tales from urban dilettantia

Icon

Day Two: On should, need to, ought to, guilt and language

Being Day Two of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

In the process of looking at language, communication and mental health, I’ve also come across some of my other ways of speaking (both internal and external) that haven’t been particularly healthy.

By far, the most pervasive of these has been ‘should’ (and other ways of saying should – need to, ought to, and so forth). For a born perfectionist and procrastinator, these phrases are the devil. For me they carry loads of guilt, obligation, resentment, self-blame, pressure and expectation. I’m learning to say ‘I will do x’, ‘I’ve chosen not to do x’ and ‘I would like to do x, but don’t have the capacity right now, so I’m putting it on my ‘maybe-someday’ list’. Do or not do, there is no should!

Is this anything more than semantics? Perhaps not, for some. But for me, the improvement in my quality of life is dramatic when I’m not playing ‘should’ and spending every second moment cringing in indecisive guilt.

Part of this, I think, is to do with the sheer weight of indecision, and part to do with the paralysis of perfectionism, but there’s another part too. It comes from the knowledge that committing is to take a side, to make a decision, and to accept that not everyone will agree with my choices.  It’s about not camping on the fence, and not spending my life chasing an unattainable goal of juggling the happiness of others.

Links, Many Links!

It appears to be Random Links-I-Like Round-up Wednesday here at The Flying Blogspot, as I have some random linkage for you. Also, it happens that today is a Wednesday.  (Happy Hump Day, hipikat!)

The Voynich Manuscript – I love this mystery and all the theories that have grown up around it.

Light-bulb terrariums – these are so very pretty, and I do have some old incandescents sitting around the the craft room.  Something else for my infinitely expandable maybe-someday list?

The Ultimate Guide to the Minimalist Workweek – a nice reminder for the start of a new work year; while not all of these suggestions can be applied in every workplace, many of them are broadly applicable.

The word ‘snowclones’– although the word was coined in 2004, I only discovered it recently; there’s also a nice list of common snowclones and their sources here.

‘Looking Into The Past’ Flickr gallery – check out the way these images mash up time, narrative and geography; they make me simultaneously want to research and to photograph more.

Facebook Event to Google Calendar button Greasemonkey script – this is a nice, time-saving little script; I found I had to write an extra <br> into the code to get it to position the button correctly.

Infochimps – masses and masses of beautiful public datasets; I’ll post more on the beauty of datamining shortly.

foursquare (and on Wikipedia here) – I bypassed foursquare originally, as it was restricted to specific cities and because I wasn’t seeing the functionality. However the offers similar basic geolocation functionality to BrightKite and (in some respects) Google Latitude but combines this with a focus on discovering the urban landscape and populating the map with useful information about your area.

The Thing About Happiness

While I haven’t written about it in some time, my fascination with happiness and optimal human experience continues. Two years and counting, in fact.

After all this time spent dabbling in psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, ethics, politics, communication, the productivity movement, the Slow Movement, passion, creativity, genetics, sustainability, love, life, the universe and everything, one would hope that I might consider myself a fundamentally happier human being than before. And so I do. But in the course of reading countless books and engaging in more conversations and debates than I can recall, I also seem to have run headlong into my happiness project’s elephant in the room.

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘happiness’ is that we each mean something different when we use the word. (‘Love’ works the same way, sometimes leading to a whole lot of hurt and misaligned expectations. The ancient Greeks did a little better, distinguishing philia, eros, agape, storge, and xenia.) And yet so few authors, both of the positive psychology genre and otherwise, take adequate space to define what they mean when they use this slippery word, and so few conversations make time for the parties to confirm that they’re both talking about the same thing, instead leaping straight into the talking at cross-purposes.

While reading What Makes Us Happy? over at The Atlantic earlier this year, I noticed that psychiatrist George Valiant uses the term ‘happy-well’ instead of merely ‘happy’. Although a little clumsy, I appreciate this because it not only aligns reasonably well with my own usage of ‘happiness’ but also represents an understanding that the term ‘happy’ alone is profoundly ambiguous.

So…happiness. I’ve seen it used to refer to hedonic pleasure, an absence of suffering, sustainable well-being, an absence of negative feelings, an abundance of positive feelings, the experience of a sense of purpose and meaning, euphoria, balance, contentment in the moment, a more fundamental sense of contentment or ‘rightness’ about one’s life, inner tranquility, complete fatalism or submission to a higher power and more, not to mention that warm feeling induced by a glass of wine or five. And, when you think about it, some of those are very different things indeed.

Reading that list, it strikes me that there’s simply no way that I’d dedicate my time to pursuing some of those user-defined experiences of happiness, nor encourage others to do so. The ‘happiness’ in my happiness project would more accurately be defined as ‘maintaining a sustainable level well-being, physical, psychological and otherwise, through both joy and sadness, with realism, rationality, courage and the conviction that my well-being does not exist in isolation from that of my environment and fellow travellers’. This, of course, makes a crap name for a project. ‘My happiness project’ is much catchier, particularly given that my brain has a damn short attention span sometimes.

However, in spite of its essential ambiguity I still like the word ‘happiness’, just as I appreciate the awkward, elusive, often-tricksy concept that is ‘love’. It’s a big, interesting umbrella-term that’s full of all manner of ideas – many of them contradictory. My happiness project may not be your happiness project, nor even encompass your understanding of happiness, but given that I personally find happiness in complexity and sometimes in contradiction, that’s all well by me.

(crossposted from LiveJournal)


Resources

Some Happy iPhone Apps (Depending On Your Definition of ‘Happy’):
Gratitude Journal
Live Happy
DoGood
I Can Has Cheezburger

Gretchen Rubin’s new Happiness Project Toolbox

My recent del.icio.us links tagged ‘happiness

Flickr


A Node&#039;s Place is in the Home Tern, Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Nudibranch, Arrawarra, NSW Sea Cucumber? Arrawarra, NSW Urchin, Arrawarra, NSW Starfish, Arrawarra, NSW Polychaete Worm, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Mollusc, Arrawarra, NSW 

Creative Commons

All content published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License.  Sharing is a beautiful thing.

Creative Commons License

About

@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.