Tuesday by R.Motti on Flickr ...researchers...conclude that the feeling of control -- whether real or illusory -- is one of the wellsprings of mental health. - p. 24 Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert.

I'm reading a deadly interesting book right now by Dan Gilbert, whose Ted Talk I've pointed to before. It's all about happiness, or, rather, unraveling our conventional wisdom on happiness and understanding how it is intrinsically tied to our forward-thinkingness. I'm not too terribly far into it yet, but I'm very inspired in the way it ties into the whole 'Embrace the Chaos' idea.

My Everyday Magic post was very much inspired by Dan's book, so if you are one of the many people who emailed me with a 'I totally needed that post', you'll eat it up. :)

The part that has most resonated with me thusfar has been tied to the quote above. The fact that oodles of research has proven that a 'sense of control' (not actual control) over one's future is the number one source of happiness. AND that, because it is, largely illusory, is also the number one source of people's anxiety. That we walk the line between happiness and anxiety everyday is enlightening to me and explains a great deal of human interaction. It also explains why placating people with stats and guarantees, albeit usually a façade, tends to alleviate anxiety just enough to open up their wallets.

In the end, nothing is guaranteed and I think we all know that deep down inside. But we aren't paying for the outcomes, we are paying for the illusion of control. And, for most people, that is worth a whole lot. Why do you think that spammers continue to spam? There are enough people who click through and enough who end up ordering - because they are offering more than a cheap prescription. They are offering a semblance of control over ones mood, body, finances or romantic life. $10.99 is a small price to pay, really.

But we all know the problem with this, right? We know that this temporary piece of mind doesn't bring real happiness, that achieving that takes a whole bunch of unraveling, time and effort. It takes effort to stop. Breathe. Look around you. Notice the everyday magic. We don't have time for that, do we? It takes 5 seconds to click through and order that potency drug but lots of soul searching to find out why you want to work yourself into such a stressful state that you can't perform sexually. (man, this post is going to be spammed...heh)

Matt Richter interviewed me last week for a piece that came out over the weekend in the New York Times about Blackberries and our addictions that help us escape from facing true emotional situations in real life. I won't simplify it to say we are becoming robots, but I definitely watch many people around me run away from themselves constantly, justifying it with 'business' and replacing deeper connections with internet 'friends'. I'm pretty guilty of it myself, although I've made a special effort lately to, as one person put it, "Stop all that fucking Twittering and get your ass into therapy" LOL.

We all think we know what will make us happy, but, according to Gilbert, we do a really crappy job of predicting what will actually make us happy. One of my favourite parts of the Ted Talk is Gilbert asking the audience which would make them happier: winning the lottery or becoming parapalegic? Surprised me to find out that there is very little difference in how happy people who have found themselves in both situations, with slightly less happiness in the lottery category. And, sure, we can all say, "Whatever, they are just justifying stuff."

But, as Gilbert says:

What we can say is that all claims of happiness are claims from someone's point of view - from the perspective of a single human being whose unique collection of past experiences serves as a context, a lens, a background for her evaluation of her current experience.

So, who are we to say that someone is happy or not happy? And, really, the measurements of this are entirely subjective. My happy is probably different from your happy. Early on in our relationship, I was constantly pestering Chris with questions on how he was doing/feeling/etc. because he's not as 'expressive' with his happiness as I am. Basically, when Chris is happy, he doesn't complain about things. Does that mean that he feels less happy because he shows less happy? Probably not (and he would argue that, too).

So, happiness, which is at the core, I believe, of all human life is the most irreducible state - and when 'reduced' means very little. It's also entirely unpredictable, uncontrollable and unreliable - meaning that we really don't know what will make us most happy, tend to over-imagine what it will look like (which reduces it) and will probably have a totally different experience of it when we 'get there' than we know now.

No frickin' wonder we feel anxious! Thank goodness the final chapter will tell me how to remedy these illusions.

All I know right now is that distracting ourselves or taking shortcuts to that state (then 'valuing' those shortcuts so high - using stats and $$ as a measurement of success) is not my idea of the road happiness (although I do agree that I can't put that value on others).