I read two articles this morning about happiness & life satisfaction and I’m trying to figure out how they intersect (Pondering this sort of thing makes me happy & satisfied, so, you know…winning!)
The first article, Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy, has me thinking about Madonna. Which makes no outward sense, but stay with me. This article paints an entertaining portrait of a generation of Americans raised to believe they are special and unique. This would have been fine, the article points out, except that no one bothered to mention to Gen Y-ers that most people work really, really hard for a very long time before their fabulous uniqueness makes its BIG MARK ON THE WORLD. Or that for most people, the big mark they leave is with a select group, a small subset of the universe. In short, they’ve never been told that Madonna is an outlier, and that most girls in her shoes grow up to be a nice lady named Louise/Mrs. Ciccone who teaches third grade girls to shimmy and step-ball-change at a dance studio in the suburbs. And that this is not a bad thing, or a failure to reach her potential. Who knows if Madonna’s potential might not have been thwarted by the pressure of fame?
I’m thinking about Madonna in this context, not because she’s an icon to Generation Y, but because she’s been around long enough to be a bit of a case study in what belief in your own brand and uniqueness can get you. And one thing it seems pretty clear that it doesn’t deliver is happiness. Have you ever seen Madonna look happy?
If, as the article suggests, HAPPINESS = REALITY – EXPECTATIONS, then a life built on always getting the most attention everywhere you go, for everything you do, seems like a recipe for misery.
The second article, The Habits of Supremely Happy People, debunks most of Mrs. Ciccone’s musical prescriptions for happiness with studies indicating that life as a Material Girl is unrewarding, and that the thrill of feeling Like A Virgin is fleeting at best. And I have to admit that there’s a certain disappointment in reading about proof that the fun-sounding options don’t produce good results. It makes the world seem unreliable, somehow, all this talk about how life satisfaction comes from intangibles. I mean, how am I supposed to know if I’m happy if there are no benchmarks, if being a fit & glamorous millionaire won’t get the job done?
What strikes me about the Supremely Happy People article (besides the hyperbole in the title…maybe it’s just that Cambridge isn’t gleeful, but I don’t know many people I’d describe as SUPREMELY happy, do you?) is that most of the things it points out are common sense, and yet difficult to pull off. I mean, where do you find the happy people in your area so that you can invite yourself to their parties? How does one cultivate resilience aside from being knocked down and then realizing life is continuing so you might as well get up? And there’s a limit to how long I can be grateful for every little thing (“Yay! My socks match today!”) before I feel like a lunatic. Which does not make me happy.
You know I’m going to bring up Jesus here, so I’ll just dive in. I must admit he seems depressingly uninterested in questions of happiness. Which would be a total bummer if he didn’t offer a provocative alternative: Abundant Life. I always found it interesting that this promise from Jesus is on the seal of my college the place where in my Religion 101 professor dismissed Jesus’ teachings in a curt 15 minute overview of Catholic Papal history. And yet the promise is right there, year after year, challenging each of us to barge up to Jesus and demand, “What, exactly, do you mean by that?”
Abundant life is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. I know this for sure because I have friends who get more excited about their Kitchen Aid mixers and non-stick bakeware than I get about anything at all.
I haven’t barged up to Jesus enough lately. I want to do more of that this fall. Because when I do, the results surprise me. Jesus points at things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own and throws in a miracle or three to show off. He sets me free from the need to cultivate endless attention by whatever today’s version is of wearing a cone bra/meat dress/foam finger, and from the lie that all I need to feel satisfied is to celebrate my matching socks. I want him to show me my version of
“Oh how I love my Kitchen Aid Mixer!” abundant life. I’m excited about what that might be.