June 28, 2007
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:
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:
- Reduce noise. Noise causes stress and it interferes with our concentration. In fact, research has shown that humans never fully adapt to new sources of noise in their lives, such as a new highway built next door. So, knock out unnecessary noise and you should be a little happier.
- Reduce your commute. Driving in traffic has been proven to increase stress hormones. So, while moving out to the suburbs to get a bigger house may seem like a good idea, the ride to and from work may actually limit the amount of happiness you get from your more spacious house.
- The positives of making yourself look better. Research has shown that improvements in personal appearance (at least your perception of how other people view your appearance) have a lasting impact on happiness. Dr. Haidt focuses on the benefits of cosmetic surgery and the fact that it does in fact make people happier. There are probably other ways to improve personal appearance, however, that are a little cheaper.
- Meditation. Interestingly enough, meditation has been proven to increase self-esteem, empathy, and trust, and it can improve your memory, reduce anxiety and ... yes ... increase your happiness. That is a good thing, because I have been known to just sit around and vegitate for a while. Now I can do so without shame!
- Cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is usually used to break a cycle of depression where the person has very dysfunctional beliefs about him or herself. Haidt uses the example of a father whose daughter has banged her head:
He instantly flagellates himself with these thoughts: "I'm a terrible father (this is called "personalization"...); "Why do I always do such terrible things to my children?" ("overgeneralization" ...); "Now she's going to have brain damage" ("magnification"); Everyone will hate me ("arbitrary inference" ...).
Do you see this pattern of thought in some of the bad things that have happened to you? Cognitive therapy seeks to recognize these thoughts and then change them with more realistic ones. It also includes challenging these thoughts by engaging in simple tasks, like going out and buying some milk rather than fretting over something "bad" that has happened. It takes time, but recognizing the problem and then incorporating some simple tools to overcome this negativity has been proven to make people much happier with themselves. Needless to say, entire books have been written on cognitive therapy, so my little synopsis probably doesn't do it justice. Check it out if you are interested.
- Prozac. This was also an interesting segment where Dr. Haidt comes to the conclusion that "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" or SSRIs can indeed be quite beneficial to people. He likens it to getting contact lenses to see better. If Prozac can have this same effect, in essence making a "mechanical adjustment" to make a person function better, then why not? If that is true for you, then you should feel good that there is something like this that can make you happier.
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.
June 27, 2007
In which I offer myself up for slaughter ...
You people are hilarious! Just hilarious. You brighten my day, everyday, with your impassioned comments. Hennepin County is screwed! Opat is an idiot! Shane is a county puppet!
Actually, that last comment gave me quite the chuckle. You know, we all do what is in our best interests. According to the article in the Strib today discussing the fact that Land Partners II is guaranteed $25 million from Hines no matter what (and 22.5% of anything over $25 million) ... this demonstrates a couple of things. For one, it is quite apparent that this is NOT about finding a fair price for the land. This is all about getting paid. It is in Hines' best interests to jack up the price so they can make a little money too. LPII seems to be set (well done Bruce!), and now Hines wants to get in on some of the action. So, give me a break with all your "Opat is lowballing the landowners" crap. In light of this agreement, Hines is only interested in squeezing as much out of the County (and now the Twins) as they can. Again, this isn't about finding a fair price as much as it is about making as much money as possible. Is this necessarily wrong? No. But in a deal with as much public scrutiny as this, it sure makes Hines look like greedy bastards.
And what about the County's interests? I don't know squat about big time land negotiations. And yes, The County should have started negotiations long before this mess started. Got it. But God forbid they now try to reign in what has proven to be just a flat out attempt by Hines to pork every cent they can out of this deal. Sheesh. Hines knew full well that the County would be limited to $90 million on land and infrastructure costs. We knew this last year when the bill was moving through the legislature. The House Taxes committee put the limit on. What was stopping them from saying, "Hey Mike, just wanted to let you know we think the land is worth a bazillion dollars." Nope, once the bill was passed the County was locked in, and they knew it. Let the porking begin.
I know. I know I've been accused of siding with the County a little to much on this issue. But what is in it for me? Let's see, if I side with Hines and demand that they get PAID (with a capital P-A-I-D) I might get a ballpark with a couple of dirt piles and a gravel road around it. If I get a ballpark at all. If I side with the County I get 1) some decent infrastructure and 2) a ballpark and 3) I get an entity that actually cares about me as a baseball fan. You think Hines cares about me? Do you seriously need to ask?
So, save your "woe to the landowners" speeches for someone else. I want a fantastic ballpark. Who is going to deliver that to me? The County, the Ballpark Authority, and the Twins. I could give a rip how much Hines gets paid, and if by paying them less gets me a better ballpark then I am all for it.
June 25, 2007
The Truth will set us free
You gotta be kidding me. This is why I'm happy that 1) they have condemned the land already, 2) Carl is picking up the difference (although I can imagine there is a limit to his "generosity") and 3) I'm not thinking about this anymore.
June 20, 2007
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. ~Russel Baker
June 11, 2007
Why do I feel this way?
Hi everyone. I don't think it is any secret that I have grown quite tired of talking, discussing, arguing about a certain ballpark that will be built in Minneapolis. You see, I am under the impression that since the bill is passed, and the ballpark is being built, I don't have to talk about it anymore. Silly me! It would appear that people still want to talk about it. I don't know why, but I really don't.
In all honesty, at this point I would be happy if they just threw a big curtain around the whole Rapid Park site, worked like crazed chipmunks until 2010, and then, like unveiling a sculpture, they could just bring the curtain down and we would all say, "Huh, that looks great! I kind of forgot this thing was even being built. Now, where can I buy a hot dog?" That is how I feel right now about this whole thing.
It is strange, but the old saying that the real fun is in the pursuit of something rather than actually attaining it seems to be true for me. Go figure.
Having said that, this might just be how I feel right now. When it starts getting colder again in September I might want to start thinking about this again. Who knows. Or maybe I'll want to start thinking about this again next week. It is hard to say. But for right now I am content. I am happy. I have nothing to argue about, and I kind of like it. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Now, just to keep up appearances, a certain someone has been asking about why the Minnesota Ballpark Authority exists. Here are some reasons why:
1. Tax Advantage - The county grants the proceeds to an entity it does not control, that allows the bond issue to be tax-exempt. that saves about $90 million versus using taxable debt. I would wager this is a good enough reason alone for the existence of this body, but if you want some more ...
2. The MBA's sole focus is on meeting the legislative directive to get the ballpark open by 2010. The Hennepin County board could not commit that kind of focus to one project (that's one of the reasons the county board turned the management of HCMC over to a broader governance structure).
3. The ballpark site sits at the convergence of several high profile public projects (North Star, Hiawatha extension. Met Council's sewer relining) all being constructed on a simultaneous schedule. The notion that a private entity (the Twins) could manage those relationships is not realistic.
The MBA is a public entity run by city, county and state appointed commissioners. It is well-suited to keeping the project on track and focused on protecting the public's investment long-term.
You can try to argue all you want about this. But the fact of the matter is the ballpark is being built, and some people are definitely watching out to make sure it is done right. I can't wait for 2010. I really can't wait.
June 7, 2007
"Zigong asked: 'Is there any single word that could guide one's entire life?' The master said: 'Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."
-- Analects of Confucius
"Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? ... You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye."
-- Matthew 7:3-5
"Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well."
"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne
"No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and tranforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor, if you would live for yourself."