It's hard to confess to you that I'm happy on the farm. The Farmer and I are getting along well, and all that research about how if parents are in a happy marriage the kids are happier — well, that seems to be true for us.
So I spend my days writing career advice and reading about goats and figuring out how to make enough unleavened desserts to keep the Farmer from hating Passover. When I need a break from thinking, I plant my vegetables in perfectly straight rows and hope for no more snow.
The thing is, though, that it is not my nature to be sunny and bright.
Now there’s a study to support my instincts toward stress and anxiety. According to Leslie Martin, author of the new book, The Longevity Project, stress and anxiety that arise from working hard at something that is engaging and exciting to you is actually a more healthy way to live than in a regular state of cheerfulness.
Fortunately, I don't think other people are really looking for happiness either. For example, there is an insane cover story in Psychology Today billed as Four Secrets of Happy Families.
One overachiever NYC family in the article has a daughter so obsessed with gymnastics that she practices every day after school while her mom drives to New Haven each week to teach at Yale. Seriously, this is a happy family? I don't think so. I think this is a family full of people who are engaged and passionate about their own stuff. There are scheduling conflicts all week. Family dinners once a week are an accomplishment.
The thing is that I don’t think it matters. As a society, we are not actually all that interested in happiness. If we were, people would stop relocating for jobs, people would stop eating french fries, and people would stop scheduling their kids for activities that happen close to dinnertime. If anything, I think people are focused on hiding the fact that they desperately want more money and more passion in their lives even though it’s not fashionable to admit it.
And all the research about how money doesn't buy happiness: I think get it, but we are unable to act on the news because we are programmed to want THINGS and money buys things. If we were satisfied with what we had, in cavemen times, we’d die as soon as there was a food shortage. Cavepeople always needed to feel like they needed more more more no matter how much they had in order to survive dry spells. So we can intellectually know that money doesn’t make us happier, but it doesn’t change our DNA. Embedded in our DNA is the sense that we always need to earn 15% more than we are currently earning.
So here's the research: You earn 15% more and then you hang out with people a little richer, and then you don't feel as rich because rich is relative, and then you get that semi-rational urge to earn more money again. We can't help it.
This conundrum reminds me of how we know that hot women are not better in bed, confident women are better in bed. But it doesn’t stop men who are looking for a one-night stand to try hardest for the hottest girl.
So you might wonder, are you really happy and you just don't know it? The answer is no. And that's good news. Because look, the Longevity Project says you'd be closer to dead if you were closer to happy.
I am not sure why we are even talking about happiness when Sonia Lyubomirsky shows that 2/3 of our happiness level is predetermined by our genes. If you are an optimist you are more happy, if you are a pessimist you are less happy. It’s a spectrum. You can work hard to change that last third, but instead, why not work hard to find what you are passionate about?
Which is why I don't feel settled on the farm. I keep looking around for the next thing I'm going to do that's going to disrupt things. I'm passionate about disruptions, because when you find a new way to think about something you thought was true, that's disruptive and interesting.
Like, I'm thinking maybe it won't be so bad if my goats eat my vegetables, because then I'll have an interesting problem to solve. I read a blog that said I can keep goats from eating something by spraying their pee on it. The idea of spraying my spinach with goat pee does not make me happy, but that it might work is fascinating to me.
Photo by Melissa Sconyers.