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Happiness Hypothesis



I have decided I want my life to be simple – a roof over my head. Food to eat. Clothes on my back. Good work to do. People to love. Fresh air and sunshine and rain and trees and oceans and mountains to take in.

That is all I really need to be happy.

And hope.

Hope that life CAN be simple. That the world’s problems can be solved, one person at a time. That despite how quickly everything is changing and how weak the economy is and how many thousands of dollars I owe in student loans and even how many people were killed yesterday in Japan’s earthquake – everything, somehow, will be okay. That love will win out over hate; generosity over selfishness; compassion over fear.

I listened to a couple of TED talks today, and was reminded of all the good changes that have happened in the world in the last 100 years. Diseases that have been eradicated, freedoms that have been won, prejudices that have been eroded, if not yet completely conquered.

I have nothing to be unhappy about. Everything I need, I have, and so much more. And there are good things happening in the world. Things I can be a part of. Things I can do to help make sure that other people have what they need.

How I feel day-to-day about life, I am realizing for the hundredth time, has little to do with my circumstances, and everything to do with my state of mind.

And my state of mind, in turn, seems to depend almost completely upon following, ridiculously simple factors:

Getting adequate rest

Getting adequate exercise

Eating a balanced diet

Staying connected to people in my life

For some reason, when I think about happiness, I picture Steve Martin in “The Jerk”, wandering half-dressed through his mansion after a big fight with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, mumbling, “This chair…and this paddle-ball…and this TV set…and that’s all I need to be happy.”

Don’t worry. The whole movie is a joke. Not a drama. It makes me smile.

And I think to myself, “A goodnight’s sleep, a good run in the rain, a good meal, and a good conversation with a dear friend…and that’s all I need to be happy.”

And it really is.

Sleep is a waste of time.

No. Seriously.

If I didn’t have to lay down and go unconscious every 16 or so hours, I could work 12-hour days and still have twelve hours left over to do stuff like change my oil and call my insurance company and, just maybe, shave my legs.

I could play my guitar and piano more than once a week, and maybe start to make some progress.

I could….wait for it….EXERCISE!

Man. I wish I didn’t have to sleep.

Isn’t it weird that we do? Doesn’t it just seem odd? I understand the whole resting thing, from a biological perspective. Your muscles and other body cells are working hard all day, keeping you alive. I could see how going through a daily period of decreased activity would be needed to allow those cells to get “caught up” and replenish themselves.

What is less intuitive to me is the whole consciousness thing. Why is it that, in order to rest your cells, you have to shut off your consciousness? Although, now that I mention it, I suppose those neural cells, where your consciousness exists, may be working the hardest of all. When you sit down, your muscle cells get to relax. Once your meal is digested, your intestinal cells get a break. But when do you ever quit thinking? NEVER!

I’ve been thinking so much lately, that my brain has been getting stuck in the “On” position.

I went to bed at 8:30 on Sunday night, in preparation for my first week back to school after winter break.

At 1:00 I was still staring up at the glowing sticky stars left behind on my apartment’s ceiling by the former tenants, and obsessing about what I was going to teach my kids the next day.

The next night was the same. I laid there incredulously. I have never had this problem before in my life. When I’m tired, I sleep, by golly. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME?!? It’s not as if I’m doing brain surgery, or running a country, or cutting multi-billion dollar deals. I’m just teaching a bunch of 14 year-olds about gravity.

A veteran teacher today told me I need to not care so much.

In my blissfully ignorant pre-certification days, I would have taken that advice with a smile and nod and inward, holier-than-thou shake of my head, and left it behind in my forward march toward super-passionate-teacher-of-the-century-teenage-life-altering-educator stardom.

Now, I am grasping onto that teacher’s advice and desperately trying to follow through on it. I feel a little bit bad, but for the sake of my sanity, I don’t really have much choice.

I just read a statistic that 50% of teachers quit within their first 5 years of teaching. It didn’t surprise me at all.

And I am looking around at the ones who are still doing it after 25, 30, 40 years, and seeing that they tend to be the ones who don’t “care so much.” It’s not that they don’t care about the kids. They definitely do. And some still care deeply, even after all that time.

I think the key is that they don’t care about things not being perfect. It is like they have resigned themselves to the fact that you just don’t really have the time or energy to live a real, happy, healthy normal life and be the kind of teacher you watch in movies like “Freedom Writer.”

So I’m going to try to tell myself every day, “Eh. No big deal.”

My kids are not excited about the lesson I planned for them? No big deal. I didn’t get the quizzes graded by the time I said I would? No big deal.The awesome lab I planned fell flat on its face when half the beans we planted didn’t sprout? Eh…so what?

The world will keep on turning and everything will be fine.

I admit there are some bigger problems than these examples (kids not passing no matter how far you bend over backward to help them, administrators dropping into your class to observe on your most disorganized day of the month, your final exam not converting into the correct format so that you can print it the morning of the test…) but those are pretty few and far between.

I think I am going to make it. At least through this year. (We’ll see what happens next fall).

But it sure would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t need to lay around unconscious for 7-8 hours every night.