Monday, June 20, 2011

Joy's soul lies in the doing. --Shakespeare

When Harry Harlow took his students to the zoo, they were surprised to find that apes and monkeys would solve problems just for the fun of it. ...Harlow had noticed the overwhelming evidence that people and many other mammals have a basic drive to make things happen. ...Psychologists have referred to this basic need as a need for competence, industry, or mastery. White called it the "effectance motive," which he defined as the need or drive to develop competence through interacting with and controlling one's environment.
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis 2006

I read this, and I suddenly understood all my frustration with my disease. It's this very drive, this "competence principle" that I have a biological need to meet, but it gets stymied by the physical or psychological demands of my disease. Melody Beattie wrote, "There's no negotiating with a disease." And I've found that to be true. I know my diseases' limits, and if I try to push past that, the consequences are not pretty.

I love to clean. Like Abby on CSI, "harmony without creates harmony within." So when I am physically unable to clean, it disorders me. I become a mess inside too. And I never fully understood until now why: when I am able to effect change in my environment, it makes me feel competent. Conversely, when I am unable to change my world, I feel inadequate. If I can't change my environment, it's natural for me, like all animals to get stressed and depressed! Go to any zoo and you'll fin a neurotic pacing animal. They can't change their environment. They're stuck. And going nuts.

It's why I want so badly to do projects. I have a million project ideas swimming in my head. But it's difficult to feed that need for effecting my environment. My hands don't last long enough to paint, sew or cook. Writing one of these articles generally takes two days. That's frustrating. Sure, I eventually get the reward, but the delayed gratification lessens the intensity of the reward.

Dealing with the environment means carrying on a continuing transaction which gradually changes one's relation to the environment. ...You can see it in the lethargy that often overtakes people who stop working, whether from retirement, being fired, or winning the lottery.

I, of course, would add: or becoming disabled.

You could say that this blog is affecting my environment, and it is. But I notice a distinct difference in my writing this blog rather than my previous blog.

My previous blog was a lot of symptom tracking, which was useful, and venting, which was necessary. I described everything I was going through from day to day. I pushed through the pain to blog because it gave my mind something to do. I sought out comics and comedians because the laughter was life-sustaning to me. But it never fed my need to change my environment. All it was was a reinforcement of the environment I couldn't change.

This blog is different. I force myself to look at dark and dangerous situation and find the good in them. I look for constructive ways to reframe my thinking. I look at the situation from the 'other side's' perspective to learn compassion for what they're going through. When I get feedback here, I know it's because I've helped or touched the heart of someone. Having that affect on my environment feeds me.

So I would say that while these guys are on the right track, they miss a big obvious: the change I make in my environment has to match with my values. For me, helping someone else help themselves is a huge value for me. For someone else, it may be brokering that deal, solving that case, mastering an instrument, or restoring an heirloom. It's the basic drive to say, "I did that!" and be proud of it. If I can't take pride in it, it has little, if any, payoff.

Now that I know this, I can keep an eye out for the little, positive things I can do that let me know I've made a change in my environment. When I see a chore, I can look at it as an opportunity for joy rather than something I *have* to do. I will take advantage of every "look, I made a good" moment I can, because that will help feed my soul.

It's always awesome to learn something new. ^_^

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