Happy now?

May. 20th, 2011 02:53 pm
teadog1425: (Maze)
[personal profile] teadog1425

I came across an interesting article today in the THE (another advantage of working in a university environment!)  The article is: “The Wellbeing of Nations,” by Andrew Oswald (19 May 2011, Times Higher Education, pp 35-39), and he talks about the economics (more exactly, the statistics) of happiness.  Interesting points below…


1)       The answers that people give about how happy they are, tend to correlate well with the judgments of their friends, families and partners, as to how happy they think the individual is – which becomes more obvious the more you think about it really!  But still, it does reflect a (perhaps surprising) unanimity of presentation – i.e. that happy people are consistently happy to all those they interact with, and unhappy people vice versa – what about those who put on a jovial face with friends, and torture themselves with depression in private?  Or is that in fact not as effective a disguise as they think, and their friends still code them correctly as unhappy?


2)      There is a strong correlation between where you are in your life-cycle and how happy you perceive yourself to be – people in their late teens (15-20) are fairly happy and that score then drops steadily to reach a low for people in their 40s (41-50), after which it rises steeply until it reaches a much greater high for people in their 60s – perhaps because by that point you’re just so pleased to still be around?!  ;)  This means that (if I am typical), I am currently on the downward slide (being in my 30s) with another decade or so to go of feeling dissatisfied with my life, before things start to improve!  I can see why that might be the case – your 30s and 40s are the key decades for you to actually achieve or not the things that you might have wanted to achieve – relationship, property-ownership, career success, kids – there’s a lot of pressure in comparing yourself to a template of what you think you ought to have achieved or to what your peers have achieved, and where there are disappointments, these are often hard to come to terms with.  By the time you’re in your 50s and 60s, you have perhaps adjusted for these, and either have achieved the markers that you considered important, or have adjusted your goals to accept what you actually have…


3)      Things that the stats suggest have a high correlation to personal happiness (with comments!):

a.       Being a woman – phew!  ;)

b.      Having lots of friends – I finally feel like I am improving at this, with a much more stable social group and a better balance of people to spend time with vs time spent on my own – having the horse has been a massive factor in this…

c.       Being married or having a steady cohabitation – well, a no for me on this, obviously! – I do wonder whether the steady cohabitation has to be romantic in order to have its effect – what about a group of friends who live together as a steady arrangement?

d.      Having a PhD – This made me laugh out loud!  Hah!  Finally it is good for something!  I certainly don’t think that doing my PhD was good for my happiness, but certainly as I’ve got further away from the trauma, I can see the benefits more and more, so, maybe, yes…  ;)

e.       (and more generally) Having a good education

f.        Having a higher income

g.       Being healthy


4)      What the stats suggest as the great negatives in life:

a.       Unemployment

b.       Serious illness

c.       A recent divorce or separation – though, overall, the data suggests that two years after divorce, happiness levels rise again.


5)      Whether people have children or not, turns out to not be statistically significant in terms of their personal happiness levels – which is surprising… 


6)      I thought this was an interesting quote: “Health matters.  There is a great deal of research done by epidemiologists…to show that there seem to be very deep, powerful links between the quality of your mind – what is going on in your head – and how well your body works.  We do not understand the mechanisms at all well.”  I agree with this, and I’m really interested to see what is uncovered by this research, re the effect of thinking on body functioning…


7)      I also felt a real sense of recognition at this: “…in a deep sense, we are animals of comparison.  We cannot help it.  What I want is to have three BMWs and for my friend to have an old Ford.  That is what I want deep down, even though I cannot face up to that fact, and cannot say it to him or admit it to myself.”  Hah!  God, yes.  I keep thinking that the times when I get really stressed about things, are primarily because I am comparing myself to what other people have, and how unhelpful this is…


Which, I suppose, begs the question – especially given that I tick a privileged number of the positives on the lists above – do I consider myself happy? 


I’ve always felt – even at the points where I was finding life in general pretty hard – that deep inside, however difficult I might find it to access when things are proving tricky, I have an unshakeable core of optimism.  I’m generally a happy person, who has to (and sometimes does – bad brain! no biscuit!) work quite hard to make themselves miserable.  Even in the times that were pretty dark, I got a lot of pleasure from an incredible sunset, or a flower silhouetted just so, or the way a strange cat arched its head under my hand – and I think I’m very lucky that my brain works like that.


I’ve also worked really hard over the past five years or so – made a lot of changes to the way I think, to the way I interact with people, to what I spend my time doing – and I am definitely much happier with my life on a day-to-day level than I have been at any time I can remember before.  The majority of this is down to the pleasure that I get from being around animals, and horses in particular, which I have made a much larger part of my life, and most acutely since last summer, in having a relationship that comes closest to a ‘my’ horse, which is the best thing that I have made happen in my life so far… 


How about you guys?  Do you see yourselves as happy people?  And if so, are you happy now?

Date: 2011-05-20 02:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] megfuzzle.livejournal.com
I think I'm a happy person. Even with the crap of everyday life, I love my husband, and I like my job well enough, have hobbies that make me happy and mostly excited to get up every day.... Most people classify me as 'optimistic', so maybe that has something to do with it.

Date: 2011-05-20 02:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
I think the biggest thing that made the difference for me was realising (at a painfully late stage in my life) that I could act to make things turn out as I wanted them to - which has made my life into something that generally makes me much happier!

I think that there is a lot to do with genetics and with our very early, formative neurological experiences (literally how the brain is wired through what we experience when we are tiny babies) that shapes whether we are optimists or pessimists, and then that then gets overlaid by our subsequent experiences - positive or negative - as well, as to whether we expect that the world is a place that offers us good or bad things...

And - yay! ;)

Date: 2011-05-20 02:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyonesse.livejournal.com
i'm 43, so maybe i'm at the pits?

i cohabit with a # of friends (five right now), and that is definitely a big plus in my life. (n.b. one of my housemates is also a romantic partner, but that doesn't denigrate the contributions of the others imho.)

i have a chronic illness. it seems to me like duh, of course that makes me unhappy, BECAUSE IT HURTS ALL THE FREAKIN TIME. i've had that since my mid-twenties, it's definitely anti-happiness.

i describe myself as plagued by anxiety but essentially cheerful. i'm not sure where that lies on the happiness spectrum. i don't think i've been very happy lately, alas :/

Date: 2011-05-20 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Well certainly if you are "typical" according to the graph in the article, 43 would be smack in the middle of the lowest ratings that people score themselves for life satisfaction, so possibly, yes? ;) The good news is that apparently your satisfaction levels will only go up from here!

I think having a stable group of people (whether 1 or more) to live with, where you all rub along in mostly positive fashion, is more key than whether you're living with a romantic partner. For all its difficulties, I've definitely been happier living with my current flatmate - and happier knowing that it was probably likely to continue for a while - which makes me think that stability is the key point and not the romantic component?

I'm sorry for your health difficulties - I hope things improve...

I recognise myself in that description of 'plagued by anxiety but essentially cheerful' - I notice that, for myself, the anxiety strikes more at times of higher stress levels. I hope that things are happier for you soon... :)

Date: 2011-05-20 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
PS: if you had the time to have a look at my tolt queries in the previous post, I would be most grateful!

Date: 2011-05-20 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] coneycat.livejournal.com
I was pretty consistently, privately miserable from my teens through to my late thirties, and am finding my forties by far the most contended and happy period of my life thus far. This gives me hope for my grizzled-old-crone years!

Date: 2011-05-20 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Can you identify anything that changed in your mid-thirties that made you happier?

As I was saying above to Meg, I think the thing that made the biggest difference for me was realising (painfully late really, but still!) that I could act to make things turn out as I wanted them to - which has made my life into something that generally makes me much happier!

I am finding my thirties definitely much happier than my teens or twenties, which seems to make me atypical, but yay! ;)

I have to say I am much looking forward to being a grizzled old crone - seems like a lot of fun!! :)

Date: 2011-05-20 03:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] coneycat.livejournal.com
A few things: at thirty I made a move into a career that really suits me, and I was eventually able to find a job in a place where I want to live.

I also, almost by accident, was able to dredge up and talk out (with my sister) a number of family issues that have bothered me all my life. Getting those aired out helped.

And my always-fraught relationship with my mother has mysteriously healed itself--one day she just stopped being undermining and passive-aggressive towards me. I don't know how or why that happened but I am extraordinarily grateful.

I'm now working on my familial tendency to brood and hold grudges, mostly by reminding myself that my own memory is as faulty as anyone's and I might be remembering these old wounds and attacks... with advantages, shall we say.

In short, part of the reason I felt for Loki in the Thor movie was pure fellow-feeling, but rather than become a megalomaniacal supervillain I am working on being a more accepting and loving person.

I didn't expect to be a single lady with cats in my forties, but this is definitely the sanest and happiest I've ever been. I will say that I read the blogs of younger single women who are anguished, saying "people tell me I'll meet the Right One. When??" and I have the urge to say, "Maybe never. But you'll be okay, honest."

I wish I hadn't wasted so much of my youth being unhappy and afraid of everything, but at least I'm doing better moving forward.

Date: 2011-05-20 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
I'm rushing off so just... :) But this is awesome and I will respond more later!

Date: 2011-05-20 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for this - it is very powerful to read... I think because I recognise much of myself in this!

Moving to somewhere that I really love living, and having started in a job that I'm really enjoying, have happened really recently for me, and both of them have made such a big difference to my general well-being levels... to an extent I never anticipated.

It has taken a lot of therapy but I have changed some things about how I relate to my family - it's still an ongoing process of negotiation! - and it has been my experience that actually being able to talk about these powerful family things is half the battle - even if they don't seem to get resolved, the fact of actually breaking the silence seems to be really powerful...

"I didn't expect to be a single lady with cats in my forties, but this is definitely the sanest and happiest I've ever been. I will say that I read the blogs of younger single women who are anguished, saying "people tell me I'll meet the Right One. When??" and I have the urge to say, 'Maybe never. But you'll be okay, honest.'" I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! Please say that to them! Please!

I have moments of that anguish - I try not to let myself do it to myself now - it's not helpful... And I look at where I am now, and I can honestly say if this is how my life pans out for the next ten/twenty years, that will be pretty damn good, and that's the first time ever... I saw Ann Widdicombe on Piers Morgan - she's a UK politician who's famously single and celibate, and she was such an amazing advocate for ending up single and having a fantastic, interesting, fulfilling life - PM kept asking her why she wasn't in a relationship, and she said to him 'what is so hard to understand about 'it just didn't happen'?!' So true!

And this "I wish I hadn't wasted so much of my youth being unhappy and afraid of everything, but at least I'm doing better moving forward." - I can totally relate to this too. I wish I didn't get so anxious about things, but at least now I feel like I AM moving forward...

Thank you...

Date: 2011-05-20 03:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
I'm happier now than I have been in a long time. I think that relates very heavily to my current circumstances though, which are not entirely bad.

Date: 2011-05-20 03:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
My point being that given where things are and where I am, I really expected this to be a very bad time and actually it isn't.

Date: 2011-05-20 09:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Yay! ;)

Do you think of yourself as a generally happy person?

Date: 2011-05-21 12:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
I tend to be optimistic in small ways and pessimistic in big ones- I think the world is probably falling to pieces, but I might be able to get through it alright, with a bit of luck.

It's been so long since I've been on an emotional even keel that I don't know. And I am not on one now either, so I can't tell. I'm not sure how much I believe in the continuous self. The person I am now is fairly happy...

Date: 2011-05-20 05:19 pm (UTC)
ext_7025: (cure for anything)
From: [identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com
One of the things I've discovered about myself over the last few years is that I do seem to have a knack for being happy. My instinct is to say that this wasn't always the case -- that it's a learned behavior more than something innate? But when I think about it, I'm not actually sure that's true. There have definitely been extended times when I was desperately unhappy about specific things, and other extended times when I was depressed. But looking back, even if it didn't feel that way at the time, I think I've maybe always been fairly good at finding ways to stay more or less okay with myself, no matter what, and definitely been good at recognizing the bright spots and gifts and opportunities when and as they came along.

Which doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't learned. And I absolutely believe that wherever it started, I've had to learn how to maximize the good it does me and dodge the potential downsides. It's just that when I think about the stuff that's shaped me, I'm really struck me how easily a lot of it could have shaped me in some direction other than this particular one. But who knows. Here I am, in any case, and so far, so good, although definitely college was better than high school and every year after college has been (in terms of overall trajectory, if not every last moment -- the worst stretches of my life have come since college, it's just that the k-12 years were much higher in terms of overall pointless misery) better than the year before.

Which does tend to help one keep one's optimism up!

(The bit about kids not making a significant difference either way does surprise me. Not from personal experience, seeing as I have none, but that's not what I've heard previously/elsewhere.)

Date: 2011-05-20 09:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Yesyesyes - re the knack for being happy - and ditto too re whether it's learned vs innate. I feel that for me, a massive part of the battle has been to learn how to stop getting in my own way - when I'm not actively trying to make myself feel bad (which I was pretty creatively good at), it turns out I'm actually pretty cheerful... bizarre! ;) It turns out also that other people are also pretty bad at making me feel bad, no matter how hard they try - if I don't collude in that, it just sort of bounces off, which was absolutely not the experience of most of my life...

The kids thing surprised me too - it's interesting though - I've always wanted kids alot, and as I get older and there's no very obvious likelihood of this happening imminently, I find things like this reassuring! ;) Though, it wouldn't put me off having them, so... And, yay, for optimism! I do think there's a reason why I love 'onwards and upwards' so much as a rallying cry...!


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