The Original Desperate Housewife

Do you ever desire extra spice in your life? Ever wondered what it would be like to be rich and famous? Or even just daydreamed about an evening that didn’t include the word “Netflix?” I for one have a high threshold for boredom. This characteristic stands out starkly when I spend time with my sister who is an adrenaline-junky-extrovert; a fun night for me is usually turning on the X-Files while a fun night for her is turning the pedals on her bike for a 20-mile ride.

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An awesome component of modern life is the plethora of options available to avoid boredom. This was not the case back in the 1850’s. Life during that time for the poor entailed a lot of hard work for both men and women. If you were lucky enough to have money, life could be filled with all sorts of social activities and luxuries. One of the worst places in society for boredom was that of the middle-class woman. Women in the middle-class had enough money, so work was not required but not enough money to be a member of the social sphere. This equation more times than not ended with the original “Desperate Houswife.” This was the situation that inspired Gustave Flaubert to write his most famous work Madame Bovary in 1856. A story that broke the mold for novels and was banned for some time because of its literary realism.

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Madame Bovary follows the marriage, affairs, and extreme dissatisfaction of Emma Bovary. Emma simply wanted more from life than what her simple doctor husband could provide – she dreamed of “true” love which she read about in her novels. Love to Emma was supposed to feel like a gush of refreshing water falling from the skies, not the humdrum monotony of her marriage – even though her husband was patient, caring, and intimate. She not only wanted a prince but wanted to be respected as a princess – when in reality she had the means of a farm girl. At one point Emma did feel she had reached complete bliss during her first affair…

“‘It’s because I love you,’ she would interrupt. ‘I love you so much that I can’t do without you – you know that, don’t you?…I’m your slave and your concubine! You’re my king, my idol! You’re good! You’re beautiful! You’re wise! You’re strong!”

As with so many affairs, the woman and man had very different outlooks…

He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.

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Ouch! Unsurprisingly, the relationship dissolved when the chap realized Emma was a little nutty. This dialogue represents the main point of the book: seeking happiness and contentment from outside sources will never be satisfying. Emma never finds happiness because she is always looking for the wrong formula: If I could only have (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Happiness is never something that happens to us. Happiness is something we cultivate internally. It is a practice just like building muscles at the gym. Emma never “exercised” and many people today fall prey to the same idleness. Are you bored? Are you discontent? Are you fed up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to practice happiness. The best way to avoid the “Desperate Housewife Syndrome” is to be proactive and grateful. Gratitude is the single best exercise to prevent Emma-like mistakes that always end in disaster. What are you grateful for? I for one am thankful that I am not Madame Bovary’s husband.

***To practice daily gratitude, I downloaded the app “Insight Timer” which provides various meditation breaks. Try it out and friend me (Jon Oldham).***

 

Guaranteed Happiness in 3 Steps

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”

-English poet William Blake

Are you a bubbly unicorn or a grumpy cat? I find it interesting how some people are just naturally “happier” than others. There is a reason for this phenomenon. We are all born with an emotional set point that affects our everyday mood and outlook on the world. My set point is a slightly uncomfortable 62 degrees while Ashley, my effervescent coworker, has a toasty set-point of 78 degrees. How do I raise my good-feelings thermostat? Why are we obsessed with happiness? Is there any hope for us folks who seem to always be sitting on a cactus? In search of these answers, I recently read Spontaneous Happiness by Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil is a hippy who got his MD from Harvard and spent most of his career researching techniques to cultivate happiness.

Before we address how to become happier, we need to first look at some unrealistic expectations. America is obsessed with being happy. Every time we greet each other there is an automatic response of “good” “great” or even “absolutely fantastic.” This drives me crazy because I am usually feeling mediocre or just average. Whenever I respond with a “mediocre” the person who just asked me contorts their face in a matter that says, “do you need the suicide hotline number?” America is obsessed with happiness because of many cultural reasons: constant products being sold to increase happiness, the belief that happy people are more productive, America’s preeminence as being the best in every thing – including positive emotions. Happiness is an unrealistic emotion to have at all times. Think of our emotions as a seesaw, they pivot up and down on a fixed set point. This set point is not happiness but best described with the words: contentment, serenity, comfort, balance, and resilience. The Swedish term for this is known as Lagom and means “just right” or “exactly enough.” So our goal is to increase our frequency of Lagom which provides two things: greater emotional balance and the ability to reach spontaneous happiness more often.

So what is spontaneous happiness? Let me give an example. Say I am reading a book under a comfortable blanket and I feel content and at peace. I am not necessarily “happy” but rather in an emotional equilibrium. As I am reading, the doorbell rings and to my surprise it is a free pizza gifted by a fan of my blog ;). This provides me with a rush of happiness and tilts my emotional seesaw upwards. That is spontaneous happiness. How can we cultivate that spontaneous happiness and increase the set point of our contentment?

  1. Go out in nature: We are designed to be outdoors. When we get more sunlight, fresh air, and exercise we feel better and have a greater ability to avoid negative thoughts.
  2. Spend time with people who bring you happiness: This one seems like a no brainer but we tend to isolate ourselves and spend a lot of time with our faces on our screens. Happiness is best fostered with people who regularly laugh, joke, and view the world in an optimistic light. Avoid interactions with conspiracy theorists or people who regularly write book reports on Herbert Hoover.
  3. Foster gratitude: Gratitude is the single greatest tool that can raise your Lagom set point and hurdle you into happiness. It takes practice but start focusing on three things that you are grateful for each night before going to bed. Gratitude and nature also go hand in hand. Walk outside in the cold and when you get home you will be ecstatic to have a warm cup of coffee and blanket to snuggle under.

We don’t need to be happy all the time. The view that we must feel like a unicorn running through a field of ice-cream cones has in part led us to seek antidepressants at a record number – the rate of depression has increased ten-fold since WWII. Depression is complex but it is many times influenced by our expectations that happiness is the norm and our lack of understanding of how to live a content existence. We need a seesaw of emotions so we can appreciate both the highs and lows. If your “thermostat” runs a little cooler than others don’t feel inferior – it is perfectly normal. If you would like to warm up a little bit just practice those techniques – wrapping yourself in a blanket of Lagom and spontaneous happiness.