January 4th, 2008



A little while back I ended up with Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. I received it, as I recall, as part of a shipment from the Quality Paperback Book Club (qpb.com) that I neglected to refuse. I get a lot of good books this way, unintentionally. Perhaps that's why I keep my membership.

I have just started the book. I heard it was good but I still suspected it would tell me to stop procrastinating and eat better and exercise more and all would be happy. It doesn't. In fact, within the first few pages Gilbert points out that he does not intend to tell us how to be happy. Instead, he is focusing on what happiness is and why our brains do such a poor job of predicting what will, in fact, make us happy in the future. There's more, of course, and it's written in a comfortable, often-humorous style that makes me smile at times and even laugh out loud at others.

This little book joins a couple of other recent books in that it looks at a subject in a different way, in a way that jogs our brains and offers us a different path. The Tipping Point and The Paradox of Choice are similar types of books, and in fact I immediately thought of The Paradox of Choice when I started this book. I feel their stories overlap, that one complements the other.

I expect to finish the book in a day or two and then I will register it with bookcrossing and write a review in my book journal. I think that I will make the book a part of my permanent collection rather than make it available for other (bookcrossing) readers, because I am likely to dip into it from time to time, to remind myself of something or other.

happiness experiences

When I was in the hospital about seven years ago, with an ulcer, I was not allowed to eat anything. When my little hole had started to heal and I could have some clear liquids I requested a vegetable broth. The nurse who brought me the broth said "Doesn't that smell awful?" I, on the other hand, thought it smelled and tasted wonderful.

I don't necessarily have that same perception of clear vegetable broth at other times. What made me happy then doesn't necessarily make me happy now. And what made me happy then would not have made that nurse happy then.


chiming for happiness

About a month ago there was rain and wind and my Chumash wind chime rattled and banged together and a piece or two broke off. I reattached the pieces with green floral wire, replacing the inadequate nylon thread. Today it is raining and the wind is blowing again and the chime is again banging away and one piece broke off. I took floral wire with me to the porch and reconnected the errant piece.

I love the sound of the metal pieces banging against each other. They only make sounds when the weather is fairly fierce, making those sounds all the more precious to me. I love wind and rain. I love my chimes. They make me happy.



The current chapter in Stumbling on Happiness deals with awareness. It's one thing to experience a thing, and another to be aware of that experience. One example Gilbert offers is of reading a newspaper and being so distracted by the sounds of birds and the smells of baked goods that you read a paragraph without being aware of reading it. If you reread it you'll recall many of the words and realize that you did indeed read it and in fact you may retain some knowledge from it.

There are people with a type of brain damage who are not aware of their experiences. Or their feelings. They show a physiological response that is like a normal person's but they are not aware of the feeling itself.

I got to thinking maybe Paul has something like this. When we used to go on hikes he would trot along like a marine, forward, forward, unaware of his surroundings and presumably only aware of his breathing because he's a smoker and it sometimes was hard. Similarly, I have never heard him say anything like "I love wet weather" or "Great weed!" or "I feel cold". It seems like he processes experiences after the fact, analyzing and then saying whether it was good, bad, neutral. I can't remember ever seeing him look either happy or sad, and I've lived with him how long? Four years? Five?

Sometimes, since I told him I need him to move out, I get the sense he is debating about whether he should enter the living room and watch television with me or if he should cook meals for himself when I am around (it seems like he usually waits until I have gone out somewhere), as if he is asking himself, "Is this what is bothering her?" Of course I am likely putting my own construction on it, just as years ago I sometimes assumed my children's father resented my intelligence (I think I was right, looking back, but there were times at the therapist's when I wasn't sure). Still, my sense is that Paul works everything through intellectually. Where is that other part? I told him shortly after we first met that I was trying to find a way into his inside and now, years later, I still don't know where that path is. I don't make any effort to find it now but I don't think that negates my experience.