Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to be happy being broken...

There is no way to insulate ourselves from mistakes. You can memorize everything, you can graduate magna cum laude, and get more degrees than a thermometer... You will still make mistakes. No one is immune. There is no vaccination. There is no pill to make you perfect. Stand up, and know that you are enough anyway. There is no formula for a perfect life. In fact, did you know that there are two types of happiness?! (You do, but you probably weren't even aware of it.) And most of how we go about happiness is all wrong. We go for happiness-in-the-moment, when we should be going for happiness-in-the-memory.

What's amazing (they've measured this), is that my happiness-in-the-moment can be greater, but it's my happiness-in-the-memory that is more important to my overall sense of well-being. That is, I can go through a terrible experience, but if I'm able to remember it in a positive way, it gives the whole experience a feeling of happiness. And it's this memory of happiness that is more important to how I rate my whole life as whether it's happy or not. Conversely, we can be happy for something in the moment, but if we don't remember it in a happy way, it can spoil the whole experience. We know this already. We have a phrases for it: "buyer's remorse." ... "the Honeymoon period" ... "it seemed like a good idea at the time." I can be absolutely thrilled in the moment, but if I remember it in a negative light, all that momentary joy is meaningless. And we can be enjoying and experience and having a grand old time, but if it's ruined at the last second, the whole experience gets ruined. We were happy for 99% of the event. But that 1%, because it was the last one percent, makes or breaks all of it.

Isn't it funny how our minds work? Here's the guy who did the science behind it:

There was a skiing trip that my family got to take one year where everything went wrong. Our plane was delayed by several hours so we didn't get on the ground until around midnight. We were all kids at the time, so we were exhausted. When we finally piled into the rental car, the first one wouldn't start. So we piled everything out, put it in the next rental car, only to discover once we'd left the lot (of course), that the gas gauge didn't work. Third rental car, and we're finally on our way, only to then go through so many other mistakes and injustices on the trip (the hot water heater in our unit self-destructed, the replacement unit they gave us the front door wouldn't close...) that it just got funny. It was so absurd, and so much went wrong that we ended up laughing about the whole thing by the end. It was something out of National Lampoon's Family Vacation. And even though it was the vacation from hell, we still laugh about it to this day. At the time we were miserable. We've been happy about it ever since.

I hold the power to be happy about all my memories, if I want. There are certainly some bad memories that should probably stay bad. Hot does still mean hot, and fire burns... But even if the experience was terrible, I don't have to remember the experience terribly. College was an awfully hard experience for me, constantly filled with stress, financial worry, poor health and near-constant performance anxiety. But I got through. And I can look back on that whole experience proudly, even if I was a wreck at the time. Same goes for my health experiences. They're awful to go through! But when I triumph on the other side, I can look back and be proud of myself for going through all that. I have very visible, bright, white scars on my face from battling MRSA (it nearly killed me). But I never hide those scars with make-up. You should know I went through battle. I'm proud I survived. The scars tell that tale.

I can even help write this story of happiness ahead of time. I can look at my life and imagine, "Now, when I look back on this time, what am I going to be grateful for?" Thinking of my life in those terms, I can set myself up for happiness in the future, and experience a taste of it now. For me, even though I'm desperately trying to get back to a "normal" life, I am going to look back on this time and be grateful for all the research I was able to do. I've had the opportunity to let my curiosity wander and chase after what it finds fascinating, and I have found some amazing things (including the video above). Since I now know the memory is more important than the experience, I can see my life for how I will remember it, and then the experience of it isn't so difficult. Right now, this moment can be broken all it wants, if I can remember it happily, that's what counts. I can be broken in many ways, but if I remember me happily, that's what matters.

How are you going to remember your today, tomorrow?


  1. "Happiness-in-the-memory" is a great concept. As a recovering perfectionist (it's definitely a work in progress), I'm trying hard to keep these kinds of ideas in mind. Thanks for the reminder!