Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happiness Set-Point

So the set-point theory basically states that we inherit our capacity for happiness and that external circumstances (such as whether or not you are objectively attractive, material success & other life events ) do not hold much weight. If you grew up with frowning parents, that’s bad news. BUT the NEW SHIT is that this set point only amounts for 50%, external events for 10%, and the other 40% we actually have some say about (at least according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California-Riverside professor of psychology, who has studied happiness for the past 18 years and has written a book about it which I will surely check out at some point on my journey). If you still have doubts about set-point theory or the ability to change it or what have you—go on and google (or wait until I have the time to post book lists, video lists, blogs, etc).

I have heard enough through my studies at Naropa, and in the underground community of rebels like myself who are on the quest, not to mention personal life experience as a seeker to believe that up until this stage on my journey, I have been swimming at a certain level of happiness and dissatisfaction. And, it is only because I have felt a slight movement towards greater happiness—a new baseline, that I find this endeavor at all worthwhile.

Based on the research, it seems not only do I need to discover happiness (which hopefully is really just lurking sleepily behind my ribcage or an eyelid) for myself, but I have to for my children and their children and maybe one day in the future the babies birthed along my bloodline will be born happy (Viva le resistance)!!!

Now people, such as SL, have studied what we should do to increase our happiness and I will dibble and dabble in what most strikes me and report back. I think the first thing I admonish is to become more attuned to your inner wisdom-intuition-God voice- higher self. You have to be able to trust yourself and be honest with yourself to undertake such a quest. Ask yourself as Rumi asks, “do you pay regular visits to yourself ?” If you don’t, start today: write a bit daily in a journal, or take a walk, or close the door, or whatever it takes to start a conversation with yourself. There are no wrong ways to do it. But one thing we must begin to ask ourselves is “what do I want?” More on that next.

Monday, May 30, 2011

From here to there: the NEW SHIT!

Two years and more than half of another master’s degree later, I am at what feels like an existential crossroads or should I say that I am wondering again, really, if happiness is possible. I think this question emerges again and again throughout one’s life. I came here (to Naropa University in Boulder CO) in search of happiness. After 10 years “living the dream” in New York (fancy writing degree, great friends, super handsome and sweet boyfriend, trendy apartment in a trendy neighborhood, teaching writing, champagne for breakfast and whiskey for dessert), I wasn’t fulfilled.

For the past two years, I have gone through a subtle yet powerful shift in worldview that has certainly increased my capacity for happiness. I can recognize my thoughts as thoughts and I am less likely to identify with them (I no longer think my thoughts and feelings = who I am). I can watch how my thoughts become stories which lead to reactions which can cause me and others suffering, and sometimes I can interrupt the chain reaction. I have a greater capacity for compassion. I can sit with greater levels of discomfort. I think that at the bottom of my recurrent sense of dissatisfaction is a) a tendency to focus on the past or the future, rather than the present and b) a deeply conditioned belief that there is an “I”—a belief in the illusion that “I” have to protect “me” or make “me happy.” Two years of Contemplative education and countless hours of meditating has begun to weaken the links of my Western “me, mine” conditioning. But I still don’t feel joyful.

I still am curious about how to raise my happiness set-point.
There is a bunch of research out there (which I will discuss in the next blog) that says that we have a happiness set-point that we’ve inherited or subconsciously settled upon—it’s our baseline. And if we don’t fiddle with it, it will stay where it is, regardless of if we win the lottery or if our lover dies. We will return to this basic place. I believed I have moved my happiness set point an inch or two, but I do think I can cultivate a higher baseline. And there is bunch of research and advice on what we should do in order to raise our setpoint (which I will also talk about). But I want to know and feel it for myself. I think that perhaps this quest for happiness depends on wise discrimination-- knowing what to cultivate and what to refrain from. I guess the question is, what really makes a difference? We get so much advice on how to be happy and what really matters: it’s what we eat, how we look, how we feel, what we’re repressing, whether or not we pray, whether it’s yoga or pilates, how much we meditate what form of meditation we do, etc etc etc. I have some ideas of my own about what I need to be doing in order to find daily enjoyment in my life and I plan to document the journey. Stay tuned.