Two years ago, Time magazine’s cover story examined “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Little has changed since then, beyond Russia grabbing Crimea, ISIS burning and beheading people, and most of us wanting a friendlier world with happiness. The article had some stunning facts, such as studies have found that children have little overall effect on parents’ happiness, but that parents with children ages 3-12 are happier than those with infants or teenagers.
I pondered this as I thought of our teenage daughter slamming her bedroom door when she doesn’t get something or how her iPhone fell into a shark tank. The sign on the tank promised spitting sharks. She couldn’t believe it, so she decided to create a video of it with her iPhone. She was so stunned when a small shark leaped up and spit at her that she screamed and dropped the phone in the tank.
My happiness quotient plummeted when I thought of the cost of replacing the phone. The quotient returned after she put the phone in a bag of rice for a day to absorb any moisture, and the phone came back on.
Our happiness, it seems to me, is as fickle as that. If we pursue happiness, we’re always a bit short. The planned vacation didn’t go as well as planned, or wedding vows that suggested “happily ever after” don’t work out. Many couples want to be the prince and princess in their castle. However, the castle needs tile repair right now, and the front stoop has some nails sticking up.
On the positive side, Time’s study said that people with pets are happier than petless people, and that one in every two households has at least one pet. People with five cats and two dogs as we have must smash the bell on happiness.
I made up a statistic for my wife still in bed with me. “People with three black cats out of five consider themselves super lucky.” She swatted me with her own magazine, People. “People who read People are the happiest people in the world,” I said.
She drank the coffee that I brought her, coffee that I bring her every morning. Maybe that’s why Time says “married couples remain more blissful than singles.” Single people with pets miss out on the coffee delivery thing. Time said that homosexual people, however, who have come out are happier than heterosexuals. Maybe they don’t have to figure out the thinking of the opposite sex.
Here’s one example of that. I like fixing things in the house. I should say, I like “having them fixed.” I hire people. I’d easily add on Time’s list that married men having James the handyman fix the tile on their porch are happier than married women who hate James adding tile on their porch when the women would prefer to sleep in. In fact, I learned that married women slamming doors can sound much like their adolescent daughter’s door slamming.
Clearly none of us get each other. It’s probably equal to the pleasure our cats have in spitting up hairballs—right on our bedspread. These are the animals that give us so much happiness.
One thing I don’t get about the Time article. It keeps referring to “happiness researchers.” How do you get that job? In the old days, before the Internet, I looked for jobs in the newspapers. There always seemed to be plenty of jobs for salespeople, but almost never for “writer” unless it was for “copywriter,” which, of course, helped the salespeople. I also never saw any openings for "happiness researcher."
Here’s one fact the researchers discovered: “According to happiness experts, commuting ranks among people’s least enjoyed activities.” Really? I always brighten up when I see Los Angeles traffic thickening. I think to myself, “I hope it can get thicker so I’ll be late for this important appointment.” Actually, now that I’ve discovered audiobooks, thick traffic lets me hear my book longer, which, indeed makes me happy. I finished the whole Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in a day.
“People who say they are in good health are happier than those who say they're not." Really? I wonder if happiness researchers are happier than people who are having their teeth drilled or people who hit their thumbs with a hammer?
Here’s one true happiness fact. Our new puppy, a tri-color spaniel, brings much happiness, even if I had to run to the emergency vet recently after one of our cats shoved a ceramic bowl of cat food on the floor. The cat had looked at me as if trying to transmit, “So you think that puppy is cuter than us, do you?” Then it shoved the bowl, which hit the floor and burst into fragments, sending kibble cat food everywhere. The puppy ran in and rather than eating the cat food, I watched it tongue up a long, sharp ceramic shard and swallow. The vet saw the shard on the X-ray and made the puppy throw up.
We now have the shard in our display case. It’s a reminder: this happiness thing is hard sometimes.
This starts my new blog. Welcome.
At times, writing is an Olympic event requiring the mental and physical stamina of someone hurtling down the ice chutes of the bobsled. To stay in writing shape, I’ve learned I have to leave my desk a few times a day and actually be physical and exercise. This is tough for someone who loves the out-of-body experience of disappearing into a story, whether writing a story or reading one. Never mind shaving, eating, or dressing. I love to leap from a night's rest (one dream state) to writing (another dream state). Too much of that, though, and one becomes a fried Twinkie on a stick.
I was reminded of the mind/body division last year when I was hobbled with a headache that didn’t go away. After four days of it nonstop, I went to my doctor who told me, no, I didn’t have a brain tumor. I had TMJ. I must be grinding my teeth or clenching my jaw, he said. Use a hot compress every three hours for fifteen minutes.
This seemed odd to me. After all, I’d been rewriting a novel that, while I painted myself into a corner occasionally, I then flew through the air triumphantly. I haven’t been tensing my jaw. However, when the doctor pressed a certain spot on my jaw, yeow!
While I was coming to accept that I had TMJ, my wife, Ann, the next day noticed my forehead breaking out in a rash. Having been through a TV binge of House watching, she declared I had shingles. “You should look it up,” she said. Right. Shingles. Nixon had that, and I had no compulsion to say “I’m not a crook.”
After a few hours, my rash became pink bubblegum on a hot sidewalk, so she looked up “shingles” on her laptop and showed me pictures. They looked like stills from driver training movies. She also read that if the rash was near an eye as mine was, eyesight could be compromised or lost. Faster than you can say “Bobsled,” we belted ourselves in the car and bolted to Urgent Care.
The doctor there said Ann was right. I had shingles, and it played with my nerves, which is why I had the headache and the TMJ. I took Tramadol and an antiviral throughout the days for over a month. The blisters deflated, but the headache remained like a drunken yodeler, louder when the medicine wore off. In fact, when I stopped it once, it felt like my head was on fire. It took six weeks until I didn't need medicine, and maybe three months for most of the tenderness to disappear.
This all reminded me to not take health or the ability to write for granted. I felt too lethargic for weeks to do any exercise, but I finally started up again.
I celebrate this past event by starting this blog. I previously had a blog on Red Room, but Red Room went away. Before it did, my website and my blog were in two different places. Now they're together. I always enjoyed writing blogs, so I'll work my way back into the habit again. I'll probably include some of my previous blogs that I thought might be useful, so stay tuned.
In all, I learned for our minds to whirl at their usual pace, we have to stay in shape. A smaller lesson from this: if you’re over fifty and you had chicken pox as a kid, consider getting the shingles vaccine.
Before I wrote novels and plays, I was a journalist and reviewer (plays and books). I blogged on Red Room for five years before moving here.