Right before the latest big blizzard, I read a post from a Texan who wrote that it was 60 degrees and sunny in his neck of the woods that day. “Why would anyone ever want to live in the northeast?” he asked.
My internal response was, “Texas? Really? Are you kidding me?” Large swaths of Texas have been on fire the last few years. The state as a whole has lately suffered crushingly hot temperatures and frightening drought. Why would anyone ever want to live in Texas?
As they say, different strokes for different folks.
When it comes to happiness, I suspect our differences emanate from a soul level. Certainly each of us needs to chart our own distinct happiness paths. As Sonja Lyubomirksy observes, “there is no one magic strategy that will help every person become happier. All of us have unique needs, interests, values, resources, and inclinations that undoubtedly predispose us to put effort into and benefit from some strategies more than others” (The How of Happiness, p.69).
Or, in more folksy terms, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Or is it?
The Gander. That would be my husband, Bob. This coming Saturday afternoon, he will undoubtedly get a huge happiness boost by once again leading his merry band of ukulele players in the Maple Corner Mardi Gras parade. I’m guessing that getting into the flow of mastering the ukulele is partly why this experience gives him joy. Also, I know he appreciates this opportunity to contribute to our community’s vitality. Because performing makes his uke brothers and sisters happy too, by organizing this event, Bob further benefits by giving them this gig.
Plus, of course, it is just plain fun and not really something that needs to be analyzed.
The Goose is me. I joined Bob in the parade last year, playing the only instruments I can even begin to handle (kazoo and tambourine); I may march again this year. But, I’m excited about something radically different this coming Saturday morning: a gun control rally in front of the Vermont Statehouse in nearby Montpelier. Fun is not my strong point, alas. I’m more in my element as a rabble rouser — or, as I might reframe it in positive psychology terms, I really like “having a purpose.”
These differences between my husband and me play out most Sunday mornings. While I head off to sing in the church choir and get a weekly booster shot of support in leading a good life, Bob heads for his ping pong club and several hours of very vigorous exercise with his buddies. His table tennis time is just as sacred to him as my church attendance is to me.
“Seligman’s bottom line is that happiness has three dimensions that can be cultivated:
1. ‘The pleasant life’ is realized if we learn to savor and appreciate such basic pleasures as companionship, the natural environment and our bodily needs.
2. We can remain pleasantly stuck at this stage or we can go on to experience ‘the good life,”’ which is achieved by discovering our unique virtues and strengths and employing them creatively to enhance our lives.
3. The final stage is ‘the meaningful life,’ in which we find a deep sense of fulfillment by mobilizing our unique strengths for a purpose much greater than ourselves.”
Writing this blog, and looking at my husband’s and my choice of activities through the lens of Seligman’s three levels of happiness, I now see that what’s good for the gander can indeed be good for the goose — just not in the way I’ve interpreted this cliche before. I always thought it meant the goose and the gander should be doing and liking the same things. Now, I see that by doing and liking different things, the goose and the gander can help each other expand and enrich their levels of happiness.
Nearly everything I’ve read about what makes people happy stresses the importance of relationships, and good connections with others. Perhaps one reason this is so is because other people inevitably provide us with more varied happiness opportunities. We help each other cultivate different dimensions of happiness.
I definitely need to nurture “the pleasant life” more. Bob helps me be more playful, and that is definitely a good thing. So … hand me a kazoo. And see you at the rally.