Last night I went out to dinner with the friend I am moving in with in a few weeks, Abigail. She is also a writer and perhaps the nicest person in the entire world. She brought over some things for the stoop sale my friends Anita and Megan and I are having today. We’re selling books, household things, clothing, all the stuff I want to get rid of so my move is easier. Although it is sad to let go of my books, I’ll be living around the block from a public library and I will be fine.
Abigail and I went for sushi and had fun talking about relationships (she and her husband split up over fifteen years ago) and men and life and sex and work. We have known each other since our kids were four years-old and they are now twenty-one. The four of us went on a vacation to the Yukatan in Mexico when we barely knew each other and had a fantastic time, but that’s a story for another day.
When I came home after dinner, I continued going through my belongings, tossing out what I don’t need, reading old emails, looking at photos and then I went through my jewelry to decide what I wanted to sell. A friend called while I was sorting the jewelry, so I was distracted and probably less emotional about deciding what to sell.
As I was looking at old papers, I found an article about Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard professor who wrote “Stumbling on Happiness.” I cut out the article over a year ago (April 22, 2008.)
In the article, Gilbert says that at one point in his life he went through so many crises at once, his mentor passed away, his mother died, his marriage ended and his son had serious problems in school – but what he found that: “the truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things too.”
“People have an inability to predict what will make them happy – or unhappy.”
Gilbert says that if you “take a scale from 0 – 100, people, generally report their happiness at 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.”
“We certainly fear the things that get us to 10 or 20 – the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient.”
“Wildly resilient.” I love that.
He says that most of us are great rationalizers. “We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.
But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, ‘She was never right for me’ or ‘I actually need more free time for my family.’ People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.”
And then he goes on to say, “We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.
We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy – money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do ‘wise shopping’ for happiness.”
“Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure from experiences than in things. So if you have ‘x’ amount of dollars to spend on a vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or object. One reason is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects generally aren’t.”
“You’ll always have Paris” is so true. I certainly feel it as I discard so many things that I thought would bring me happiness, a necklace, a book, a coat – and they never did.
Reading the article made me realize, that as difficult a period as this has been (mother died, marriage ending, daughter moved away from home, have to move, need a job) – it’s also been an amazingly transformative experience too. I have spent more time with friends and in social situations than I have in years and I have found that my friends have really shown up for me. I’m so filled with gratitude and, although I do at times feel grief and sadness, I also feel happy. My sister and I even had a great talk the other day and that felt really good.
So last night, the song “You Send Me” popped into my head. I played it and danced around the loft to Aretha Franklin. As I danced, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of well being and joy.
I guess last night I hit 100 and today I’ll be back at 75.