Monday, August 9, 2010

Happiness is . . .

Because I am a snobby elitist, I was reading the New York Times and I stumbled across this article. The same theme always repeats itself in articles about happiness. Basically, instead of spending money on material possessions, we should be spending money on experiences. However, I also noticed this section:

Thomas DeLeire, an associate professor of public affairs, population, health and economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, recently published research examining nine major categories of consumption. He discovered that the only category to be positively related to happiness was leisure: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles.

Ah-ha!!! I can use this to justify my purchase of the mountain bike. I was just making an investment in my future happiness. And really, the investment has paid out substantially. I've been riding twice a week (or so) and every weekend. We're getting better and better too (despite the horrific fall that I suffered last Thursday). I don't think this quote applies to my 6th pair of skis, though. At some point, I'd imagine that the law of diminishing returns supersedes the happiness rule.

In all seriousness, though, intuitively, this seems to be the case. I always seem to remember trips that I took, events that I experienced, and adventures that I had. Were they all great times? No, but according to the article, that doesn't even matter:

One reason that paying for experiences gives us longer-lasting happiness is that we can reminisce about them, researchers say. That’s true for even the most middling of experiences. That trip to Rome during which you waited in endless lines, broke your camera and argued with your spouse will typically be airbrushed with “rosy recollection,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Professor Lyubomirsky has a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness. “Trips aren’t all perfect,” she notes, “but we remember them as perfect.”

NICE!!! And I've had that theory for a long time. In fact, some of the best stories come from trips that didn't go according to plan.

Think about it. How many of your best stories start out like this: "Well, I was sitting at home on my couch and . . ." I'd imagine pretty much none of them. Most of my stories start out like this "So there I was in [insert crazy place/crazy situation/crazy predicament] and then . . .". Stuff never happens at home. Cool stuff always happens out there. And "there" is a different place for each individual. Some people do all their cool stuff at the nightclub. Some people love the beach. Me? All my cool shit happens in the mountains.

Which leads me to my greatest epiphany ever. When we were mountain biking up at the Stables the other day (Carriage/Powerline/Pilgrim/Dam/There to Here/Dam/Rock Garden/Unkown Trail out), Ace had a message on her phone when we got out of the woods. We threw some high fives, changed into flip flops, and cracked open some beers. She called the guy back in the parking area, and she got great news from a job interview that she went on the previous day. She got an awesome new job, in the ski industry, making more than she's making now, and she gets July and August off.

It was such a great moment to celebrate. Hanging out with a bunch of friends, drinking cold beer on a hot day, trading stories and barbs. Everyone there was psyched for her new job, and she was loving it. Later, when we were talking about how great that day was, I had this epic quote:

"When you're doing cool shit, and cool shit happens to you, that's just more cool shit!"

Basically, what I was trying to say was that, when you're living your life the way you want to live it, and things fall into place for you that makes your life even better, it's the cherry on the sundae. It was already good. Now it's just better (and really, there's nothing to stop it from continuing to get better - how about some rainbow sprinkles on that bad boy?).

I kind of liked the way I put it originally, though.

I should write for the New York Times.


  1. Wow. Epic post! Not sure where to start. I actually saw a chart, that some behavioral psychologist did, that charted income against happiness. Turns out that $86,000 a year is the perfect amount to make if your goal is to maximize happiness. Below that and life is just too hard. More than that and you owe your soul to the man. Actually that article is pretty old now and I think the amount is up to about 2 million.

    Congrats ACE!!

  2. I liked that NYT article too and have been forwarding it to people.

    The one behavior that I personally don't engage in is "airbrushing over bad experiences with rosy recollections.” If I have a bad trip, I remember it as such (even many years later), make plenty of mental notes about it, and move on.