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.