Very, very cool article in the NYT Mag:
"The Futile Pursuit of Happiness" by Jon Gertner
I have been trying to summarize the most interesting points, but it is so long, and there are so many of them, that I have just deleted most of what was turning out to be a very long post. I'll just say what came to mind for me when I read it, and will provide some excerpts later if it looks like people don't have the patience to read the whole article.
[quote]''Happiness is a signal that our brains use to motivate us to do certain things. And in the same way that our eye adapts to different levels of illumination, we're designed to kind of go back to the happiness set point. Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us.''[/quote]
My husband really, really likes to have a clean house. He thinks that he will be blissfully happy if things are absolutely, perfectly clean. The thing is, after about 11 years of knowing him, I have seen that the distance to perfect cleanliness has remained constant, through many variations in actual circumstances. When we were DINKS, with both time and money, we had a stupendously clean house and yard. It was quite a challenge to find any dust, everything worked perfectly, etc., etc. His pressing projects at that time were things like sanding down a few millimeters from the door so that it closed more smoothly. But they were pressing. He HAD to do these things.
Now, we have a kid, we live in an old kinda rickety house, we're incredibly busy, and there are genuine messes. You can find dust without much problem at all, the downstairs bathroom hasn't worked for a while. His level of compulsion to clean is about exactly the same, while there is much more that actually "needs" to be done. And he is "satisfied" (if temporarily) at a level of cleanliness much lower than before.
I have long noted this, when he starts one of his urgent, "We just have to do A,B, and C, and then everything will be fine" lobbies. I say, "If it's actually urgent, fine. But everything is always urgent to the exact same degree, whether it's fixing the bathroom or dusting the tops of the doorways. If we actually do this, you need to be SATISFIED for a while, instead of just coming up with another A, B and C a day or so after we finish this campaign." He recognizes this and agrees with it.
This whole theory brought all of that into focus -- that he thinks he knows what will make him happy, but that incredibly ornery organ, the brain, has different ideas. That we always feel like if we had just ___ more money, we'd be fine, and have felt like that from when we were living on something like $10,000/ year to when we were DINKs making far more than that to now when we're making much less again. "Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us.''
Definitely read the hot/cold stuff, too.