Happiness Should be Reclassified as a Verb (''To Happ'' or ''Happinessing'')

by phil on Saturday May 1, 2004 12:25 AM
Seligman, happiness

After starting Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness, I think that the word "happiness" should be reclassified as a verb or at least a gerrund (a verb with a +ing at the end, "to happ" perhaps or "happinessing" ??).

I gained this insight strolling over this passage:

Muscle physiology distingushes between tonic activity (the baseline of electrical activity when the muscle is idling) and phasic activity (the burst of electrical activity when the muscle is challenged and contracts). Most of psychology is about tonic activity; introversion, high IQ, depression, and anger, for example, are all measured in the absence of any real-world challenge, and the hope of the psychometrician is to predict what a person will actually do when confronted with a phasic challenge. How well do tonic measures fare? Does a high IQ predict a truly canny response to a customer saying no? How well does tonic deperession predict collapse when a person is fired? "Moderately well, but imperfectly" is the best general answer. Psychology as usual predicts many of the cases, but there are huge numbers of high-IQ people who fail, and another huge number of low-IQ people who succeed when life challenges them to do something actually intelligent in the world. The reason for all these errors is that tonic measures are only moderate predictors of phasic action. I call this imperfection in prediction the Harry Truman effect. Truman, after an undistinguished life, to almost everyone's surprise rose to the occasion when FDR died and ended up becoming one of the greatest presidents. (Page 12)

I read this as an important innovation in our perspective on happiness. Being happy shouldn't be considered a moment in which you assess yourself like with a thermometor and say, "aaah, okay now I'm happy." Or for example, we shouldn't pursue happiness with statements like, "if I could just get that promotion, I'd be happy."

Happiness should possibly be re-tooled as a verb. Instead of asking, "are you happy?" we should ask, "how is happiness going for you?" like it's a thing you do. Or like, "is what you are doing happiness?"

Ghandi or other smart people have said similar things: "It's not the destination, it's the journey that counts". or, "enjoy the ride".

The key, it seems, is to have happy journeys. Even if your relationship doesn't work out, or your job falls to shreds, or America is screwed, there should always be a way that you can either spin or position yourself so that you carry on with grace.

To me, I'm starting to look at happiness--in the verb sense--as a process of disengaging myself from idleness. When I'm drawn to action by a positive motivator, then that is happiness. Happiness is being compelled to act with enthusiasm. For example, building stuff is happinessing, as is having great conversations. Pursuing women, at times, is a happiness-process, as is journalling my thoughts.

None of these things make me happy, but rather they are happiness.

Answering the question, "How can I do something with enthusiasm?" may be the path to happiness.

I am no expert on being happy, though, but these are just some nuggets to stir your thought. Plus, I love anything that changes my ontology. This is as much my own attempt to find happiness as it is to offer advice.


brandon said on May 3, 2004 3:14 AM:

hey, i've had this very same thought! i wrote about it in my livejournal account:

"I likened happiness to the lapping water. It doesn't go away, but it does undulate (that was the word she used). I think this is a good analogy, and I have decided to call the term Dynamic Satisfaction.

"Dynamic satisfaction does not aim to be content with a given situation. It is something that revels in challenge, in growth, and in ever-changing circumstances. A man who is dynamically satisfied will not become lazy in his deeds, but will wish always to improve his situation, precisely because he enjoys it."

Philip Dhingra said on May 3, 2004 2:43 PM:

cool cool, you know what they say about great minds...

I like that phrase too, "dynamic satisfaction," because it strictly places satisfaction as a velocity-like phenomenon, as opposed to static, stationary one.

brandon said on May 3, 2004 7:52 PM:

yeah, it took me the better part of an evening to decide on that exact phraseology.

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