Thursday, October 15, 2009


Several blog posts ago, I pondered the happiness set-point. I called it also optimism. A reader wrote that he called it "being lucky." And the source of this set-point was also in question: is it genetic, environmental, or of our own making. Another reader posted a comment that her belief, based of course on her life experience, is that it is genetic.

In my personal life experience, my vote is that it is of our own making.

I say this because when I look at my parents, who were basically good and honest people, I would never call them optimistic nor happy. Yet they weren't depressed either. They did worry a lot, about everything from a wayward comet or cosmic trash crashing into our house to me crossing Greenbay Road, a four lane "super highway" in those days, three blocks from my home. The joke was that I was never allowed to cross it until I was old enough to drive it. They lived in a world of "what ifs."

They were television junkies, once there was regular programming. (On Guam, we had a television, but I think there were two hours of programming a week, if that.) They were also hypochondriacs. If a pill was advertised on television promising that you could leap through fields of daisies if you took it, they would immediately go to the doctor to get that prescription and would be fumed if the doctor wouldn't give it to them because they didn't have the condition needing treatment!

I have rebelled against this lifestyle to the extent that I do not watch any television (unless we are hunkered down with a hurricane headed our way) and I do not often go to the doctor unless my leg is broken or my finger is torn open from a dog bite.

That covers the genetics of my birth; regarding the genetics of whom I birthed: my son is the sort who can find the cloud in every silver lining even though both of his parents are easy going optimists. (My only consolation is that he is still in the same age group as I was when I tell the story below.)

My story is that I didn't perceive the emotions of happy or sad until I was about 18. From that time until about 25 I recall being quite depressed. So depressed that when I wasn't at work or someplace I had committed to be, I often stayed in bed. I hated weekends because I would sit home alone and mope all weekend. It was not that I loved work, it was that work gave me the structure for the socialization that I did not have for myself.

I was painfully shy. I went through college without speaking to more than one handful of people - I mean that literally. If I spoke to 5 people in the 5 years I was in college, that was a lot. I can actually only remember speaking to one person, but I giving myself the benefit of the doubt.

I would not even go into the student lounge for a cup of coffee or a snack -- I would actually shudder and almost faint if I tried to push myself to walk through the door. I would sit in my car between classes. Really.

I think I was 25 when I had a talkin' to myself and said, "We are not taking another step on this planet until you decide to come out of your shell and start speaking to people you pass."

This was a long process and since this is a blog post, I won't bore you with the details of this lesson. But during this personal teaching process, where I truly re-created myself, I also taught myself to go into a restaurant and enjoy a meal by myself (even a posh restaurant, when I had the money to do this) or go to a move or play by myself.

And as you who know me, or read my postings know -- there is little I love more than a whole day at home with nothing on my calendar, except maybe two days or more. I love to self-entertain now. Now, if I were a hermit I would be a joyful one.

But to this day, I still need to challenge myself more than one time a day to speak to every person I encounter.

And it is not only a "Good morning," but often, "Thank you -- your smile made my day," or "I love the color of your skirt - it just brightens up the world."

It is almost a habit, except sometimes my inner self wants to hide inside, and I need to give it a push to remember that hiding inside can be a habit -- and greeting the day, and each creation with joy is also a habit. Habits shape our lives.

My poor (currently) introverted son often says when we walk together, "Mom, do you have to?" when I greet folks, and I say, "Yes, I do."

I do it not primarily to make their day, although I hope it does, but to keep my set-point set, to remember to make my own day.

Most of you who know me would call me a happy sort (sometimes sickeningly so) and an optimist (everything, even bad things, are "challenges to overcome") but it wasn't always so. It is the self I created when I was about 25.

I am sure many things went into my creation of my happy spirit, but I think the biggest lesson I taught myself was to overcome my shyness and to get out of myself and be a part of the Oneness of Creation. (I'll post about talking to trees some other time....)

So my vote on the happiness/optimist/luck set-point is that we have the choice of how we create our lives; for me, it was not genetic nor environmental. I lack patience with folks who blame every bad thing they do, or are, on their upbringing. There comes a time when we each need to take responsibility for who we are and create ourselves as the work of art we were meant to be.

Go forth with blessings -- letting your best self shine.

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