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    • Huh. This breaks my brain a little bit. I have thought of it in a different way, not that I have strong conviction I was right.

      I see people who appear to be very happy because they have health, financial security, and they love traveling the world. In many ways I envy them. I love health, financial security and travel too, but my life feels empty if I don't devote a significant chunk to something with meaning. And I know, boy do I know, things with meaning are usually stressful and often sad.

      My view of the world is some people can be happy with lives that don't pursue much meaning, but some people like moi don't seem to be able to, so we choose the stressful path of pursuing meaning to find happiness.

      Does that make sense?

    • I agree with you to a point. I also feel a strong need to think my life has meaning. But after going through this part of the course, I, too, have to agree that the meaning part often upsets the happiness part.

      Speaking for myself, perhaps THIS is the ultimate pursuit: meaningfulness AND happiness. I now see them at odds with each other, which gives me a more realistic perspective as I try to find a way to balance them both.

      I am actually glad to gain this perspective—up until now I had assumed the two were more aligned, and have always thought one would inevitably lead to the other. Now I see that I might have to “take turns” being happy and devoting myself to meaningful pursuits... Have to think on that some more.

    • Some great quotes worthy of reflection.

      We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life. Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering.

      This article resonated with me.  At its most distilled state, the opinion piece reminds us that to be happy we need to actively notice what’s already worth being happy about.  

      Not sure that the MOOC professors would consider this a meaningfulness-driven existence, but I think my rebuttal would be “Meaningful for WHO?”  

      Depression is the destroyer of both happy and meaningful lives; and winning the war against depression in old age is meaningful.

    • I remember a time in my life when I was privileged to live next door to my grandmother and be the family-designated caregiver before she needed a full-time health attendant many years ago now.

      She did this very thing—she focused on happiness. In fact, she had a habit of going to bed at 6:00p (!) every day because it was the only way she could avoid the deep pain of missing my grandfather and their quiet evenings together.

      After a life of much hustle and bustle (my grandfather was a physician at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and Grandmother was very active in the hospital auxiliary), they retired to the Napa Valley before it was the exclusive place it is now. They thrived in the beauty of the place, and I remember how they used to wait until they had several reasons to go into town (St. Helena) before they would leave their little corner of heaven.

      My grandfather passed away suddenly and it was a daily struggle for my grandmother to carry on without his presence in her life, even though she was a very assertive and accomplished woman in her own right. After a life of so much meaningfulness, her constant challenge became staving off depression and loneliness—a tectonic shift.

      I am not close to my seventies yet, but I am of an age that I have experienced several unforeseen and difficult shifts in my life. After each of these changes, it seems a path back to happiness and meaningfulness must be cleared again (sometimes with two machetes!) in order to carry on.

      The author of this article writes about life-long relationships. I wonder if that is becoming a relic of the past? I look back on my life and see specific chapters “written” in different settings and lived with different casts of characters. I do not have the same kinds of relationships that my mother, for instance, has. She meets monthly with friends she has known all her life. I belong to a Facebook group of the kids who were in the same fifth and sixth grades. Not the same at all.

      Looking ahead, I am just starting to understand how it is for my 80-something Mom to get up each morning to face the day. Just as tough on her as it was on my grandmother to face the day in her Shangri-la without the love of her life... And yet, while the world shuts off the opportunities for her to feel meaningful, happiness continues to be the goal, no matter how difficult or compromised things get...

    • I'm a long-time fan of Dean Ornish, the UCSF doctor/researcher who was the first to publish convincing research that showed it's possible to reverse heart disease through lifestyle. He's out with a new book and was interviewed on NPR's forum this morning.

      He was asked about depression and the number I think I heard him give is that lifestyle is about 50% effective effective for depression, unlike type II diabetes and heart disease, where it approaches 100%.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation, @Chris. There’s a waiting list for Undo It! at my library, so I hope to get that in a couple of weeks. (BTW, I picked up Jaron’s book and I see what you mean—kind of a dweeby little tome...)

      I ran across some interesting stats while working through more of the class last night:

      —50% of one’s happiness is due to genetics (each of us have a “happiness baseline” determined by our genes)

      —10% of one’s happiness is due to one’s life circumstances (kind of counter-intuitive-don’t we all tell ourselves, “if only I had x, then I would be happy” ? It turns out acquiring stuff does not have much impact on happiness)

      —40% of one’s happiness is due to one’s intentional activities

      I guess this is good news—40% of our happiness potential is directly tied to our own choices.

    • That's fascinating. I suppose the 50% you inherit makes intuitive sense. We all know people who came out of the womb unhappy or not and stayed that way all their lives, at least I do.

      I wish it weren't so, because I really want to get the most out of the 40% that I can.

      The inintuitive part is we also know people who had something awful happen and they were never the same. I've always lived in fear of being one thing away from being unhappy forever.

    • I’ve been thinking about that 50% genetic component. I know someone who has been depressed most of his life, and has pursued the reasons why very diligently. He finally had his genes tested just a year or so ago (this is fairly new stuff—genetic testing for depression), and sure enough his genes have the depression marker. His story appears in this article

      Unfortunately, things have gotten even more difficult for Steve since this article was written. His only son committed suicide last year. It would seem his son was dealt a deck of depression genes, too.

      I cannot fathom the anguish and pain these “depression genes” have contributed to his life. This is a dimension of mental and physical health invisible to most of us, but all too real for those who suffer the effects.

      On the other hand, I just learned of a childhood friend who committed suicide a couple of days ago in front of the police precinct where he worked for 28 years. He was a highly-decorated officer and supervisor who had served in the gang unit and on the SWAT team. Apparently, he was forcefully retired at age 58 due to injuries sustained in the job. The sudden lack of responsibility and purpose as well as the sudden lack of comraderie and respect was too much for him to bear.


      So much tragedy.



    • Chris MacAskill

      My son-in-law is a family physician and says that is the time where your health becomes most at risk, when you have to retire. You've raised your kids, you've done all the really exciting things like fall in love and get married, buy a house, get a car, advance in your career, save people, be needed, and then...quiet. The phone stops ringing, people stop visiting, the recognition stops, the kids stop calling, you lose a sense of purpose.

      At SmugMug we have a customer support manager who is amazing who was once the Los Angeles County Sheriff. But his knees gave out from running down too many bad guys, so, early retirement for him. But he found purpose in his customer support, does it with his wife, they're both happy and needed and helping people. Big difference.

    • Chris MacAskill

      I am doing an interview for Cake with my neighbor, a 70-year-old swim teacher who taught our children to swim. What I didn't know about her is she was photographed for the cover of Life magazine as an Olympic star, and she set 46 world and national records for swimming. To me she was simply Susan, teaching our 4-year-olds to breast stroke.

      She describes herself as a psychologist in the water who teaches happiness. She is completely into it and fulfilled by it. Carrying the torch, being on the cover of magazines, is not her source of happiness.

      And then there is this. This coach very much reminds me of Susan:

    • Wow. Such an interesting clip in the context of this class.

      The importance of variety and how it relates to happiness has been brought up in the class, and when Katelyn talked about having no incentive to reclaim notoriety in gymnastics because she had already accomplished that and it didn’t bring her happiness... And then when she said gymnastics was all she knew... She has so much ahead of her!

      What a fantastic coach Valerie is—to be concerned about Katelyn’s well-being, and not just her ability to flip her body in the air like there’s no such thing as gravity.

      Looking forward to following your conversation with Susan...

    • Denise Goldberg

      What an awesome interview!

      I'm looking forward to the interview with your neighbor.

    You've been invited!