Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Musing on the topic of well-being or happiness...

On seeing this Op-Ed piece by Lyubomirsky in the NYTimes I realized that this is the author, an academic researcher, who has put out a book that I am currently scanning titled "The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want." The NYTimes Op-Ed piece notes that the reason that most of us are not more dejected than one might expect by the market meltdown and recession is that the fortunes of virtually everyone have been compromised, and we care more about social comparison, status and rank than about the absolute value of our bank accounts or reputations.

With regard to the book, Ms. Lyubomirsky can not be accused of being a skilled prose stylist, but her writing does offer a meat and potatoes list of behavioral tips on activities that have been shown in double blind studies on fairly large groups of real people to enhance well-being, namely:

Expressing gratitude
Cultivating Optimism
Avoiding over thinking and social comparison
Practicing acts of kindness
Nurturing relationships
Developing strategies for coping.
Learning to forgive
Doing more activities that truly engage you.
Savoring Life’s joys
Committing to your goals
Practicing religion and spirituality
Taking care of your body.

She suggests taking the four of these that seem most congenial to you, and working on those rather than tackling the whole list.

My take on this well-being stuff is that it does boil down to some fairly discrete mental operations, being a matter of executive (frontal lobe) function - to put some things in your mind and not others - images of coherence and well being versus random input from the environment and the old pandora’s box of your past. This is essentially cognitive therapy, letting one thing express rather than another (making a distinction such as: ‘this is a part of my brain that is not working to my advantage’). It does not have to be an energy draining self-coercion of one part of ourselves going to war with another, but rather is a self choosing of one option over another. You are what you spend your time doing.


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