Good Enough or Perfect?

Aren’t words powerful? Come on, admit it. You know they are. Powerful enough to rouse the sleeping beast within, calm the troubled heart, or stimulate the deepest of thoughts, words are amazing creations.

Fortunately for me, I have friends who feel the same about the fun, power, derivation, and meaning of words. A few weeks ago, a group of logophiles met to share new words over lunch. That morning, I had listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and was reminded of the difference between satisficers and maximizers.

After sharing our new words, I hesitated before adding these two words to the mix. Were they too frivolous? Was I partial to them only because of my interest in positive psychology and happiness? After about three seconds of hemming and hawing, I shared Rubin’s words, and we all decided we were (are?) satisficers in most areas. That word, by the way, is a combination of satisfy and suffice.

Since then, I’ve been pondering just how important one’s attitude towards “good enough” vs. perfection can affect happiness and overall well-being. I think Rubin is on to something. Further investigation by a lunch partner revealed that this idea was  espoused by Barry Swartz in The Paradox of Choice.

Here’s an edited version of what I posted on psychcentral.wordpress. com earlier this morning.

Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and creator of the book related blog and podcast, has tackled the concept of happiness with zeal. Although she isn’t a psychologist, Rubin incorporates the theories of philosophers and psychologists into her personal observations and experiences. A gifted writer, she makes learning about happiness interesting.

One of Rubin’s ideas is based on that of psychologist Barry Swartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Swartz contends that choice overload can actually make us less happy as we set our expectations too high. Should I try the  vanilla latte or the sea salt caramel hot chocolate?? And what about paint color? Would Soothing Aloe look better on the dining room walls than Morning Zen? And then there are relationship issues. We’re told to “never settle,” and yet is there really a Mr. or Ms. Right waiting in the wings?

Instead of agonizing on and on about decisions, Swartz and Rubin advise readers to go with “good enough.” People who do so are called satisficers and are generally happier than the maximizers those who make perfection a quest.

Years ago, I was involved in a fender bender and had to go car shopping. Friends inundated me with information about price, makes, models, reviews, mileage estimates, and deals. I listened for a while but then began to get a little dizzy with so many facts and opinions.

After work one afternoon I drove the rental car into Sparks Toyota with some ideas about what I wanted. Small, good on gas, and affordable were the top criteria. I knew I couldn’t buy (wouldn’t buy) a new car, but I didn’t want to buy a clunker either. As soon as I walked on the lot, I saw it: a dark green Corolla that was two years old. The salesman was a little surprised at the quick decision, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it or sway me to a more expensive option.

A friend, incredulous that I had made such a snap decision, told me that most people didn’t buy cars that way. Instead, they did a little research first, even traveling across the state to see and test drive different models.  She admitted that it usually took several months for them to make a decision and that even then, she and her husband ended up second guessing themselves. They’re maximizers, and I’m a satisficer.

What about you? Do you have to have things “just right” to be happy, or is good enough okay? 

Be You

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Great photo, huh? I snapped it along the route of the OBX half-marathon in 2012 because of the unique appearance of the person cheering us on. I loved her (his) joie de vivre and think it fits perfectly with this post.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about The Happiness Project, I already knew most of the concepts Ms. Rubin writes about. However, she gives them an interesting and unique twist that makes me say, “Ah, yes. She nailed that one.” Today I’m concentrating on the first of her 12 Commandments, “Be Gretchen.”

Although I didn’t think much about being an individual true to her own values, strengths, and interests in my earlier years, it has become increasingly important, not only in how I live my own life but also in how I encourage others to live theirs.  We’re all children of the universe, in a manner of speaking, and just like snowflakes, we’re all unique. Wouldn’t it be a dull, boring world if we looked, thought, and acted alike?

Accepting and BEING who and what and how we are has applications for many areas of life. Take occupation, for example. There are people who love being accountants, and they’re darned good at it. I, on the other hand, can’t even keep my checking account in order! The fact that it’s online now and can be checked 24/7 has made it easier.

My husband faithfully records his debits and credits in an Excel document and has even set one up for me.  When I recently almost ran into a problem with my account, he reminded me of the value of recording the data in Excel.

“If you’d just do it my way, you’d know exactly what was due and when,” he chided.

“That’s you, Hon. It’s not me,” I replied.

“I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“I know, I know. And hey, I’m going walking in a few minutes. Want to go?” I asked.

He answered me with an exasperated scowl, and I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“But walking isn’t something I enjoy,” he said.

“Exactly. Just like I don’t enjoy poring over numbers in boxes.”

He went back to the computer, and I went for a walk, content with my newfound confidence to “Be Jayne.”

Another area is dress and appearance. One of my daughters and I were chatting on the phone yesterday, and I mentioned that when I was in high school and the first couple of years of college, all females had to wear skirts or dresses. At some point, we were allowed to wear pants to class, and shortly thereafter jeans were permitted. I soon got into a denim craze and have never grown out of it. While some people might think it’s weird for a senior citizen to wear jeans, that doesn’t bother me. I’m living the commandment to “Be Jayne.”

Speaking of attire, last week I had the opportunity to meet with an old friend for lunch and a walk along a river’s edge. It was awesome. But here’s what I wanted to share. She was wearing a beautiful vintage necklace, and when I complimented her on it, she said she had given it to her daughter for Christmas but that her daughter had returned it with the comment, “It’s you, not me.” I knew exactly what my friend was talking about. Even in jewelry, we have our preferences, our looks.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with being you? Do you sometimes feel that you need to be or do or act the way others think you should be? Please share.

Emotional Contagion

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, happiness is my word for 2014. I’m generally an upbeat, optimistic person, so much so that I occasionally get on people’s nerves. Case in point. Recently my husband was moaning and groaning about taxes, and I remarked, “I remember once feeling the sting of property taxes right after Christmas, and when I told Mama about it, she wasn’t at all sympathetic.”

He had known and admired my mother so I had his attention.

I continued with my mother’s words, “Just be thankful you have the money to pay them, Darlin’.”

His grouchy, grumpy expression didn’t change one iota.

“Am I getting on your nerves with this type of thinking and talking?”

“Sort of,” he admitted. “It doesn’t make me feel any better if that’s what you mean.”

Still, I am what I am. According to Gretchen Rubin and the psychologists that she studied while writing The Happiness Project, a person’s innate temperament accounts for about 50 percent of her emotional set point. While I already knew that temperament, the raw material from which the personality is fashioned, is important, I liked being reminded of that little factoid.

#1. I like thinking of getting this characteristic from my mother. #2. It helps me to understand when some people are perpetually down in the dumps, gloom and doom prognosticators or dismal days ahead. They are what they are.

All that to say that like Rubin, although I am generally a happy person, I could be happier. I could work on that other 50 percent of my temperament that can change according to personal choices, effort, and environment.  We all can. Some people just choose not to. Like Rubin, I realized that nothing was going to change unless I made it happen. It’s yet another way of saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

There are dozens and dozens of suggestions in The Happiness Project, but today I’m zeroing in on a neat concept, emotional contagion. If you’re around people who are negative, pessimistic, or complaining, guess what happens? Right. You become more like them. Years ago, I came across a phrase that I’ve practiced ever since I saw it: sidestep negative energy. I don’t want to be infected by negativity, and have consequently tried to surround myself with positive people (note above photo). I want to be uplifted, not brought down.

Here’s the flip side to this emotional contagion concept. We all  have the power to affect other people’s moods. I think this is especially true for women, for it seems that they set the emotional tone of the home. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true that the dad, brother, husband can send out negative vibes too, of course, but when he does, often people just stay out of his way.

I’ve made the choice to act upbeat and happy in the belief that my mood will affect the people around me. Rubin says she began singing in the morning and that her children liked that. She also began acting silly with them and found that her children and husband “caught” her mood. I haven’t started singing yet, but I have started listening to more music and humming along. And I’m working on the silly part.

Regardless of inner feelings, I’m making a concerted effort to act happier today. I’m going to put the emotional contagion concept to work and smile more. What’s something you can do to affect your environment, the one inside of your head and the one you live in?

Let’s Get Happy!

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It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?