April 30, 2009

a wonderful, gracious moving target

A solid request for a reprise along with some hope that I'll soon have a few more perspectives as my life moves in one big shift, I restart the blogging with a post for which I should really credit my mother.

Question: How does one most accurately predict the choices that will make one happy?

The answer is complicated:

My generation is apparently the least stable generation yet - not only because of the recent dip in the economy but because the relative ease of the economy we grew up in. It has meant that we can live more places (more apartments, more roommates), have more jobs (more work styles, more coworkers), try more things (yogalates, marathon-ing), and meet more people than ever before.

But what it also means is that there's a huge market for coping with transitions. People are very unprepared and anxious about change and it's hardwired into us to be worried about the future; scientists say that it's the distinguishing characteristic of humans versus everything else, this focus on the future. And we are terrible at predicting it - not only what will happen, but more importantly, how we'll feel about it, what we'll do about it, how capable we will be of handling it, and how much it will alter the course of our life. A good friend gave me Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness a few months ago to give me a new perspective to cope with an upcoming transition and I have to say this: I didn't finish it.

This was not because it wasn't a wonderfully informative, quirky, at times downright entertaining book (it totally was), but because his message that we will never ever be able to predict what makes us happy very well eventually starts to seem so obvious that it made me want to try to rework my thinking in order to disprove it.

What I came up with is that perhaps the more productive question is: How does one stop trying to predict what will make one happy?

Step 1: lose the idea that you are in control. apparently we put waaaayyy too much emphasis on control as the key to happiness, especially when there is just so much we honestly have very little control over.

Step 2: listen to my mother. Or for those of you who do not have the great pleasure of talking to her almost daily as I do, read on. She works with children with disabilities and their families as they make all sorts of difficult transitions from different parts of development to different school settings. These kind of transitions require a whole team of support - or maybe that's true of all transitions. Some of her uber-sage advice includes keeping some sort of continuity with the stuff that makes you happy (exercise routines, eating styles, reading bad magazines in the grocery line), clarity (about why you're going through this transition at all), and community (keep your support networks fired and ready to go).

Step 3: know that you have no idea. I talked with a coworker today who advised me that we always over account for factors that end up not mattering at all, and we completely forget how huge the mysterious unknowns end up being in the grand scheme of our future. This is somewhat Dan Gilbert's premise (though neither my coworker or Dan Gilbert explain how to actually do this) and emphasizes the stumbling part.

I have three roommates right now, two of whom are gorgeous, 6 feet plus, athletic, brilliant, very very gay men. When we take the subway together, we play a game we call "is my future husband on this train?" - the idea behind which is a) it's so much fun to blatantly check people out on the train alongside two much more obvious men and b) you never know when or where or how your life will intersect with people, places, ideas that stir your soul and excite your mind and send you soaring in an entirely new direction.

"Our desire to control is so powerful, and the feeling of being in control so rewarding, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable..."
-Dan Gilbert, Stumbling Upon Happiness.

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