The dawning of a new year! Aside from a good opportunity to throw a great party, it’s a good opportunity to press the “restart” button (more on this in my next post), and at least make an attempt to do some things better, or differently, in the future, than we did in the past.

Resolutions are easy, of course. Actual change is far more difficult. But keeping certain ideas or perspectives in mind can help as we try to retrain our bodies or minds to a new pattern. So in that spirit, I encourage anyone reading this to take the time to read an essay published in The New York Times last summer about what we ought to be pursuing, if we really want to be happy. The essay was written by Arthur C. Brooks–a man whose writing and conclusions I often have issues with, because of how he selects data to support his points, among other things. However, I thought this essay steered clear of that. (Evidence that common ground can be found even with people who don’t necessarily share other pieces of our beliefs or worldviews, or even writing approaches.) This particular essay delved instead, like the economist Daniel Kahneman did in his book Stumbling Upon Happiness, into the gap between what we think will make us happy, and what actually does.

I often write about the link between being “in the moment” and feeling really alive. And how one of the reasons 3-year-olds can exhibit such glee is because they are not yet burdened, in most cases, with worry about the future. They can be happy because they’re not striving for status, power, fame or bank accounts. Three year olds live in themselves, in the present. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all the striving we adults do … even the striving for happiness, and the things we think will make us so … often keeps us from actually being happy, in the moment we’re in at any given time.

I think, sometimes, that part of the problem is our fantasy expectation that it’s possible to feel “happy” all the time. We imagine that if only we lived in Hawaii, or were really rich, or were married to George Clooney or Gisele Bundchen, we’d be “there.” Happy all the time. That’s not realistic. My mom once sent me an article reporting that shallow people actually got closer to that Nirvana than people who thought deeply about things, because the less you worry about anything, the “happier” you will be. To which I would say, that depends on how you define happy. If you define it as “untroubled,” that’s probably true.  But leading a life that never delves beneath the surface is also less likely to give you have a life rich in meaning and purpose, which–as I discussed in my last two posts–is important for happiness, as well. There’s a difference between pleasure and happiness, and hedonistic happiness and eudemonic happiness–which is to say, working to feed the homeless might not be as fun as lying on a beach drinking margaritas, but it might give you a longer-lasting sense of satisfaction and life meaning. Ditto for having kids. [click to continue…]

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On the heels of my last post about the importance of believing that your job matters, both in terms of mental fatigue and creativity, here comes a study from the University College of London (UCL) with yet another reason to look for work that you find meaningful:

Researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University studied 9,500 English people with an average of of 65, over the course of eight and a half years, to see what impact their level of “eudemonic wellbeing” had on their longevity. Eudemonic wellbeing, as defined by the researchers, is “your sense of control, feeling that what you do is worthwhile, and your sense of purpose in life.”

The subjects were surveyed to determine where on the scale of “eudemonic wellbeing” they fell, and the results were then adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake, to try to rule out other factors that could affect both wellbeing and longevity. With all those factors adjusted for, the study subjects who rated in the highest 25% of eudemonic wellbeing had a mortality risk 30% lower than those with the lowest wellbeing. Which is to say, the people who felt a strong sense of purpose, and who felt as if what they did mattered and that they had control over their lives lived, on average, two years longer than those with low scores in those areas. [click to continue…]

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More Evidence on the Power of Purpose and Community

by Lane Wallace

The motivating power of feeling as if what you do matters, and the collective power of working as part of a group, team, or community, are not new ideas. For years, I’ve had a little purple postcard posted to a bulletin board in my office with a quote by the anthropologist Margaret Mead that says, [...]

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The Courage to Leap: Two Recent Stories

by Lane Wallace

A friend of mine–an entrepreneur who pitched aeronautical engineering to become a philosophy grad student, pitched philosophy for medicine, and finally pitched medicine to make wine–says that when his kinds are worried about risking some new adventure or endeavor, he tells them, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
He’s certainly a poster child for the success [...]

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The Appeal of Physical Adventure

by Lane Wallace

I was interviewing an air show pilot this past summer–one of the better known ones, who’s been around in the business for a long time. That’s impressive, because the fatality rate in that line of work is a lot higher than average. So surviving to fly another day is a significant part of the challenge.
This [...]

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Of Passion and Education

by Lane Wallace

There has been a lot of press, recently, arguing what the point of a college education is supposed to be. The debate seems to have been sparked by the publication of a book titled Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by a former English professor named [...]

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More on the Power of Being Yourself

by Lane Wallace

In my last post, about the lessons and accomplishments of Maya Angelou’s life, I said she was “a reminder of the power of simply being yourself.”  And while flipping through some back issues of the New York Times this past weekend (part of why I still get a print paper– it’s easier to browse issues [...]

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Voice, Passion, and Changing the World

by Lane Wallace

Maya Angelou, who died this week at the age of 86, was a woman who understood a great many things. She understood what it was to be the victim of violence, racism, and discrimination. She understood what it was to scrape for survival. She understood the fear–and the freedom–of starting out alone on unknown, uncharted [...]

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An Adventurer Goes West

by Lane Wallace

So, I had two other topics I was going to write a post on today - thoughts about some of the costs of adventure. But I got a piece of news in my in-box last night that’s pushed those topics aside for today.
Bill Dana, a retired NASA aeronautical engineer and test pilot (or research pilot, [...]

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The Value of Being Diverted

by Lane Wallace

I‘m actually writing this on an airplane, en route to New Zealand. So I hope I’m not tempting the gods by writing about how valuable diversions can be. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking a lot about the costs and benefits of being thrown off course, recently.
I’ve written before about the benefits of traveling unmarked or unexpected [...]

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