doc's greatest talent had been his sense of paying as he went. The finish line meant nothing to him except that he had wanted to crowd more living into the stretch. Each ended with its night; each thought with its conclusion; and every morning a new freedom arose over the eastern mountains and lighted the world. There had never been any reason to suppose it would be otherwise. People made pilgrimages to the laboratory to bask in Doc's designed and lovely purposelessness. For what can a man accomplish that has not been done a million times before? What can he say that he will not find in Lao-Tse or the Bhagavad-Gita or the Prophet Isaiah? It is better to sit in appreciative contemplation of a world in which beauty is eternally supported on a foundation of ugliness; cut out the support, and beauty will sink from sight. It was a good thing Doc had, and many people wished they had too.

But now the worm of discontent was gnawing at him.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wonky record player

My record player looks a bit wonky but that is how I've been feeling lately. It can be hard to maintain and cultivate happiness. It takes a lot of work, actually. And I am certainly not happy all of the time. Yesterday was a particularly sad day for me. I think it is important to allow that sadness or gloominess but not to dwell on it. I dwelled a bit yesterday but am trying to keep on keepin' on today.

Music makes me exceedingly happy. Here in Turkey we have a lot of music downloaded on the computer but not everything. I miss having my cd books to flip through - I like the tangibility of picking out a cd and putting it in the player. A record has an even more wonderful, tangibility to it.

I don't listen to the radio here (well, not true actually, we listen to the BBC but more of the talk shows than the music programs) so I am totally out of the music loop lately. But my officemate plays songs from one of those sites like Pandora and an artist comes up from time to time that I really, really dig: Brett Dennen. He does lovely stuff and I think his cd will be one of my first frivolous purchases come the fall when we are back in Canada. Discovering new music is a great feeling – as is rediscovering favorite tunes you haven’t heard in awhile.

Music is vitally important for happiness, for me. I sometimes think I am not listening to enough of it lately...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Expectations of Happiness

I have been absent for a few days because we finally took a trip to Istanbul. Above is my rendition of the Happy Bear visiting Aya Sofia. I don't actually think there is a cross on top of it but I am trying to distinguish it from the Blue Mosque in my mind. But this is a post not about Istanbul but about the expectations of Istanbul - or anything, really.

Traveling always brings me great happiness but never when I expect it. I always think that seeing something iconic will bring me happiness – and it does in a way, but not in the way I expect. When I was twelve or just turned thirteen, my parents and I did a three-week, whirlwind tour of Europe. I had ideas about the world then but not that many and mostly when I thought of Europe, I pictured the Eiffel tower. How many times had I seen images of the Eiffel tower by the age of thirteen, I wonder? Who knows but I remember that upon seeing it, I was awestruck but that as we climbed up the stairs, I was disappointed that it was painted brown, not black as I had imagined. Go figure. There I was eating Nutella filled crepes in the shadow of the Eiffel tower and I was perseverating on it being painted brown.

I enjoyed Paris on that trip but things that stay in my mind from that trip that are still vivid and magical for me are those moments of discovery whereupon I saw something I knew nothing about and my expectations could not ruin the moment. Experiencing Venice on that trip was full of magic for me. I suppose I had heard about it but at that age and in my particular circumstances, I didn’t have many conceptions of it. Streets that were rivers, beautiful bridges, and houses emerging from the sea. Not to mention my delight at the shiny purple shells my Mom and I collected at the Lido (a Colorado girl like me had no idea those were just ordinary mussel shells). Other magical moments on that first trip included a train ride in Switzerland and emerging from the depths of the underground in Budapest to see a man guarding a McDonald’s with a semiautomatic rifle of some sort.

That trip taught me quite a bit about expectations but still, expectations color so many experiences even though I ought to know better than to let them interfere. I think it is interesting to consider how our expectations influence our perception of happiness. It is easy to paint pictures in our heads of what will make us happy – the color of the light being just so, the scene a memorable one and so on. But in reality, those scenes never come to pass and it is always some other scene, one you could have never imagined where you sit back and say, “This is really nice.”

In Istanbul, it was awe inspiring to see the inside of Aya Sofia, but I was happiest in Istanbul when eating fresh fish from the Kumkapi fish market and watching the fishing boats come and go on the Marmara. But I had never even heard of that fish market – Istanbul is filled with so many wonderful places and yet, the ones that we enjoyed most were those that were unexpected for us.

An important point about happiness, I think, is that if you expect to find it somewhere, it is impossible to find it there because even if it were there to notice, it would be obscured by your expectations. I think noticing happiness requires letting go of expectations in any area or facet of life. Happiness is always there, waiting to be found or discovered but when you come at it with a template or design of your own – you might cover up the best bits!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Happy Movies

We watched a really good film last night that just made me happy. Not giggly happy, or elated but just plain happy with a small, lasting smile: Stranger Than Fiction. I really enjoyed this movie. It wasn’t a comedy or happy in the way that Mary Poppins or Auntie Mame is happy but it made me smile at the end. It got me to thinking and I have made a list of my Top Ten Happy Movies in no particular order:

1) Auntie Mame
2) Mary Poppins
3) Stranger Than Fiction
4) To Catch a Thief
5) The Big Chill
6) Center Stage
7) The Little Princess (1939 version)
8) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
9) Pride and Prejudice (1995 mini)
10) E.T.

What movies make you happy?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Bear in the Mirror

I did not have a chance to write much about my thoughts on the decline of joy article so I wanted to say just a few things here. I thought the ideas presented were interesting - especially as a psychologist I have not been trained to spend a lot of time looking at the historical influences on the world but more at the immediate environment of a person (individual) and so I appreciate a fresh perspective. Fresh is good. It makes me happy.

Having said that, I have been struck, living here in the land of antiquity, at the rich cultural tradition of adornment and fashion. I say this because of the beautiful artifacts that I have seen from Greek and Roman times – people were clearly concerned with themselves given the jewelry, perfume and make-up pots that have been uncovered not to mention the statues! And yet, they did not seem to have an epidemic of unhappiness. And looking at the ethnic jewelry from nomadic people in the area underscores how people have taken the time to adorn themselves - even when they have few other possessions. I don’t think the intensification of subjectivity on the part of oneself accounts for the rise of unhappiness as much as the imposition of the subjectivity of others does.

By that I mean that I don’t think we tend to reflect that much more on ourselves than at any other point in history. But I think that we know so much more about everyone else. This means that we are able to compare ourselves with everyone else. With the ever increasing amount of information available, it becomes easier and easier to gain a sense of where one stands or not, within the world. No longer do I just look at the people immediately around me to place myself in the fashion world (which let me tell you, in Turkey, I am practically a slob!) – I can look at what is happening around the globe. I know that people can be billionaires because I have heard of Bill Gates. Otherwise, it might never even occur to me that someone could have so much financial wealth. I don’t think what we face is the result of too much inward reflection but the result of too much outward reflection.

And, as Sandra pointed out, the degradation of familial and social ties does not help the situation at all.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Historical Rise of Unhappiness

Barbara Ehrinreich has published a book: Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy from which snippets of an excerpted article in The Guardian are taken from. Ehrinreich argues that beginning in the 17th century, there was an epidemic of depression across England. She points out:
The disease grew increasingly prevalent over the course of the 20th century,
when relatively sound statistics first became available, and this increase
cannot be accounted for by a greater willingness on the part of physicians and
patients to report it. Rates of schizophrenia, panic disorders and phobias did
not rise at the same time, for example, as they would be expected to if only
changes in the reporting of mental illness were at work. According to the World
Health Organisation, depression is now the fifth leading cause of death and
disability in the world, while ischemic heart disease trails in sixth place.

She talks about the plethora of books, videos, information, and research trying to identify the causes for depression as she cites evidence for a decline in ritual celebrations:

But to my knowledge, no one has suggested that the epidemic may have begun in a
particular historical time, and started as a result of cultural circumstances that arose at that time and have persisted or intensified since. The failure to consider historical roots may stem, in part, from the emphasis on the celebrity victims of the past, which tends to discourage a statistical, or epidemiological, perspective. But if there was, in fact, a beginning to the epidemic of depression, sometime in the 16th or 17th century, it confronts us with this question: could this apparent decline in the ability to experience pleasure be in any way connected with the decline in opportunities for pleasure, such as carnival and other traditional festivities?

And very likely the phenomena of this early "epidemic of depression" and the
suppression of communal rituals and festivities are entangled in various ways.
It could be, for example, that, as a result of their illness, depressed individuals lost their taste for communal festivities and even came to view them with revulsion. But there are other possibilities. First, that both the rise of depression and the decline of festivities are symptomatic of some deeper, underlying psychological change, which began about 400 years ago and persists, in some form, in our own time. The second, more intriguing possibility is that the disappearance of traditional festivities was itself a factor contributing to depression.

I think this idea in the decline of festivites in a truly intriguing one. I think of how much I love Christmas and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July precisely because of the festivities and the gathering of people and this argument makes sense to me. Another argument has to do with an intensification of subjectivity or self awareness during the 16th and 17th centuries which I am much more skeptical of but it is still something to consider.

Historians infer this psychological shift from a number of concrete changes
occurring in the early modern period, first and most strikingly among the urban
bourgeoisie, or upper middle class. Mirrors in which to examine oneself become
popular among those who can afford them, along with self-portraits (Rembrandt
painted more than 50 of them) and autobiographies in which to revise and
elaborate the image that one has projected to others. In bourgeois homes, public
spaces that guests may enter are differentiated, for the first time, from the
private spaces - bedrooms, for example - in which one may retire to let down
one's guard and truly "be oneself".

So highly is the "inner self" honoured within our own culture that its
acquisition seems to be an unquestionable mark of progress - a requirement, as
Trilling called it, for "the emergence of modern European and American man". It
was, no doubt, this sense of individuality and personal autonomy, "of an
untrammelled freedom to ask questions and explore", as the historian Yi-Fu Tuan
put it, that allowed men such as Martin Luther and Galileo to risk their lives
by defying Catholic doctrine. Which is preferable: a courageous, or even merely
grasping and competitive, individualism, versus a medieval (or, in the case of
non-European cultures, "primitive") personality so deeply mired in community and
ritual that it can barely distinguish a "self"? From the perspective of our own
time, the choice, so stated, is obvious. We have known nothing else.

I think there is truth in this given that our society lends itself to the inventions of ipods etc. But there is no such thing as a free ride:

But there was a price to be paid for the buoyant individualism we associate with
the more upbeat aspects of the early modern period, the Renaissance and
Enlightenment. As Tuan writes, "the obverse" of the new sense of personal
autonomy is "isolation, loneliness, a sense of disengagement, a loss of natural
vitality and of innocent pleasure in the givenness of the world, and a feeling
of burden because reality has no meaning other than what a person chooses to
impart to it". Now if there is one circumstance indisputably involved in the
etiology of depression, it is precisely this sense of isolation. As the
19th-century French sociologist Emile Durkheim saw it, "Originally society is
everything, the individual nothing ... But gradually things change. As societies
become greater in volume and density, individual differences multiply, and the
moment approaches when the only remaining bond among the members of a single
human group will be that they are all [human].",,2047969,00.html

Friday, March 30, 2007

Tea at Work Makes Me Happy

Where I work currently, you may ask for tea to be brought to you and of course, since it is Turkey, it is served Turkish-style in a clear, curvy glass on a little saucer. It's pretty basic black tea but tea is always nice and today is a holiday where people eat simit (a softer-than-a-bagel sesame seed-covered savory bread). Now, tea is one of only a few beverages I drink (others being water, juices, coffee, wine and beer) and it being so available really makes my day much better. To put it plainly, tea makes me happy. If I had to work somewhere where it wasn't easy to make tea, I would be pretty miserable. If only finding a place where I can drink tea were the only requirement for job satisfaction!

From MSN I found this article, Finding Happiness at Work. The article lists the 16 basic desires that motivate us as people according to Dr. Steven Reiss at the Ohio State University and explains how to be happy at work, we must identify our basic desires from this list and find a job AND workplace that are congruent with these desires. Sounds good to me. My Dad always says "Do what you love and the money will follow." After all, isn't it only natural to find work that is congruent with your values, ideals and desires? Why would someone become a teacher if they don't like kids, don't enjoy having fun and can let go of expectations and control in the name of spontaneous learning that works? Because they get summers off!

That is why people are so enigmatic. Because people do things for reasons that invariably make no sense to anyone but them (i.e. having summers off makes the other 10 months of work as a teacher seem like a reasonable career choice for a person that doesn't really like kids or trying to devise ways to inspire curiosity). And in the work place I can't think of very many people who are in jobs that match their desires - they are in jobs for the salary, the prestige, because it is there, the health care benefits, the location (my temporary situation), the summers off etc., everything but because it matches their desires. I mean, how many people are there out there whose desires are social-contact, eating, romance and independence who would make brilliant independent caterers specializing in weddings and anniversaries who are working as administrators behind desks somewhere? A lot, I bet.

But then there are practical considerations - a person can't just run off to chef school, take out a small business loan and some courses in small business development and think that everything will work out...or can they? I like to think they can but the basic necessities for food, shelter, healthcare, etc., make it hard for most people to do as my Dad suggests and the money will follow. Or at least it makes them scared. But you know, people actually don’t need all that much. We want a lot of things. Oh how we want! But we don't actually need a lot of things. And if you do something you love, and it makes you happy, that will invariably translate into wealth, however you define it. Look at Oprah.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Noticing the Forsythia

The forsythias are in bloom on campus. Their bright yellow flowers are so cheerful that I can’t help but smile. They remind me of the one at the end of the drive at my parent’s house which is always the first thing in bloom and brings much needed color to arid, high climates like Denver and Ankara. I also see tinges of green on the trees and am just waiting for the leaves to come out fully. But, I know I will miss the day it happens- I always do because it is inevitably the case that I look up and one day the trees are all in bloom and I don’t know when it happened!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Public Policy for Happiness = Fresh Fruit!

This has been a year chock full of new ideas for me. Two years ago I do not think I could have listed everything I bought to wear from memory counting on my hands. I also had a hard time affording really nice fruit and vegetables – enough to eat them at every meal and as snacks. A red pepper was a once a week treat. Strawberries, good tomatoes, kiwi, eggplant, blueberries etc. were on special every once and while but not often and rarely out of season. And a huge bunch of herbs for fifty cents? Unheard of! Now, there were also a million wonderful things in my life before moving to Turkey – a critical press, public libraries everywhere, doctors who wore rubber gloves, etc. but I have certainly become aware of room for improvement in areas that were not obvious to me until I left.

My experience has led me to notice what is lacking and appreciate fully what is right in N. America, and specifically the US. And somehow, much of this is centered on evaluating what seems to make others and myself happy, oddly enough. So while there is so much that the US gets right, I have realized that the US gets in badly wrong in some fundamental ways and that in my mind these shortcomings have a lot to do with the perceptions of happiness that are foisted upon us in the US. I say “foisted” because I think there is zero encouragement to discover ones own happiness as the government, the media, policy makers, etc., seem to all be in cahoots to convince us of what will make us happy. Namely, fuel-efficient cars, organic food, super-smart children, a big house with an extended mudroom, healthcare at premium prices, lots of clothes, tax breaks, high definition television, espresso machines that use funny pellets, more education, and just generally, stuff. I say “foisted” too, because if someone doesn’t want all of this, they are eccentric, a hippie dippy type, a loose canon, maybe a curmudgeon, call it whatever you like, but they aren’t quite right.

Anyway, I have come to realize that I don’t want a lovely, big house with an extended mudroom in the front; I would rather have fresh fruit and vegetables at an affordable price all of the time for myself and everyone else. And in lieu of high definition television, give me public libraries! I have started to realize public libraries might be worth celebrating as much as the freedom of speech on July 4th. I do want something akin to super-smart children, I must admit, but I want them to be interested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake – not because it will give them a higher income or result in their achieving more. I just want them to be curious. It has been a valuable exercise to live abroad and gain a perspective that while at times challenging and frustrating, has caused me to re-evaluate my own ideas about happiness.

With the recent discovery of Will Wilkinson's Happiness and Public Policy blog, I am starting to think that there is hope after all. I never knew that people study public policy and happiness. I am very, very glad that they do. I am hoping that public policies concerning the high cost of fresh fruit and vegetables in the US are very high on the list of quality of life measures!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bearing Happiness

My Dad always says, upon encountering a lost or misplaced thing in life: "Opps! If it had been a bear it would have bit me!" Such is the case with happiness, I think. It is so easy to lose it or misplace it and go about our lives not noticing that it has been there all along waiting patiently to be found if only we look for it. Like keys under a coat on the sofa or the remote control sitting on the coffee table or the missing BBQ sauce behind the ketchup, happiness is never far away -sometimes it just requires a bit of quiet sitting or a fresh perspective to notice what has been there all along or find what has been missing. So the idea of this blog is to "bear happiness" by meditating on happiness, cultivating happiness, noticing happiness and rethinking happiness.