How To Be Happy Lesson #20: Get Small

Humans are famous for not paying close attention to what goes on around them. Part of the reason for this is likely the fear of a deadly spontaneous implosion brought on by excessive sensory overload (I’m probably only speaking for myself here). The other is a certain kind of snoberance [arrogoant snobbery]. If something is “little,” after all, it doesn’t deserve our notice or attention, right?

Wrong. Here’s an explanation from Cracked.com:

Life can be a total drag, there’s no denying that. Every day is loaded with little pitfalls — stepping in dog s**t, getting yelled at, farting in your car during a traffic jam and it’s hot out and your windows don’t work — that can fill you with unrelenting rage. But then there are those little moments between all that garbage that make you so unquestionably joyful, you forget about the poo on your shoe. Let’s take a minute to honor those moments.

Cracked describes such moments as “dumb things that make you happier than they should.” Their list begins with “Having a public bathroom all to yourself” and ends with “receiving a package you forgot you ordered.” In between are “belching in an empty parking garage” and “finding an unpopped sheet of bubble wrap.”

Cyber-Breeze ups the ante on Cracked with “50 Little Weird Things That Make Us Happier.” Number 50 on this list is “the Royal Family” (the UK naturally). Things indeed get a little weird after that as you see “Cleaning the Bathroom” and “Cleaning the Wax from Your Ears” scroll by. Number 1 is “Sleeping in a Freshly Made Bed.” My favorite on this list, though, is Number 29: “Remembering the name of something/someone you thought you’d forgotten,” although I would change it to “Remembering Anything That Happened More than Five Minutes Ago.”

And the lists go on and on. Buffer offers “10 Weird Ways to Be Happy, Backed by Science.” Prevention throws out “6 Weird Things That Make You Happy.” Seventeen enters the happiness fray with “20 Silly Little Things That Make You Ridiculously Happy,” including “when you find a folded chip (AKA, a wish chip) in your bag of chips.” Okaaaaayyy. Mashable offers another 50 things like “a box of corgi puppies” and “finding that missing sock.”

All these examples make Lesson #20 seem obvious. Why spend time searching for the exigestaltial [existential gestalt-like] Shangri-La of happiness when its mini-incarnations are all around us. Here are two little things making me happy right this instant:

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Viking Duck and Rubberlina, together forever. Are you smiling yet? Are you?

(P.S. And you thought my title was about that other thing, didn’t you? That makes me grin, too.)

How to Be Happy Lesson #19: Consider Unicorns

See how this strikes you. A disgraced police detective, Nick, lives as a social outcast, filling his days with heavy drinking and substance abuse, moonlighting as a hitman to feed his various habits. After sustaining a massive heart attack, Nick comes into contact with a small, blue, winged unicorn named Happy, which apparently only he can see. Happy explains he is the imaginary friend of a little girl named Halley, who has been kidnapped by a deranged man dressed as Santa Claus (“Very Bad Santa”). Happy reveals that Halley is Nick’s estranged daughter and is seeking Nick’s aid, believing him to be the hero cop that Halley envisioned him to be. Though skeptical at first, Nick reluctantly agrees and the two work to save the girl.

The show, as you might not have guessed, is called Happy! and is available on Netflix. It begins very unhappily with Nick imagining himself blowing his own head off and then somehow dancing with the seemingly revivified Solid Gold Dancers as blood and gore streams from the top of his skull. Things go downhill from there.

While watching the first episode of Happy! did nothing to make me so, it did get me to wondering about unicorns. In today’s vernacular, a unicorn is either “that perfect girl you can’t ever catch” or a single female swinger interested in meeting other couples (or both I suppose). In ancient terms, though, it is the mythical horse (or sometimes a goat-like animal) with the big horn sticking out of its forehead (as shown below). The concept of this magical beast has been around since the Bronze Age and the Ancient Greeks but how it came into being is murky.

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That said, here are some fun “facts” regarding these one-horned animals courtesy of Mental Floss:

  • People thought they had found a 15,000 BCE drawing of a unicorn in the Lascaux Caves until they figured out it was just an animal with two horns drawn close together.
  • The first writing about a unicorn (5th century BCE) described it as having “a white body, purple head, blue eyes, and a multicolored horn–red at the tip, black in the middle, and white at the base. (Later, the Roman Pliny would morph this into “the body of a horse, the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, and a single black horn three feet long in the middle of its forehead.”)
  • Marco Polo thought he stumbled across unicorns and called them “very ugly brutes to look at.” Chances are he was staring at rhinoceroses at the time.
  • Ghenghis Khan supposedly decided not to invade India after meeting a unicorn that bowed to him.
  • It was during the Dark Ages that the idea of virgins having great power over unicorns first cropped up.
  • The King James Old Testament mentions unicorns nine times due to someone mistranslating a Hebrew word for wild ox.
  • From the 1500s through the 1700s, “authentic” unicorn horn was worth more than gold. It usually could be found in pharmacies in powdered form.
  • Unicorns are very popular in heraldry, especially that of King James III of Scotland in the 1400s. Indeed, two gold coins of that time were named the unicorn and the half-unicorn.
  • If you find yourself with a sudden desire to hunt unicorns, you can obtain a permit for this from Lake Superior State University in Michigan. Hunters are advised to carry a flask of cognac and a pair of pinking shears.

I’ll end my unicornitribe [overly prolonged discourse on the horned horse] on this note. In his article “Fantastically Wrong: The Weird, Kinda Perverted History of the Unicorn,” author Matt Simon reveals that, in 2012, North Korean archeologists (who knew they had them?) found “the lair of one of the unicorns ridden by the ancient Korean King Tongmyong.” What tipped them off, Simon writes, “was, no joke, the words ‘Unicorn Lair’ written right in front of the damn thing.”

Today, the ancient horned unicorn has become mostly kidified. Simon describes it as a “magical, gentle creature, running around on rainbows and inspiring millions with regular appearances in My Little Pony and the occasional acid trip and in North Korea.”

So, here, finally, is lesson #19 in how to be happy, which is more of an instruction than a lesson. Whenever your emotional shade has turned the color of a certain imaginary winged single-horned creature struggling to stay upbeat in a “world of casual murder, soulless sex, and betrayal,” just read this blog over and over until you feel better. If this example of the utter ridiculousness made possible by human febrilcranial activity [also known as feverlirium] doesn’t make you smile, well…just hang in there. Lesson #20 is only days away.

How to Be Happy Lesson #18: Get Daffy

April being National Poetry Month, I hereby offer William Wordsworth’s 1807 poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud” as Lesson #18:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

800px-Wordsworth_on_Helvellyn_by_Benjamin_Robert_Haydon

How to Be Happy Lesson #17: Get Thee to a Shrinkery

“And happiness – if such a thing is even achievable – is a much murkier matter.” This rather “disenhappying” statement falls in the middle of Oliver Burkeman’s 2016 article in The Guardian titled “Therapy wars: The Revenge of Freud.” Burkeman relates the story of how Freudian psychoanalysis has been much debunked since its salad days in the late 1890s through the 1940s. To visit a psychoanalyst in these “modern” times, as Burkeman did, is to “plunge immediately into the arcane Freudian language of ‘resistance’ and ‘neurosis,’ ‘transference’ and countertransference.'” The doctor Burkeman went to see views himself as “an excavator of the catacombs of the unconscious: of the sexual drives that lurk beneath awareness; the hatred we feel for those we claim to love; and the other distasteful truths about ourselves we don’t know, and often don’t wish to know.” Yikes! What’s that old saw about leaving well enough alone?

Many have taken a dim view of psychoanalysis as a path to well-being and happiness since its inception. One critic Burkeman cites had this to say about Freud and his ideas: “Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically wrong about nearly every important thing he had to say.” Freudian analysis became de rigeur to say the least, he tells us, and of all the therapies that arose to compete to be the psychopenultanine [top dog in psychology], cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) won out. Rather than diving into what you think about your mother or the level of your dickealosy [penis envy], CBT focuses on “adjusting the unhelpful thought patterns that cause negative emotions.”

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just dial in the correct emotional settings and you’re good to go. But, as Burkeman reports, some psychoanalysts think CBT is a cheap and bogus path to happiness:

At their core is a fundamental disagreement about human nature – about why we suffer, and how, if ever, we can hope to find peace of mind.”

CBT doesn’t exactly claim that happiness is easy, but it does imply that it’s relatively simple: your distress is caused by your irrational beliefs, and it’s within your power to seize hold of those beliefs and change them.

Psychoanalysts contend that things are much more complicated.

This is the point where the “happiness is murkier” line comes in. Some recent studies have shown that CBT may not be as effective as previously thought, that it may be more of a placebo than a cure for mental anguish, and some say the CBT may even make things worse.

Toward the end of his article, Burkeman offers this admission:

Perhaps the only undeniable truth to emerge from disputes among therapists is that we still don’t have much of a clue how minds work. When it comes to easing mental suffering, “it’s like we’ve got a hammer, a saw, a nail-gun and a loo brush, and this box that doesn’t always work properly, so we just keep hitting the box with each of these tools to see what works,” said Jules Evans, policy director for the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London.

The legacy of Freud, Burkeman writes, is “a reminder that we shouldn’t necessarily expect life to be all that happy, nor to assume we can ever really know what’s going on inside – indeed, that we’re often deeply emotionally invested in preserving our ignorance of unsettling truths.”

Lucy

Well, shoot. I can’t end this lesson on how to be happy on that note. There is one renowned psychoanalyst that Burkeman omits from his discussion: Lucy van Pelt. Lucy offers sage, very reasonably priced advice to her clients, e.g., “Go home and eat a jellybread sandwich folded over.” So, in her incisive, succinct words, lesson #17 in how to be happy is simply this: “Snap out of it!”

How to Be Happy Lesson #16: Happy Feet

One of the early advocates of happiness listed on the Pursuit of Happiness website is Mencius, a Chinese philosopher who lived two hundred years after Confucius and who has been ranked second behind his predecessor on the “sage scale.” The POH authors describe Mencius as the “pioneer of Positive Psychology.” They also attribute this quote to him.

When they (the sprouts of virtue) are rejoiced in, they will grow. Once they begin growing, how can they be stopped? As they cannot be stopped, unconsciously one’s feet begin to dance and one’s hands begin to move.

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Let’s dance!

Mencius believed that humans are endowed from birth with innate “sprouts” of humanity and righteousness and that cultivating those sprouts is what turns us into virtuous people, which in turn makes us feel so good that we involuntarily break into the happy dance. As I read this, I started wondering whether the opposite were true, that is, if I got up in the morning and started the day by putting on the soundtrack from Happy Feet and dancing, would that feeling flow upward, nourish my sprouts of humanity and righteousness, and make me virtuous in the “try not to be a dick” sense?

I don’t know. Dancing may not do all of that but get this: “Science confirms: Dancing makes you happy.” In this article, Psychology Spot author Jennifer Delgado tells us that “recent studies revealed that one of the keys to happiness and satisfaction is right on the dance floor.” Jennifer cites one study that “found that often those who were dancing not only reported feeling happier, but also more satisfied with their lives, especially in relationships, health, and the goals achieved over the years.” She also notes that even just moving to a rhythmic beat improves our mood and that dancing can promote “fewer negative thoughts, better concentration and a greater sense of peace and tranquility.” In addition, it can help relieve anxiety, depression, and stress.

So, what’s not to like about dancing? But how does it work its magic upon us? One, the miracle of chemistry. More specifically,

When we dance our brain releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that create a feeling of comfort, relaxation, fun and power. Music and dance do not only activate the sensory and motor circuits of our brain, but also the pleasure centers.

Two, dancing is a social activity that gets us out and about and engaging with others in a way that has a positive effect on our mental health.

Three, when we move to the beat “our muscles relax to the music.” This releases tension from even the deepest parts of our musculature.

So, lesson #16 in how to be happy seems obvious; put on your dancing shoes. Added happiness points if said footwear is wacky in and of itself, say, slippers of the heated narwhal, yeti, or Freudian variety.

 

How to Be Happy Lesson #15: Drain the Brain

How many hours per day do you think? This seems an odd question, but the reason for asking it becomes clear when you read Darius Foroux’s blog titled “How to Get Rid of the Thoughts that Are Clogging Your Brain.” If you answered his question by saying “I never thought about it,” DF would say (and did), “So, let me get this straight. You’re thinking all the time, and yet, you never think about how much time you spend thinking. That sounds like an addiction to me.”

But let us (me) back up a bit here. We are born with empty brains–not empty in terms of gray matter, but empty in terms of content. Although we “enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively” in reflexive survival terms according to Robert Epstein, author of “The Empty Brain,”

here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers — design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we don’t develop them–ever.

Robert is dissing those who assert that the human brain works like a computer. In fact, he tells us, human brains operate nothing like computers. He then goes on to list the various theories over time about how we came to be intelligent (broadly speaking, that is). One, some god infused us with its spirit. Two, different fluids in the body govern our physical and mental functioning (the “hydraulic metaphor”). Three, human brains are machines like the telegraph. And finally, human brains “operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software.”

metropolis

Long story shorter, Epstein asserts that we don’t have represeentations of things stored in memory registers. Ask someone to draw a dollar bill from memory without looking at the currency, as he does, and you get a simplistic cartoon image that is nowhere near accurate. In his view, “no one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem is ‘stored’ in it. The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions.”

All this seems to suggest that our brains are indeed empty (I can identify with this) of stored information but have mutated in ways over our lifetimes that allow us to act “correctly” in various situations. As Epstein writes, “all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences.” And

No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain – or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does – not even simple things such as ‘memories’.

Shoot, so not really empty. That means I won’t be able to use the “empty brain” defense (EBD) whenever I forget to remember something.

That also means DF may have a valid point about our brains needing to be cleaned every so often like, sorry Robert, computers need to be divested of old files, random bits, and other digital detritus. But, to be honest, DF writes more about how we use our brains rather than what’s in them: “The truth is that when you overuse your brain, just like a drain, it can get clogged.” (See “brain clog” on the Urban Dictionary.) His curative suggestion for this is “decide to live in the present moment–where you don’t have time to think, only to experience.”

So, lesson 15 on how to be happy is this: Stop thinking about it. The secret, DF says, is to “realize that too much thinking defeats the purpose.” All we need to do to avoid excessive cognitivity is to let go of every thought in our minds. I have to say I’m a little surprised, and perhaps slightly worried, about how easy this is for me.

 

 

 

How to Be Happy Lesson #13: Move to…

…Watertown, New York. Doesn’t this sound like a place you would want to live:

Watertown, in a remote stretch of upstate New York known as the North Country, is an unforgiving place. In winter, the snow careens off Lake Ontario and entombs the town in installments of feet, not inches. The crows arrive around the same time, in whirling flocks, to roost along the Black River. There are so many of them that city contractors have to scare them off with fireworks and lasers, a confusing spectacle of cawing and light. By January, when the temperatures can drop below –10 degrees and the wind whips up, your eyelashes can freeze together before you reach your car.

Watertown

Okay, so the weather may not be great all the time, and the idea of freezing eyelashes is enough to give anyone pause. But, hey, Watertown does have several cool things, purportedly, going for it:

  • It claims to be the birthplace of the five-and-dime store and the safety pin.
  • It is the home of Little Trees air fresheners.
  • It manufactured the first portable steam engine.
  • It has the longest continually operating state fair in the United States.
  • It hosts the oldest surviving semi-professional football team in the country.

Not enough yet to convince you to pack your bags? What if I told you that Watertown is “The Least Politically Prejudiced Place in America“? And, to boot, that the town resides in one of the most politically tolerant counties in the country? It’s all true.

According to Atlantic author Amanda Ripley (believe it or…no, I won’t go there),

Watertown is the seat of Jefferson County, a generally conservative place, which Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016. But people here tend to be less likely than Americans elsewhere to say they’d be upset if a family member married someone from the other party, according to PredictWise. They are more likely to describe their political opponents as “patriotic” and less likely to describe them as selfish.

Ripley tells us that this makes Watertown exceptionable because “in the rest of America, half of Democrats and Republicans see members of the opposing party as not just ill-informed but actually frightening.” She cites other studies that say “Democrats now think Republicans are richer, older, crueler, and more unreasonable than they are in real life,” while “Republicans…think Democrats are more godless, gay, and radical than they actually are.”

Wait, it gets worse. Ripley notes that “demonization eventually bends toward violence” and, according to surveys, “nearly 20 percent of Democrats and Republicans say that many members of the other side ‘lack the traits to be fully human.'” And worse: “About 15 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats agree that the country would be ‘better off if large numbers of the opposing partisans in the public today ‘just died.””

Yikes. I’m sad to say (really) that Monroe County, Florida, where we live, is one of the least politically open-minded counties in the nation. Watertown is sounding better and better, yet…freezing eyelashes. Perhaps we can stay here and just adopt some of the practices that make Watertown a “live and let live” kind of town.

Fred Garry, a Watertown minister, offers two not-so-secret secrets to toning down the rhetoric and acting like human beings. First, eat together: “Once you’re fed, and you’re with friends, you’re a better person.” Second, talk for a long time: “‘We talk about it long enough until we realize how much we don’t know,’ he [Garry] explains. ‘Once you realize how much you don’t know, the honest conversation comes out.'”

And as for Ripley, she comes to this conclusion:

After spending time in Watertown, I concluded that I’d rather have three-dimensional opponents than online foes, as frustrating as they may be. For one thing, I’d have a small shot at changing their mind, maybe, one day—because I’d know them and understand how they think, even when they’re dead wrong…. And even if we never change one another’s minds, which is the most likely outcome by far, then I’d still rather know real people than believe in cartoon villains.

So, How to Be Happy (or at least more at peace with your neighbors) Lesson Lucky #13 is this: Move to Watertown and get with their program, or, barring that, eat breakfast together, talk for a really long time, and check your anger at the door.

[Image: The Atlantic. A restaurant near Watertown’s public square this February. In the 1970s, Walter Cronkite nicknamed Watertown “Snowtown U.S.A.,” while covering the 220 inches of snow that fell there one winter. (Timothy Sean O’Connell)]

How to Be Happy Lesson #12: Get Schooled

As I explore this topic more and more, I’ve become aware of how ill-qualified I am to be offering advice on it, much less on anything. For example, rather than listen to me, you could just sign up for “Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life” on Coursera for free (online the title is “The Science of Well-Being“). Or you could read, as I am doing right now, Adam Sternbergh’s article on The Cut titled “Read This Story and Get Happier.” Sternbergh subtitles his piece “The most popular course at Yale teaches how to be happy. We took it for you.”

Psych 157 was created by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos. In its first and only year, nearly a quarter of Yale’s undergraduate students (over 1,200) enrolled in it. Santos thinks “Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called ‘the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.’” (This from The New York Times‘ “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness.”)

In the bricks-and-mortar world, Santos delivered twice-weekly Psych 157 lectures. Her initial (and final) class was so large Yale had to hire twenty-four teaching fellows to help manage it, luring some of them in from departments outside of psychology. The class took place in an 844-seat chapel converted to a classroom and two smaller lecture auditoriums where the students participated by live feed. The students took quizzes and a mid-term exam and then turned in a personal self-assessment project as their final assignment. Before taking the class, students had to complete a prerequisite: UPenn’s “Authentic Happiness Inventory.” Santos will not offer the live class again because of the huge drain on resources.

So, an online class instead. No big deal, right? Wrong. Sternbergh writes

…be prepared: Before we get happiness right, we have to understand why we typically get it so wrong. The first nine (!) lectures on the Yale course syllabus feature titles like “What Doesn’t Lead to Happiness I,” “What Doesn’t Lead to Happiness II,” and “Why Your Mind Sucks.”

He then summarizes the live-class lectures, midterm exam, and the final exam “How Happy Can You Be?” The latter involves retaking the Authentic Happiness Inventory. The first lecture is titled “The G.I. Joe Fallacy.” It teaches us that our minds are good at tricking us into believing things that aren’t true, including what will make us happy:

Nearly everything you think will make you happier won’t, because nearly everything you’re likely to list — assuming, of course, that your basic life needs are taken care of — is some circumstantial change: more money, a different home or job, a long vacation, or even that enticing snack that lies just beyond the vending-machine glass. Your mind is constantly telling you that if you just got those things, you’d finally, truly, unequivocally be happy. But your mind is wrong and science is right.

GIJoeNo6

Science, in this case, tells us that “we are inclined to assume that circumstances play the biggest role in our happiness, when research suggests they play the smallest role” (less than ten percent, in fact). We also “grossly underestimate the extent to which changing our behaviors, rather than our circumstances, can significantly increase our well-being.”

So, Lesson #12 in how to be happy boils down to this: If you think you know what will make you happy, think again. Or, for a better result, read Sternbergh’s article. And, if you want to go whole hog, sign up for Cousera’s “The Science of Well-Being.” Doing that is easy. No promises about what comes after, however. As Sternbergh explains, “The first lesson of ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ is that happiness is something worth working at. The final lesson is that the class never truly ends.”

How to Be Happy Lesson #11: Get Baked

No, it’s not what you’re thinking, although that might indeed be a route to happiness for some. No, “Get Baked” refers to this recipe for feeling good: “Bake, Drink, Share, Eat, Drink Some More.” This motto belongs to the Sunday Baking Club. The SBC is (or was at least—the most recent post on their website is dated 2016) a club in England that bakes (baked) together Sunday mornings after receiving their “theme” assignment the day before:

As the members work away in their own kitchens on their cakes and pies, they’re encouraged to tweet about their progress. Once they’ve finished, however successful the results, they can submit a photo, which is then retweeted. A shortlist of the day’s top bakes is then compiled and members are asked to vote. The winner is awarded a virtual golden spoon for their efforts.

The founder of SBC, Dominque Johns, writes (wrote), “I’m never happier than being in my kitchen baking something lovely to eat. Our club is all about sharing that same pleasure with others.” At the end of an article in The Telegraph about the SBC, we get this extra bit of advice: “The easiest way to improve your mood—and your life—is to take time each day to focus on the simple things that bring you joy.” So, I could really take credit for offering two lessons on how to be happy here today but, being the modest person that I am, I won’t.

So, why does baking make people happy? Well, one source with the somewhat suspect label “Sugary Logic” lays out three reasons:

  1. Baking is creativity. And that creativity can have mental health benefits, ergo, “a little creativity each day can go a long way towards happiness and satisfaction in the bustle of daily life.”
  2. Baking is meditation. Baking requires precision and precision requires focus and focus requires presence. “The act of mindfulness in that present moment can…have a result in stress reduction.”
  3. Baking [for others] is bonding. The act of giving increases your feeling of wellbeing, relieves stress, and increases your sense of having a meaningful life and being connected to other people.

I like the last one in particular because it means you can have the joy of baking without the heartbreak of excessive calorie intake.

Anders_Zorn_-_Brödbaket

Certain foods also have an uplifting effect on us. Take this rather strange example from a 2012 Washington Post article titled “The Psychology of Cupcakes:”

San Francisco psychotherapist Brooke Miller says cupcakes represent a perfectly proportioned sense of self. “With so much stimulation and expectation — material wealth, keeping up with the Joneses, Hollywood and our own parents’ expectations of us — many people turn to food . . . to manage the emotion that comes up with living a life they assume is under par. In an interesting and delicious way, cupcakes are a sweet example of what it looks like to be good enough exactly the way you are. They keep us ‘boundaried’ and feeling contained, like we don’t need to do, eat or prove anything more than what is unwrapped in this little wrapper of joy and sugar.”

Ah…so I guess we feel good about not being as bad as we might have been. As with anything, moderation is the key. So, if one were buying cupcakes, the mini ones at Publix would be the right choice over the gargantuan ones offered at Key West Cakes.

Be careful, though. Cupcakes can be seductive in an unhealthy way not related to diet. Here’s the opinion of another psychotherapist:

“The popularity of cupcakes directly tracks the rise in cultural narcissism that has resulted from the Internet’s impact on our individual and cultural psyche,” he says. “Through our over-reliance on the Internet, we’ve become a culture of emotionally disconnected individuals who live in socially isolated cyber-fantasy worlds. The fantasy worlds we create for ourselves on the Internet are an equivalent of the modern myth of Narcissus where we spend hours in an isolated aggrandizement of self.”

Cupcakes represent the mythical pool into which Narcissus fell and drowned, Hokemeyer says.

“Through cupcakes, seemingly innocent little ‘treats,’ we can project fantasies of who and what we desire to be. Instead of connecting us to others, however, cupcakes keep us separate and add to our sense of isolation.”

So, no cupcaking alone, got it? Ever. Else the mythical drowning pool awaits. This prompts me to offer Lesson #11 on how to be happy as a modified version of the SBC motto: bake small cupcakes, drink, invite your friends over, drink, share the treats, and drink some more. Or perhaps better yet, invite your friends over, drink, bake cupcakes together, drink, and then share the treats among yourselves while drinking some more. For an extra feel-good boost, you and your friends could take the cupcakes out and share them with random people, making sure, of course, to drink before you do.

(Image: Anders Zorn – Bread baking (1889). Public domain.)

[Don’t forget to visit my other blog: TNTBAD (Try Not to Be a Dick).]