For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 2, 2006 - Follow the Formula for Happiness
Suppose that there were a simple formula for happiness?
Well, according to Jonathan Haidt, there is. In his book, "The Happiness
Hypothesis," he just gives it away:
H = S + C + V
Any questions? I thought there might be.
H stands for "happiness."
S stands for "set point." That's the idea that you're more or less genetically
programmed to have a range of responses to the world, broadly falling into
either optimistic or pessimistic.
The cheerful, upbeat folks, according to Haidt, were "winners of the cortical
lottery." The paranoid, suspicious, depressed folks, were not. The cheerful
folks don't necessarily deserve praise for being positive, and the downbeat
ones don't necessarily deserve blame for being negative.
The positive ones do tend to be healthier and happier, though. They respond to
challenges more quickly, and do a better job of weathering times of
It turns out that there are three clearly demonstrated ways for even the
pessimists to effect a change in their world view and feelings.
First is meditation. This technique is simple to explain but surprisingly hard
to master. Usually, it involves little more than just sitting quietly for
even 5-15 minutes a day, and trying to keep the attention focused on
something like your own breathing.
Why does it work? Because you retrain the mind to break the autonomic train of
associations. You learn to detach and notice, rather than just get swept up
into a mental or emotional narrative.
A second technique is cognitive therapy. This, too, takes some effort.
Here's a simplified example. Let's say that every time you look at somebody,
you feel a rush of paranoia or fear. If you're in cognitive therapy, you have
learned to be alert to this, and have prepared an alternative.
For instance, when you feel that negative rush, you mentally pause, and summon
a memory of something kind or good the other person did. This changes your
feelings about that person.
You keep practicing this, day after day, until again, you retrain yourself.
But meditation and cognitive therapy take not just persistent effort, but
time. The third way is Prozac. And there's something suspicious about just
popping a pill and being better.
Psychologists still aren't altogether sure why or how it works. Yet Prozac has
been clinically demonstrated to change not just attitudes -- it's neither a
depressant nor a stimulant -- but the fundamental behavior of your whole
body. Prozac begins working in surprising ways: with changes in the actions
of your intestines to the rhythm of your sleeping patterns.
And for many people, it seems to have the same results of years of
professional therapy. But overnight. That isn't to say, of course, that it's
right for everybody.
C stands for the conditions of your life. Some of them you can't change: your
age, your race, and for some people, your health. For instance, you might
have been paralyzed, or been diagnosed with a difficult disease.
But there are other things that can be changed: your job, where you live, or
your marital status. Interestingly, Haidt points out the importance of noise
-- an intermittent but uncontrolled environmental condition that can eat away
at your happiness, almost without you noticing.
V stands for voluntary activities. Haidt describes a set of experiments with
some surprising results. One group of people was told to take some time every
day to do something they really enjoyed, just for themselves. Let's say it's
"have an ice cream." Then they had to record how they felt an hour later, a
day later, and a week later.
Another group was given the assignment of doing something for somebody else --
so-called "random acts of kindness."
A similar experiment was done with seniors -- one group, who hadn't
volunteered before, was given the assignment of visiting and assisting other
The finding? Doing something for somebody else, not yourself, was by far the
most powerful voluntary activity, resulting in significant and long lasting
improvements in health and happiness.
It turns out that scientifically speaking, it truly is better to give than to receive.
Psychology has gotten pretty interesting lately. I can recommend "The Happiness Hypothesis" as a fascinating overview of the field. And it's anything but formulaic.