After about a decade of doing research on happiness, I realize that my favorite research comes from university labs that use self-reported data. Most of our happiness lab research is based on self-reported data about who feels happy.
Which means, maybe, that I am my own lab. I can self-report just as well as anyone else. So here is my self-reported research. And, like all good university lab results, there is a little third-party oversight at the end.
1. Do not look for external validation.
The unusual thing about my family is not that my parents abused me and I was removed from the house. I mean, seriously, that happens in families all the time. The thing that makes the family different is that my mom and all my brothers are colorblind. Female-passed colorblindness is very rare.
My mom is visiting and dinner-table talk wanders to my son’s bar mitzvah. We are a family that has an incredible ability to focus on the negative, so we don’t dwell on how my son is a Hebrew-learning savant. Instead my son says, “Mom! Let’s talk about the time when you were reading Torah at your bat mitzvah and you were lost and you said, ‘Oh fuck I’m lost.’”
I say, “That’s the whole story.”
Mom says, “Remember my dress? Was it gray?”
“No, it was purple but you thought it was gray.”
My mom thinks I’m so untrustworthy that she doesn’t trust me even with color.
2. It’s way easier to find bad in people than good, so challenge yourself.
My driver, Carla, is out of town so Jeanenne is driving. But Jeanenne never drives, and I fear for our tires.
I tell Jeanenne it takes special driving talent to not get a flat in Chicago. It’s so serious that Jim Bachor makes activist art out of potholes as he fills them.
I tell myself to trust that Jeanenne is watching. But just in case, I pack extra reading material.
Once we get to the music school there are three cello lessons in a row. I don’t know how my son does it. This is what happens when you have a mom who is a writer going to ten hours a week of music lessons: I bring colored pens and draw the alphabet over and over to keep myself from dying of boredom. I get so anxious that I’ll run out of the colors I like that I keep three extra packages on hand at all times.
Jeanenne spends three hours being the highest paid coffee drinker in the world. I guess this makes up for the first two years I lived on the farm when I was in constant nervous breakdown mode from the transition and during that time Jeanenne was the lowest paid mental health worker in the world.
I ask Jeanenne to get me coffee while she’s getting coffee for herself. She says, “But then I’d have to come back early.”
I say, “Wow. I really miss Carla.”
3. Be fine with where you are.
Driving home I discover that Jeanenne can’t see.
My mom and my brothers do not see green traffic lights. They only see white. And they are still legal to drive. So maybe it’s just that Jeanenne can’t see any signs.
She thinks it’s just the GPS, that she can’t read that.
This is the tipping point for me. It’s ridiculous that Jeanenne and Carla won’t wear glasses because it makes them look old.
I also can’t see because I should be in bifocals and not contacts and I have been resisting.
Carla comes back the same day my glasses arrive. I tell her I’m getting old because I need bifocals.
She says, “I know lots of people who wear bifocals.”
I say, “Who?”
She says, “My mom.”
Jeanenne falls on the floor laughing.
Fine. So I am old. I was going to tell you about how I am old but I couldn’t tell you about my neck, because Nora Ephon did that already. And I can’t tell you about vaginal dryness because my husband said no writing about sex. So I have to tell you about bifocals.
4. Foster empathy by trying to see the world through other peoples’ eyes.
In the Wall St. Journal, Bret Stephens reviewed Hillary Clinton’s new book. Bret starts by reviewing the Acknowledgements and complains that Hillary thanks a team of writers for turning her scribbled notes into books. Now that’s a great example of paid friends. The more I think about it, the more I think all the best friends are paid friends. Who is a better friend than the person who makes it so you can write your own memoir without writing it?
Bret also complains that now we can’t rewrite history because the surest way to forget history is to write it down. Because then people think they don’t need to remember because it’s written.
Which is why my family hates that I write this blog. They worry that I am writing their history and then no one will bother remembering any version of events that is not mine.
Other complaints about me from my bothers: That I pay people to do everything.
My brother sent an article about mothers in NYC paying people $1000 to pack up their kids for camp.
I wanted to respond, “What a great idea! I wish I were sending kids to camp just so I could hire someone!” But then I thought maybe my brother was making fun of me.
5. Get a second opinion.
I am in the perennial vegetable garden and my mom decides to weed next to me, behind the rhubarb.
I tell her the purple flowers are edible, so leave the purple, and pull the blue flowers. Those are weeds.
She says okay and then starts pulling purple.
I tell her forget it. Leave all the flowers.
We do not talk about how she can’t see the colors. But we talk.
My mom tells me that of all her kids, I’m the one who surprised her the most.
I ask her why.
She says, “Because you’re happy.”