DON’T WORRY

BE (VERY) HAPPY !


Very happy people are not weird,

a study says Whew, that’s a relief.


* * * * * * *



Y OU’LL BE HAPPY TO LEARN,” I CALLED TO MY WIFE, “THAT YOU ARE NOT EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED.”


I was sitting propped up in bed  reading the paper, killing time while Jessica, getting ready for work, fussed in the master bathroom. Predictably, Jessica was neither happy nor unhappy to learn she was not emotionally disturbed. Oh, she was maybe a little happy. But, then, she’s always at least a little happy. That was the point.


“Is that right?” she replied, applying makeup.


“It says here they did a study on people like you and found that, despite what the rest of us may think, you’re probably OK.”


“People like me?”


“Very happy people,” I said . “Listen: ‘There’s nothing, apparently, wrong with very happy people. ....... Ed Diener of the University of Illinois in Champaign and Martin E .P Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia rested 222 University of Illinois under-graduate students on a standard happiness test, and then compared the students who scored as the happiest with the average and very unhappy ones. ...... The very happy students tended to be very social, extroverted, and agreeable, and have strong romantic and other relationships.’


I paused to consider the study’s results vis-a-vis us.


“The social, extroverted, and agreeable stuff sounds like you,” I opined. “But do you have a strong romantic relationship with anybody? If so, is it with me? Remind me, I’ll set up a standard romantic relationship test to find out.


“Oh, Jim,” she replied, drawing out the i. “We have a strong romantic relationship.”


I couldn’t help noticing that the article didn’t say anything about the quality of a very happy persons sense of humor . It’s been my conclusion that the very happy person is many wonderful things, but hilarious is not one of them.


My studies indicate that very happy people tend not to trend toward sarcasm or irony or comic-effect exaggeration or any of the other stocks-in-trade of humor. Very happy people are, I think, earnest and sincere. Sincerity is all well and good, but it’ll never work at the Improv.


“The story goes on. ‘They also were less neurotic and scored lower on several tests for emotional problems.


“That’s good, huh? Less neurotic? Fewer emotional problems?”


“Hmmm-hmmm,” she responded, spritzing perfume around the place.


“Then it says some stuff’....... somewhat surprisingly, the very happy people did not consider themselves more attractive .......‘ yada yada ‘...... positive feelings most of the time ...... occasionally negative moods ...... .‘ Here’s the best part: This suggests that very happy people do have a functioning emotion system that can react appropriately to life events,’ they wrote.”


Jessica stopped in midprimp.


“What?” Jessica said , laughing. “A functioning emotion system. What did they think?” She touched up her lipstick . “What a weird subject for a study, don’t you think?”


“Not really,” I replied . “You see, most of us wonder about people like you. Very happy people are the personality equivalent of the outer reaches of space or the very deepest depths of the ocean. Completely mysterious. What are very happy people really like, we wonder. What’s really going on deep inside them?”


She rummaged through her closet, found a light jacket to wear over her blouse, put it on. “What do you mean?” she said. “We’re just like everybody else.”


“No,” I said. “You’re not. Everybody else distrusts happiness . For everybody else, it’ s like, if you’re happy then you’ve either overlooked something big or something is about to go wrong. Being very happy isn’t normal. Even the Constitution say s so. The pursuit of happiness. Not happiness. Pursuit. Everybody knows you’re never going to catch it. Sometimes, maybe. But it always gets away.


So it seems completely rational to me that researchers would plumb the depths of the very happy person to see what the hell is going on.”


“I’ve got to go,” Jessica said. “I’m going to be late.”


“Will it make you unhappy to be late?” I asked.


“Upset, maybe, but not unhappy. See ya.”


She whisked out the door and was gone, taking her happiness with her.


I sat on the bed, contemplating happiness.


Who would have thought they even had such a thing as a “standard happiness test?” Not me. I wondered if they have a standard curmudgeonliness test. I’d pass that with flying colors.


It struck me that the relationship between curmudgeonliness and happiness is worth its own study because I am very happy being a curmudgeon. Some curmudgeons are dour. Not me. I’m one of your energetic curmudgeons. I enjoy registering a good complaint or, better yet, a rant. To me, the movie Grumpy Old Men wasn’t so much a movie as it was an instructional video.


It occurred to me that they might also want to study how the very curmudgeonly person and the very happy person get along. Very happy people, I’m guessing, probably see the best in others. Curmudgeons don’t see the worst, exactly. We like to think of it as seeing the reality. That can cause conflict. On a great many occasions throughout our marriage, I’ve said words along these lines: ~‘Jessica. I’m abou t to criticize someone. Please don’t see the other person’s side. I just want to call them a jerk and feel like I’m right for a little while. Later, maybe just tomorrow, you could point out how they didn’t mean it or how I might have really misunderstood . OK? Great . I’m starting my criticism now.


Such a dynamic is hard on her and on me. It beats the alternative, though, I guess ---— each of us being married to our own kind. Can you imagine? Curmudgeons: “What a jerk that guy is.” “Jerk!? He’s a stupid jerk.” “He’s a rotten stupid jerk.” “He’s a really rotten stupid dumb jerk!” And he dresses like his mama didn’t like him.” Very happy people: “He’ s not so 3ad. “He’s actually pretty good.” “He’s never kicked a dog, as far as I know” “I believe he just needs another chance.”


Lemme outta here! The same types being together just amp each other up.


And although the curmudgeons are funnier (the clothes thing, you have to sdmit, was better than giving the guy another chance), it’s probably best that opposites attract. Before I can say anything definitive, though, let me wait for the results from some university’s standard opposites-attract test.


In the meantime, let me say that, yes, Virginia, there are very happy people. They do seem weird . Bu t they’re not. Annoying, yes. But not weird. Not too weird, anyway

www.americanwaymag.co


SOURCE:

AmericanWay Magazine

June 1, 2002 . (Pgs. 54-57)

By : JIM SHANIN

                             AN AMERICAN WAY CONTRIBUTING EDITOR,

                             VIA E-MAIL AT EDITOR@AMERICANWAYMAG.COM.



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