There’s a faint air of frustration around me at the moment.
I missed another Crucible.
Granted, it’s not exactly a local event in the strictest sense but my absence is entirely down to a lack of organisation and nothing else.
There’s still a week of leave left on my payslips to burn through this year with only a long weekend at the Prague Christmas Markets to look forward to.
And what with the pound being so stro…. I mean the exchange rate could be wor… I mean I am always happy to live on ramen and free soda refills.
After last year’s blog coverage I made a promise that I’d get there next/this year. Possibly without telling anyone. Possibly appearing suddenly to the terrified screams of onlookers out of a novelty presidential birthday cake somewhere near my PAW.
Then I saw this video and became frustrated for two reasons.
- Firstly, thirty two seconds?! Can you all please kindly reconvene and keep the video running for ten to twelve hours? C’mon! There’s only so many times (seven so far) that I can watch it. Some of us have to live vicariously here.
- Secondly, the only reason I wasn’t there is because I completely spazzed my forward planning. That’s it. I could have been the one to bar the door and force these folks against their will to record a ten hour epic. (Sidebar: If anyone’s interested I can send over details of some low-cost webinar platforms because the potential audience is a lot bigger than the geographical footprint. I’ve seen these things shot well on iphones taped to the top of tripods at corporate gigs. And I for one would pay a fiver or whatever for some logins to video recordings of the different sessions. It would also solve the problems all those smug delegates had of missing presentations they wanted to see because the timetables clashed. Include it in the ticket and you get everything. The slightly fancier option is to shoot it a bit better and distribute via iTunes. What I am saying is “grrr! I missed awesomeness.” Unless any of these options are actually happening and my unbidden advice is redundant and unwelcome?)
Instead, on Crucible weekend I was taking that picture above after spending a boozy lunch catching up with friends in temperatures higher than those in Hawaii or Barbados.
If you haven’t just suffered through the most recent English summer -the coldest and wettest for thirty years- then you just can’t appreciate how miraculous these last few days have been. Remember that episode in Season 3 of Buffy where Angel tries to kill himself by staying out to greet the sunshine of Christmas morning because he’s worried he’ll go evil and hurt everyone again? Except there is a freak snowstorm that blots out the sun and he and Buffy can spend the day together? It’s like that but kinda in reverse. We got a blissful moment of what summer should have been.
The whole country was wandering around with that smug “just had some really satisfying sex” glow. For those of us whose glows weren’t sex-related (mine certainly wasn’t, I’ve been in a long-term relationship for 7.5 years. That’s 90 gay years) we could attribute our endorphin overload in large part to the meteorological battering we had just endured over the last few months. Finally some decent weather in which to get sunburnt and drink Corbières rosé. We had earned it.
It turns out there’s a scientific basis for this belief in “earning” happiness that has implications if happiness is one of your life goals. Basically, you can’t enjoy the upside if you haven’t had the downside.
That much is obvious. But maybe we’re looking at it in reverse? Because what’s less obvious is that it turns out we’re really quite shit at assessing how changes in circumstances will impact us and which experiences are better to disrupt. Let’s hear from Dan Ariley:
A substantial amount of research over the past decade has reinforced the idea that although internal happiness can deviate from its “resting state” in reaction to life events, it usually returns toward its baseline over time. Though we don’t hedonically adapt to every new situation, we do adapt to many of them, and to a large degree – whether we’re getting used to a new home or car, new relationships, new injuries, new jobs, or even incarceration.
Overall, adaptation seems to be a rather handy human quality. But hedonic adaptation can be a problem for effective decision making because we cannot accurately predict that we will adapt – at least not to the level that we actually do. Think again about the paraplegics and the lottery winners. Neither they nor their families and friends could have predicted could have predicted the extent to which they would adapt to their new situations. Of course, the same applies to many other variations of circumstances, from romantic break-ups to failure to get promoted at work to having one’s favorite candidate lose an election. In all of these cases we expect that we will be miserable for a long time if things do not work out the way we hope; we also think we will be enduringly happy if things go our way. But in general our predictions are way off base.
What does this mean in practice?
- The first is that you can only be sure in the broadest possible terms what will improve your happiness and that this improvement is relatively short lived. Eventually you will return to your resting, “normal” state of happiness.
- The second -the one with more practical implications- is that repeated interrupting a happy state leads to greater enjoyment of it.
According to this research, people tend to assume that they would prefer unpleasant experiences to be interrupted rather than pleasant ones. But they actually don’t. It’s much better to interrupt pleasant experiences. Why?
Because an interruption -any interruption- prevents you from returning to your resting state. So if you interrupt a painful experience like, say, getting a blood test, then you have to go through the painful or annoying experience again. We suffer less when we don’t interrupt annoying experiences and enjoy pleasurable experiences more when they are broken up. (In the pleasurable experience, you deviate from your resting state in a nice way each time you are interrupted. And suddenly I’m thinking of sex again.)
The strategic implications?
- In Kanye-speak, don’t think you’ll get paid then you’ll get happy. Get happy first. (Then get paid, yo.)
- If a generalised happiness uplift is your magical goal, don’t target areas of your life that you think are the cause of happiness/unhappiness because we’re really crap at predicting what these are and you will just return to your resting state anyway. People who win lotteries and people who lose limbs in war tend to return to their resting state. Don’t think it won’t happen to you if you just buy those pretty new shoes. Instead, shift your baseline happiness chemically with changes to your diet, regular exercise, Oprah-style gratitude work (I can personally vouch for its efficacy… certainly more than I can for the exercise!), St John’s Wort, etc. And if they don’t work it’s time to go see the head doctor.
Where does that leave me and my calendar spazzing over getting to Crucible? Well, life is in a non-sucky phase at the moment so presumably a little disruption would have led to an all around bump on the happiness index.
Ah well, by the looks of the research it would only be a temporary uplift anyway, and then, like London’s weather, it would return to its resting state.
Its cold, grumpy, jealous, resting state.