Beyond the Triangle



Is this photo by Kate Beale too funny or what? I burst out laughing the minute I saw it. And although I don’t remember what my mood was prior to seeing it I know that I felt a little lighter afterwards.

Laughter begets laughter doesn’t it? So, it follows that happiness begets happiness. And unhappiness leads to more unhappiness.

Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, that is, those who can adapt to changing circumstances will survive, is just as relevant to a species as it is to our own emotional lives. You can ultimately navigate your way out of grief or frustration with a little emotional training. This is not Polly Anna speaking, but the result of bonafide research from experts in the field of happiness research. Nowhere is this concept more clearly illustrated than with food. I LOVE good food. It is the one vice you can indulge in every hour of every day. Food honestly makes me happy. I get excited by the sheer thought of an approaching meal. Not only do my taste buds revel in each food flavor but my serotonin levels soar.  It’s a very happy personal experience.

At those times when the “best” food is unavailable, I will still try to adore the food experience by ‘adapting” or adjusting my expectations to my current circumstances. Hunger helps.

Take plane food for instance. My husband avoids it.  But in flight I will always grab a glass of “plane” wine and order up the braised beef with unbridled joy. Adjusting our expectations based on our current conditions creates satisfaction rather than disappointment. To bemoan the less than ideal position you find yourself in (a plane rather than a 5-star bistro) is not goal oriented.  Expecting identical results (supreme happiness) from varying circumstances (life) is destined for failure. That doesn’t mean you abandon standards. You prioritize them. If dancing is the objective who cares if the only fella available as a dance partner has two left feet.

It would be unreasonable to expect that each life experience would evolve the way we expect it to. And sometimes things turn out better than we ever could have dreamed they would.  “If we can… actually feel gratitude for what we have in our lives then we can be happier, says UCLA psychology professor Dr. Robert Emmons in an A.B.C. report. “Gratitude is a sustainable approach to life that can be freely chosen for oneself. It is choosing to focus on blessings rather than burdens, gifts rather than curses, and people report that it transforms their lives.”

It would be almost impossible for a man who is 5 feet 2 to be chosen for the NBA. So to wish for such a position is unreasonable.  Much better to take the love of the game in another direction and coach pros or write about them or simply do what you can rather than regretting what you cannot. In other words, adapt.

On a more serious note, finding a way to live life without someone you love is a major hurdle and impossible for some.  Death is the most brutal form of loss. There is a hole in our hearts- forever. Life is simply less without our loved one in it. Over time, if we hope to be happy again, we adapt by filling the void with something or someone else. Or by becoming at least grateful for the life that we have enjoyed.

Luckily, Dr. Robert Emmons says “gratitude” and the positive outcome it leads to is a commodity available to everyone.”It is a [psychological] trait,” Emmons said, “but unlike something like extraversion-introversion, it is not fixed in one’s biological makeup. We have some control over it.  If we can show gratitude either by simply saying thank you more often or just actually feel gratitude for what we have in our lives then we can be happier. ”

Emmons stresses that folks who are naturally optimistic will have an easier time with self “gratitude training” than a disagreeable person but he also predicts that concerted efforts to retrain ourselves can produce fantastically positive results.

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