I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer (although some people would say listening to books on Audible doesn’t count as reading because some people are stingy and mean-spirited). I made it through all 3,000 years of Middlemarch and then rolled my eyes through all 10,000 years of The Count of Montecristo. Now I’m halfway through Moby Dick, and it feels like a beach read by comparison–though the chapter on the first whale kill nearly made a vegetarian of me. I started physically gagging, no joke.
Dry heaving notwithstanding, as soon as I turned to Melville I realized that Dumas lacked four things: 1) a sense of humor, 2) differentiation in the voices of characters (see Dostoevskian polyphony), 3) subtlety, and 4) a frigging sense of humor for crying out loud. Everything in Montecristo was so Meaningful, so Significant, and so Deadly Serious.
(Dear Readers, the following was written by a person on the 3rd day of a 90 day gym challenge who was aching all over from being kicked in the everything by Bhawoh the former NFL player and current personal trainer, and who was also deeply, truly glucose/willpower-deprived. I read it myself and had a little chuckle at how Hangry Girl writes about Happiness. It was a little like reading an article on Modesty by Donald Trump.)
By sharp contrast, The Happiness Advantage made me happy. I really enjoyed it, though I did feel like much of it was the self-esteem tripe of the 1980’s repackaged as happiness. I also deeply dislike the gimmicky titles of his principles that made them harder for me to remember instead of easier. I will decode them for you here with an understood eyeroll.
1. The Happiness Advantage
This section lays the case for happy brains being better than grumpy brains, and then gives some pointers from the research on how to get happier, stupid!
He suggests meditation, priming your brain before performance or tests with happy thoughts and anticipation of rewards, acts of kindness, exercise, cheerful surroundings (especially getting out in nice weather), spending money on experiences rather than stuff (I maintain that decorating your house is both), and exercising a signature strength which I’ve talked about before.
2. The Fulcrum and the Lever
I know what a fulcrum and lever are, but beyond that, this title was meaningless to me by the time I finished the book. Huh? What was that chapter about? Oh. It basically means positivity and looking for the good side of the drudgery in your life.
3. The Tetris Effect
This chapter made me want to play Tetris and/or Bejeweled for the rest of the day. It was pretty much the same as the last chapter. Look for the positive. “Make a daily list of the good things in your job, your career, and your life.” Kent and I do this. Before bed we say our gratitudes. Each of us has to come up with 3-6 unique things we are grateful for. Repeats from previous days are allowed sparingly. Examples: Amazon prime. Audible. That the boys are learning to read. That True Detective Season 2 is finally over. Dogwood trees.
4. Falling up
Recasting setbacks as opportunities. This I thought this exercise was cool.
“Imagine for a moment that you walk into a bank. There are 50 other people in the bank. A robber walks in and fires his weapon once. You are shot in the right arm.
Now if you were honestly describing this event to your friends and coworkers the next day, do you describe it as lucky or unlucky?”
About 70 percent of people say totally unlucky. What are the odds? Wall Street folks sometimes respond, “There were at least fifty other people in the bank. Surely someone deserved getting shot more than I did.” Ha!
The other 30 percent say they are lucky because it could have been worse. They compare the current situation to a worse one: It could have been my face, not my arm, or the bullet could have hit a child, or all 50 people could have been gunned down. Phew! How lucky. Yep, you really won the lottery, One-Arm. (Irony.)
So the idea is not to stop mentally comparing and competing, but to swap out the other competitors so that you always win. I’m being a little ironic here, but imagine if my kids actually did compare their tragic lot of having to eat one (1) sugar snap pea for dinner if they want dessert versus that of the starving kids in China whose spector my mother often invoked at dinner time.
Wait. Isn’t this just another incarnation of positive thinking? Yeah. I caught that, too.
5. The Zorro Circle
Start small. Work on one discrete area of your life and gradually expand until you rule the world.
6. The 20-second rule
A lot of this was overlap with Willpower. The idea here is to drop the inertial barrier to things you want to change by, for instance, sleeping in your gym clothes–or to make things you want to stop doing 20-seconds more inconvenient by, for instance, taking the batteries out of your remote control, taking several websites (though NOT this one) off your automatic open screen, or never keeping donuts in the house.
7. Social Investment
Make friends, you weirdo, and don’t you dare jettison them when you’re stressed. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’m going to stop saying, “I’ll make friends as soon as I get the kids to college.”
So those are les principles. One tidbit from the book that stuck in my mind is the television effect. Most people enjoy watching television for about half an hour. After that, they develop a sort of icky malaise, a sickening sense that they should be doing something else. And yes, after that happy first half-hour, most people continue to inflict an average of about 3.5 hours of television malaise on themselves each day. Those statistics were from before Netflix and Hulu turned bingewatching into a thing, by the way.
Blogwriting has the opposite effect. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I press publish. It’s only later when I find the misspellings and malapropisms that I cringe.