Guess What the Key to Happiness Is?

[Cross-posted at the Sabbath blog.]

On-a-slow-day,-you-are-too-busy-doing-nothing!

From the Pacific Standard. According to a new study:

Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.

This busy but blissful group comprises 8 to 12 percent of Americans, making it “a small and unusual minority within the general population,” writes University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson.

According to his analysis, the happiness level of this group is 12 to 25 percent higher than that of those of most Americans. What’s more, while the general population’s happiness level is going down, theirs is increasing…

So the question is, how does one cultivate this busyness + lack of hurry? Is it a person’s temperament? Or is it a matter of circumstance?

And what might Sabbath—an intentional time to stop, look, and listen—have to do with it?

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Friday Link Love: Nude Dancers, Suburban Living, and the Empathic Rat

First, a link to my article at catapult magazine for their 10 Things edition: 10 Ways to Savor Your Time in 2013.

Annnnnd…. away we go:

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Time-Lapse Images of Nude Dancers Created with 10,000 Individual Photographs — Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Post. Lots more at the link:

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Five Easy Things to a Happier Year — National Catholic Review

I’m keeping it light on the New Year’s resolutions/intentions this year. I’m already running a half marathon, promoting a book and planning the next one—that’s plenty to keep me busy. Plus I’m all about the improv and less about the major planning. But I can get behind these:

Be a Little Kinder.  I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person.   No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions, to get this: Be gentler and more compassionate towards other people.

I like the one about enjoying nature more. Reminds me of one of my father-in-law’s practices. When he comes home from work, he takes a moment between car and house to look up. Just to see what the sky looks like. I love that.

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Why Do Americans Have Less Vacation Time Than Anyone Else? — Big Think

This one gets in my craw. It’s not the most pressing issue we face, but it is a justice issue and a spiritual issue:

Like many of you, I am on vacation this week. For most Americans, Christmas week represents about half of the time off we will enjoy all year long. Compared with Australians (at least 4 weeks off, plus 10 public holidays), Brazilians (22 days of paid leave with a 33 percent salary vacation bonus) and the French (at least 5 weeks off and as many as 9 for many public employees), we are seriously bereft.

Look at how the United States stacks up against the rest of the developed world in number of mandatory days off each year:

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What is that all about, do you think?

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How People Live in the Suburbs: A Vintage Illustrated Gem — Brain Pickings

How People Live In The Suburbs was published as part of a Basic Understanding series of primary school supplements, also including How People Earn and Use MoneyHow Farms Help Us, and How Our Government Helps Us — all, sadly, out of print but delightful if you’re able to secure a copy.

Click the link above for more images. These are just cute and bizarre:

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The Five Types of Work That Fill Your Day — 99U

I’m still using Toggl to keep track of how much time I spend on creative work, connecting with people, and doing logistics. Read more about that process here.

But based on this article it would be interesting to do an audit of my time to see how much of my day is spent on Reactionary, Planning, Procedural, Insecurity, and Problem-solving tasks. Good tips here for how to bring things into a frutful balance for your situation.

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The Power and the Allegory: A Book of Interviews with Madeleine L’Engle — BookForum

The book itself is called Listening for Madeleine. From the BookForum article:

L’Engle’s faith was deeply untraditional. A mathematics professor who advised her on A Wrinkle in Time says the three beings who guide Meg on her interplanetary journey—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—were meant to be angels, but they could just as easily be mistaken for witches. And the novel’s dominant image of evil is an undefined blackness that casts its shadow across a wide band of the universe, including Earth. Camazotz, a planet controlled by the blackness, is not a hotbed of violence and depravity but a vision of perfect order. All the houses are identical, the children bounce their balls in perfect unison, and anyone who refuses to submit to the program is punished. “I am freedom from all responsibility,” the evil power croons to Meg. But she recognizes that this is a false consolation, a substitution of conformity for equality. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” she screams.

The fundamental lesson is that it’s OK—even desirable—to be a misfit.

Looking back, I’d say that A Wrinkle in Time formed my early theology as much as (or let’s be honest, more than) the Bible.

Incidentally, I’m putting this post together on Thursday, and Caroline is in the chair next to me with the new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I gave it to her for Christmas and she’s already on her second reading of it.

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A New Model of Empathy: The Rat — Washington Post

I expect there is more of this going on in the animal kingdom than we want to admit:

In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.

The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

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May your weekend be filled with a small hoard of chocolate chips… or whatever delights you.

Beyond the Bucketlist

Yesterday I got the edits back from the publisher, and I’m hoping to turn them around in the next week. So I’ll be a blogging a little less than usual.

But first, I wanted to pass along three wise paragraphs about bucketlists. Bucketlists, of course, are those laundry lists of “exotic sensations of one kind or another (“Skydive”; “Shower in a waterfall”; “Eat jellied eels from a stall in London”).”

I am all for experiences that take us out of the everyday, but I resonated with the author’s critique of bucketlists:

Really? This is the best we can do? This is what it’s all about? These are the things that make our lives worth living? When I think about what really makes me happy, what I really crave, I come up with a very different list: concentrated, purposeful work, especially creative work; being with people I love; feeling like I’m part of something larger. Meaning, connectedness, doing strenuously what you do well: not sights, not thrills, and not even pleasures, as welcome as they are. Not passivity, not letting the world come in and tickle you, but creativity, curiosity, altruism, engagement, craft. Raising children, or teaching students, or hanging out with friends. Playing music, not listening to it. Making things, or making them happen. Thinking hard and feeling deeply.

At their best, religious communities are places that call forth these moments of purposeful work and connectedness. They are not the only places that do this, of course.

This essay resonates with me, since I’m not in a very Dive the Great Barrier Reef kind of place. This week, I’ll be seeking satisfaction in simple things: this week’s muffins. Welcoming Robert home from his trip to New York. Moderating a session meeting. Trying to make James laugh.

And trying to put words together in a way that matters.

h/t: Andrew Sullivan

Friday Link Love

We’ve had a lot of new visitors to The Blue Room lately, so by way of orientation: every Friday I post a variety of links to items that interested me over the last week, most of which require little commentary. We cover everything from art to faith to brain chemistry. Some weeks it’s lighthearted stuff, some weeks not.

And now, for all your Friday procrastination needs… Link Love:

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Creative Dad Takes Crazy Photos of Daughters — Jason Lee

Fun with Photoshop. Lots more at the above link.

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Motherhood Mantras: It’s Good Enough — Theresa Cho

Theresa is a rockstar in Presbyterian world. (Yes, I realize the cognitive dissonance there. Work with me, people.) She’s also a righteous babe.

In my ninth week of pregnancy, I had the most vivid dream. My family and I were vacationing in a cabin. While my son and I were hanging out in the backyard, a black panther appeared and began to circle around us. I screamed for my husband to save us, but he couldn’t come. That dream haunted me for months after I found out I miscarried.

After several months had past and I had experienced another miscarriage, I decided to see a therapist for a completely different reason than the miscarriages. But somehow that dream entered into our conversation. After telling her about the dream, she asked me to close my eyes and have a conversation with the panther. Are you kidding me? Talk to the panther? I decided to humor her. The conversation went something like this…

Read the rest. It took my breath away.

This article is part of a series by Mihee Kim-Kort, who is also a righteous babe. I’ve been pondering my own motherhood mantra and hope to participate in this great project at some point.

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Fifteen Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy — Purpose Fairy

Blame, complaining, the luxury of criticism… what do you think? What makes your list of impediments to happiness?

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A Teacher, A Student and a 39-Year Lesson in Forgiveness — Oregon Live

When he was 12 years old, the boy did something he only later realized probably hurt his seventh-grade teacher. It was minor — he was, after all, a kid — but in time, when he was older and wiser, he wanted to find this teacher and apologize.

But the teacher seemed to have vanished. Over the decades, the man occasionally turned to the Internet, typing the teacher’s name into the search box. He never found anything. He never quit looking. A few months ago — by now nearly 39 years after this happened — he got a hit.

It’s not too late. Interesting to read this article in conversation with the one on forgiving and forgetting earlier this week.

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A Thin Toy is a Happy Toy! — Jana Riess

You guys know I write about body image stuff. A lot. Check out this post about how kids’ toys (e.g. Strawberry Shortcake) have gotten thinner over the years. What the heck?

Oh and Jana Riess? Also a righteous babe.

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Just for fun: Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ: The Greatest Craigslist Car Ad Ever — Jalopnik

The owner, Joe, who seems to either have some decent design skills or an easily conned friend with said skills, is offering a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am GT for the low price of $700, marked down from the expected price of $199,999. His hyperbolic rhetoric about the car has an intoxicating effect, and I’m actually feeling like I want– no, I need– this Clinton-era example of what Americans can build at their absolute unfettered best.

We tried calling Joe, but of course his line was busy. Duh. There’s probably a line around his block of people hoping to look at the car, or maybe just lick the oil pan to cure cancer or have their baby breathe some holy exhaust. We’ll update if he gets in touch with us before he’s raptured to Heaven.

He did get in touch with them, and there’s now an interview up at this site. Silly post, silly ad. A bit PG-13. Don’t send me letters.

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And the obligatory posts from my favorite art site, Colossal:

A Wall of Shattered Glass Floods a Benedictine Monastery:

and Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds by Monstrum. I can’t possibly choose my favorite, but how awesome would it be for a church playground to feature one of these:

Jonah… go to Sunday School…

“No way, God! I’d rather be in the belly of the whale!”

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Have a good weekend, wherever you may find yourself.

Henry Miller’s “Happiness Project”

I was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project to develop my own personal commandments two years ago. (Hers are in the sidebar of her website and include things like “do it now” and “be polite and be fair.”)

It was a useful exercise… though it also felt very self-helpish. But it turns out other people were developing personal commandments way before the personal development craze of the 1980s and beyond. Benjamin Franklin, for one. Here are Henry Miller’s, which I ran across last week on the Improvised Life website:

I especially like #3 and #7, and am intrigued by #6. What does that mean to you?

For what it’s worth, here are mine, which I call intentions.

  1. Live MaryAnn’s story.
  2. Love God * Love Others * Love Yourself.
  3. If it’s not working, reframe it.
  4. Spend it all.
  5. Practice “yes-and.”
  6. Do small things with great love.
  7. Laugh, sing, breathe.
  8. Love what is.
  9. Show up * listen * tell the truth * let go.
  10. Hold fast to what is good.
  11. Today is their childhood.
  12. Make friends with time.

Do you have personal commandments, guiding principles, or intentions? I would love to hear them and/or reasons why such statements are not meaningful or helpful for you.

Friday Link Love

Some stuff I’ve been captivated by this week:

Mars Hill — Broken Bottles

As I indicated a post or two ago, I adore Rob Bell. He’s one of my pastors, truly. And I listen to him and feel very sad that my little old Tiny Church is stuck with yours truly ever week… OK, not really. But really. This recent teaching of his on Ecclesiastes was one of the best I’ve heard by him. Recent teachings are only available for free for a limited time, so check it out soon.

Can a Fake Smile Be Bad for Your Health?

The scientists examined what happened when the drivers engaged in fake smiling, known as “surface acting,” and its opposite, “deep acting,” where they generated authentic smiles through positive thoughts, said an author of the study, Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

After following the drivers closely, the researchers found that on days when the smiles were forced, the subjects’ moods deteriorated and they tended to withdraw from work. Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent.

But on days when the subjects tried to display smiles through deeper efforts — by actually cultivating pleasant thoughts and memories — their overall moods improved and their productivity increased.

See, I had always heard that behavior can modify emotions, that acting a certain way in practice can help bring about that mood internally. So if you want to be happy, act happy. This seems to add a little nuance to that. There’s something in here that relates to authenticity too, I think.

Organizing Secrets from a Manhattan Design Guru

This is a decent enough article about being organized, but what I really loved was this line:

Staying organized is like gardening. You’re constantly weeding; it’s part of your routine.

I genuinely enjoy being organized and having a sense of order in my home, which is admittedly not fancy (and not perfect), but there is a place for everything and I try not to let it go too long before returning things to their proper spots. I’ve often felt bad about this though, like the truly creative people thrive on chaos, and neat freaks are just people who don’t have enough to occupy their time. (Where do I get such bizarre notions?!??) Hearing organizational efforts compared to gardening, which is a discipline that brings beauty to the world, was very freeing for me.

Parents Magazine: Twenty-five Manners Every Kid Should Know

I caught this in the print edition at the hairdresser’s and thought it was a pretty good list of etiquette for kids… warning, link is in slide-show format which I find annoying. Still, good stuff and we have some things to work on.

Come Along for a Ride into Space

A lovely six-minute video:

Cinematographer Luke Geissbühler and his 5-year-old son Max made a homemade spacecraft out of a Thai food takeout container and a weather balloon, and outfitted it with an HD video camera and an iPhone. Last August, they sent it into space.

“The mission was…was send it up into the upper stratosphere to film the blackness beyond the earth…Eventually, the balloon will grow from lack of atmospheric pressure, burst, and begin to fall…It would have to survive 100 MPH winds, temperature of 60 degrees below zero, speeds of over a 150 mph, and the high risk of a water landing….To retrieve the craft, it would need to deploy a parachute, descend through the clouds and transmit a GPS coordinate to a cell phone tower….Then we have to find it.”

And finally, tonight is the National Day of Unplugging. We are So There. Hope you’ll participate too.