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June 28, 2007

On Happiness

Enough! Enough of the same old, same old. I want to be HAPPY!

I'm 34 years old. And I'm not sure if I am going through a mid-life crisis, but recently I have been reading books on happiness. I know it sounds strange, but it has actually made for some interesting reading. What is happiness? What are the best ways to achieve happiness? How do you know if you are happy?

I'd like to think I am a pretty content guy. I have a happy marriage and three fantastic kids. And I have a good job and I make a decent salary. I work at the University of Minnesota, the flagship institution of the state, and I have the opportunity to work on some pretty nifty stuff (for a librarian).

But how do I enhance that feeling of contentment? How can I do a better job of recognizing my good life? I'm also very interested in contentment vs. complacency. In other words, I definitely want to be happier, but I don't ever want to be complacent. How can I achieve this ever elusive nirvana?

So, I've been reading some books on happiness. One book I have enjoyed is The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt. Dr. Haidt is a professor at the University of Virginia, and his book looks at some common themes in philosophical and religious writings of the past and juxtaposes this ancient wisdom with current research.

The whole book is fascinating, but in particular I found the "Happiness Formula" to be wonderful in its elegant simplicity. The formula is written as such:

H = S + C + V

According to Haidt, Happiness (H) is heavily determined by our biological set point (S). This is the maximum level of happiness we are biologically (genetically) able to achieve. It seems all of us have a range of happiness that we slip and slide through during our lives, but there is a high point that as individuals we can get to. Some people's set point is higher than others, but most of us, again, spend our lives somewhere within a range determined by biology. As far as the rest of the formula goes, Dr. Haidt writes:

The level of happiness that you actually experience (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities(V) you do. The challenge for positive psychology is to use the scientific method to find out exactly what kinds of C and V can push H up to the top of your potential range [as determined by S].

Good stuff. So, throughout the book Dr. Haidt makes some suggestions of things we can do to become happier. Here are a few:

Dr. Haidt also spends a large amount of the book discussing three important areas that usually have a great deal of influence over our happiness: the work we do, our relationships, and spirituality. In terms of the work we do, Dr. Haidt (and others) have found that a person's satisfaction with work usually has to do with how they define their job: as just a job, a career, or a calling. Obviously, people who have found their true calling are happier. If you love your job, or have "vital engagement" through it, you will feel that you are doing good for society and that you are doing your job well. If you've got a job where you feel this is true, hold on to it. You will probably be happier in the long run.

Dr. Haidt has also found that it is important to have some level of control at your job. If you make decisions, or determine your own work in some way, you will probably be happier than a person that just works on an assembly line doing the same thing over and over again (especially if that person is tightly controlled or monitored). It is called "occupational self direction" and almost any job can incorporate more of it. This can definitely lead to more job satisfaction.

In terms of relationships, Dr. Haidt criticizes Buddhism a little by recognizing that attachments, especially with other people, are where we find the bulk of our happiness. And sadness, this is certainly true, but the relationships we have with other people can greatly enrich our lives. He describes a fascinating study by Emile Durkheim who researched factors that affected European suicide rates in the late nineteenth century. Check this out:

No matter how he parsed the data, people who had fewer social constraints, bonds, and obligations were more likely to kill themselves. Durkheim looked at the "degree of integration of religious society" and found that Protestants, who live the least demanding religious lives at the time, had higher suicide rates than did Catholics; Jews, with the densest network of social and religious obligations, had the lowest. He examind the "degree of integration of domestic society" -- the family -- and found the same thing: People living alone were most likely to kill themselves; married people, less; married people with children, still less. Durkheim concluded that people need obligations and constraints to provide structure and meaning to their lives ... A hundred years of further studies have confirmed Durkheim's diagnosis. If you want to predict how happy someone is, or how long she will live (and if you are not allowed to ask about her genes or personality), you should find out about her social relationships."

Again, research has proven again and again that we are a highly social species, and that we need others to complete us. Many people create social relationships inside the home with family, and also through volunteering and activities like that outside the home. Volunteering in itself can create good, virtuous feelings in that a person is happy to make a contribution to society in some way, but the main benefit to the individual in terms of volunteering probably comes from the relationships created through the activity. And while this type of activity can be overdone and sometimes overwhelm, it is most definitely an important component of making yourself more happy. Good to know.

Finally, Dr. Haidt recognizes and extrapolates on the fact that religious people are happier than the non-religious. This has a lot to do with the relationships created through religious participation, but also because research suggests we are happier when see and strive for divinity in the human experience. Through religion and seeing the sacred in our lives we are "uplifted." In fact, Haidt describes this feeling as the emotion of "elevation" and it can occur when we are in church, or in nature, or listening to music, appreciating a painting, or seeing the majesty of the stars. Dr. Haidt describes this emotion wonderfully in a Christian context:

Growing up Jewish in a devoutly Christian country, I was frequently puzzled by references to Christ's love and love through Christ. Now that I understand elevation ... I think I'm beginning to get it. For many people, one of the pleasures of going to church is the experience of the collective elevation. People step out of their everyday profane existence, which offers only occasional opportunities for movement [within elevation], and come together with a community of like-hearted people who are also hoping to feel a "lift" from the stories about Christ, virtuous people in the Bible, saints, or exemplary members of their own community. When this happens, people find themselves overflowing with love, but it is not exactly the love that grows out of attachment relationships. That love has a specific object, and it runs to pain when the object is gone. This love has no specific object; it is agape. It feels like a love of all humankind, and because humans find it hard to believe that something comes from nothing, it seems natural to attribute the love to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit moving within one's own heart. Such experiences give direct and subjectively compelling evidence that God resides within each person. And once a person knows this 'truth,' the ethic of divinity becomes self-evident."

The remarkable thing about this passage is that Dr. Haidt makes it quite clear throughout the book that he considers himself to be an atheist. Yet, he recognizes the need for the divine in our lives. In fact, he argues that we can't escape it, and that even atheists have feelings of "elevation" on a regular basis. He writes, "If religious people are right in believing that religion is the source of their greatest happiness, then maybe the rest of us who are looking for happiness and meaning can learn something from them, whether or not we believe in God." Anyway, I found this honesty interesting and refreshing.

All in all, I found The Happiness Hypothesis to be very compelling. There are a lot of things we can do to make ourselves happier, many of them easy and some of them very hard. I guess a criticism I have of the book, though, is that it is a very affluent view of happiness. A person in the Darfur region of Sudan would probably find the book to be worthless since happiness in that area of the world starts with simple things like food and safety. But for a Minnesotan like me it was an eye-opening look into some of the things that seem obvious but I've never really thought about. In a summarizing statement, Dr. Haidt writes:

Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

And probably happiness too. Anyway, check out the Happiness Hypothesis if you are interested in more.

Posted by snackeru at June 28, 2007 7:35 AM | Books


Here's something else that will make you happy. From Mojo Magazine (I think it falls under C in your formula):

It has been one of the most highly anticipated reunions of all-time! And now it looks set to take place before the end of the year when guitarist Jimmy Page is expected to reunite frontman Robert Plant and bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones to reform Led Zeppelin!

The original threesome have spent the last few weeks in dialogue about reforming the band and have rehearsed with drummer Jason Bonham – son of the fallen John Bonham, whose death in in September 1980 forced the band’s initial separation. While no confirmation of any shows have been forthcoming all three core band members are now understood to have agreed to play live, starting at a tribute to late Atlantic records boss Ahmet Ertegun.

Posted by: Freealonzo at June 29, 2007 1:52 PM

Ha! Actually, I think this news has allowed me to reach the uppermost heights of my biological set point (S)! Awesome! A reunited Led Zeppelin? Now that is a concert I will be at!

Posted by: Shane at June 29, 2007 2:03 PM

A very interesting post, Shane. Please feel free to do more like this.

Posted by: Jeff A at June 29, 2007 5:13 PM

No person can ever be happy knowing that they have taken money from other's wallets to support something they and a few others enjoy.

The problem is your concience is going to be quitely wondering what others would have done with the $50 or more per year that has been taken from them; books, school lunch, gasoline, a movie with a loved one, rent increases.

Good luck finding it. I think this stadium is going to be a dead weight for you tho.

Posted by: mary at June 29, 2007 6:31 PM

that last post was hysterically funny...mary can't be real...i'll bet it's cheesehead pulling shane's leg...nobody could seriously be that moronic.

in case you are real mary, DON'T BET ON IT...nobody here will feel one bit sorry. If anything you and your weasels should feel guilty for dragging this on for 10 years and making it cost tons more than it would have in 1997. Now you can do the same with the Vikings stadium. Let's see you and your cronies piss and moan for another 2 years and drag out the Vikes stadium to the point where it will cost 1.2 - 1.5 billion dollars, shall we?????

Posted by: kevin in az at June 29, 2007 8:01 PM

Wow. I have read some of the recent posts and there sure a lot of hateful people here and I don't mean the people that never wanted a stadium. It seems you stadium supporters are almost, but not quite, as bad as foul mouthed Bush hating liberals ready to go on the attack of anybody that disagrees with you.

Shame on baseball fans. I thought they were decent people but I was wrong. You are just beer guzzling old fogies making excuses.

Posted by: backer1 at June 29, 2007 10:09 PM

Mary - the real message that you conveyed in your post was accomplished in the first six words:

"No one can ever be happy."

Your message was the exact opposite of what Shane was trying to say in his post and fits perfectly with the negative, cynical, gloomy outlook of the anti-stadium crowd.

You guys should really check out the book he is reading.

Jeff T.

Posted by: Jeff T. at June 29, 2007 10:54 PM


Posted by: kevin in az at June 29, 2007 11:36 PM

Look, I know almost everyone here is interested in the stadium, one way or another. But could we expand our horizons just a little bit? Shane put together what I thought was a really interesting post, on a subject completely unrelated to stadiums, and it seems to be turning into another stadium debate.

There is more to life than whether the Twins build a stadium. Shane understands that. More people need to.

Posted by: Jeff A at June 30, 2007 9:47 AM


Jeff T.

Posted by: Jeff T. at June 30, 2007 9:57 AM

Most Minnesotans never wanted this stadium. That is why they refused to let citizens vote whether they wanted it or not.

This thing is already on the way to being a white elephant laughing stock stadium of the US.

Posted by: luke at June 30, 2007 6:45 PM

Anyone else hear pissed off the new Gopher football stadium is going to have artificial (plastic) grass? It's pretty disappointing to wait this long, and we're still not going to be able to smell the grass and see the grass and mud stained uniforms. Is it too late to change Maturi's mind? Natural grass is the only way to go!

Posted by: Rocky Balboa at June 30, 2007 6:55 PM

My own happiness formula:

H = W + C + B + B

Happiness = Wisconsin + Cheese + Brats + Beers

Shane, come back to your Cheesehead roots, come back home. Happiness awaits.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at June 30, 2007 9:23 PM

Cheesy, my condolences on the death of the founder of Johnsville Brats. My thoughts and prayers are with you in this difficult time.

Posted by: freealonzo at June 30, 2007 10:13 PM

what's this about the Gopher football stadium having fake grass!?!

Posted by: Snyder at June 30, 2007 11:19 PM

something tells me the field turf is cheaper to maintain...yeah...build a brand new OUTDOOR stadium and put fake grass on the field because it's cheaper....oh how minnesotan can you get????

don't the people in that state realize that they've got better technology these days for keeping real turf fields from dying.

I remember them having to paint the dirt and dead grass green at the met during the December Vikings games, but c'mon...This is the 21st century...surely there's a way to keep a real grass field from getting torn apart in November on the U of M campus?????????

Posted by: kevin in az at June 30, 2007 11:37 PM

This from gophersports.com

"The field will be an all-weather artificial playing surface comparable to the Gophers existing indoor practice field."


Posted by: kevin in az at June 30, 2007 11:38 PM

Football tears up a field much worse than baseball. Even the best grounds crews can only do so much with 300 lb men digging their heels in to the grass for 70 some snaps every saturday. Add in the less than ideal conditions of keeping grass out of dormancy in a Minnesota November, and you've got a recipe for trouble.

Most colleges have gone with field turf in their stadiums, as it allows them to use the field for other events. If you've got grass, you can use it for games, and that's it. The grass requires that entire week (or more) to recover.

I've played on the new stuff, and it's not too bad at all. Obviously, a nice grass field would be preferable, but I'll take FieldTurf over a bad grass field any day. Far less chance of injury, the turf is far more predictable and great to cut on.

They've made it very clear that they're putting in an artificial surface from the get go. It makes financial sense. Ohio State dealt with heavy rain this year and had to re-sod their field 3 times. They've now installed Field Turf, which the total cost for a maintenance-free surface was probably a fraction of what they spent on re-sodding. Given that this place will host more than just Gopher football (likely some HS games, perhaps the Vikings if they tear down the Dome, band stuff, etc), natural grass wouldn't hold up.

Grass makes sense for baseball, but Field Turf is a solid choice for football.

Posted by: Alex at July 1, 2007 2:22 PM


I just heard the probably ticket price is going up again for the new stadium. Anybody else confirm that? The cheapest seats are going to be $5 each higher than stated earlier and others are going up $7.50 to $15.50 each.

What gives. What good is a stadium I cannot afford to take four kids to? One friggin game will cost me $150!

Posted by: jeff at July 1, 2007 2:46 PM


shut off your internet connection...save the $$ you would have spent on internet and go to a game with your kids.

Posted by: kevin in az at July 1, 2007 2:55 PM

Those are all good points Alex. Do any of you know what the outdoor stadiums have in the upper midwest? What does Wisc, Mich, MSU, Iowa, IL, NW play on???

Posted by: kevin in az at July 1, 2007 2:56 PM

I know Nebraska has FieldTurf, and was one of the first sports teams to use FieldTurf. Nebraska had some seriously atrocious astroturf before FieldTurf that rivaled the dome's old carpet. The Huskers are now on their second installment of FieldTurf, and went with the two-tone arrangement (alternating light and dark green every 5 yards), which looks pretty nice, as you can see below:


Posted by: The Rational Actor at July 1, 2007 4:31 PM

Field turf is not safer in terms of injuries. Natural grass is more safe. When you plant, there is some give. On field turf, there is no give. Nothing compares to good old natural grass. Can't have everything, I guess. As long as we're outdoors I'm happy.

I'm also tickled pink there is no retractable roof. If it had one, it would be closed once the temp hits 60 degrees (meaning it would be closed for the remainder of the season once the non-conference schedule concluded). The Twins did it right too. If the Vikes do get their stadium, I'll be LMAO every time they close that roof to appease all the whiny, wimpy fans.

Posted by: Rocky Balboa at July 1, 2007 4:53 PM

You've got that right Rocky, I hate that Chase Field here in PHX has a roof. When the d-backs play in May and June, sure the highs are over 100, but whent he sun goes down, it's beautiful at 90 degrees with a dry breeze. All the transplants whine about it being too hot. If it's too hot, then move back to where you came from.

I totally agree with Zygi...He wants the Vikes to play outdoors and have that HUGE weather advantage again. If it has a roof, you know it will be closed when it's 50-60 degrees or light drizzle. I sat at Met stadium in 10-20 degrees and survived just fine. Dress in layers and pack a flask to share with the kids.

Posted by: kevin in az at July 1, 2007 5:30 PM

Badgers play on Field Turf. I like the stuff, I've played several football games on it and it's nice.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at July 1, 2007 5:52 PM


It amazes me that so few Minnesotan's want the Vikes to get back to their roots and play in the cold again. I sat in the old Met in the cold and snow and didn't think anything of it. That was football. Now, if the Vikes get a retractable roof stadium, there would be an uprising by Viking fans if they were forced to wear a coat. Do you think Bears or Packer fans would put a retractable roof on their stadiums if given the choice? Hell no.

Posted by: Rocky Balboa at July 1, 2007 7:08 PM

Field Turf certainly is safer than the old carpet stuff, and I think it's certainly better than a poorly maintained grass field. It's consistent, and won't come up in a huge divot. I've played on both, and I would prefer Field Turf over bad grass.

Field Turf has a fair amount of give to it. You only run into problems (the Turf monster) if you're wearing improper footwear. Otherwise, your cleats will release if you're hit, slide, etc.

That's exactly why Michigan and Ohio State switched to Field Turf. Both have large stadiums built into the ground, flirting with the water table. That made for sloppy conditions if you had a lot of rain.

In the Big Ten, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, and Indiana have some brand of the next generation turf. I know several others have considered installing it.

Posted by: Alex at July 1, 2007 7:13 PM


It's just too bad Mike Lynn was strong-arming his DOME idea with the Vikings brass in '76. The big argument at the time was to build something with a larger capacity and with suites. Not until the debate hit the damn legislature did they talk about a roof. I remember Mike wanted to build a wall around the met and place a roof on the wall, like the Astrodome configuration. Then I remember the 80,000 seat dome in coon rapids - ala the pontiac silverdome...then of course the strib came forward with their land in mpls.

I like Zygi's idea of the east loop of dt mpls, however I would rather see 70,000 seat outdoor stadium out on the prairie with a huge parking lot surrounding it. Everything which is appropriate for the NFL experience and not appropriate for the urban baseball experience.

Posted by: kevin in az at July 1, 2007 8:16 PM

Mike Lynn has done more to hurt Minnesota sports than any human being in the history of Minnesota. The Herschel Walker trade, the dome, etc.

Posted by: Rocky at July 3, 2007 5:50 PM

Meditation can really increase self esteem and also help in building confidence. By having time to relax, you can have peace of mind and reduce insecurities in life.

Building confidence can actually help you gain happiness. By having enough confidence, you can achieve your goals in life even just the simple ones.

Posted by: Building Confidence at July 11, 2007 12:10 PM

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