20 January 2007

I Wrote My Own Goddamn Book On Happiness - And Other Brief News Items


I did what I said I was going to do. Namely, I wrote a book on happiness, what it is, and how to get more of it without becoming a blissed-out mantra-yodeling hippie. I took a week off from work to write it. That alone made me happy. I should've made the first suggestion in the book "take a week off from work". I'm self-publishing it through XLibris. I think they have about a five-month turnaround window, so it should hit Amazon, Borders and Barnes and Noble just in time for bikini season.

Actually, it's a lot more than a book of suggestions. Truth be told, I don't think there's a single suggestion in the book. There's one very simple exercise, the one I told you about before, only it's gone into in detail and gives some of the current research that brought it about. I also came up with an additional exercise that compliments the first one and put that in there after I tested it rigorously on my own brain. And there's some in-depth discussion of the definition of happiness that I use for the book, of course. Oh yeah - there's also some discussion of hilariously miserable events in my childhood, most of them having to do with dog poop. Anyway, as I am "too close to the subject", I think I'll hire somebody else to write the foreword. I think authors do that as a means of clarification - "what my friend meant to say was..."

So yeah. So there you go. I just got so tired of all these self-help books that either tell you how to be happy by doing something else (make a million dollars, lose a jillion pounds, have a zillion friends) rather than just getting to the point and saying "do this to be happy". I hope my book accomplishes that. It's really short, to the point, includes damn near everything I learned in all the years I obsessively studied the cognitive sciences, and will cost something like ten bucks (I think). And I promise that it doesn't ask you to change religions, get a color drape, tote a bag of crystals or learn Sanskrit. You can experience loads more happiness and still be the loveable old crank you are right now.

Which brings me to my next point, which is snowshoeing. I went for the first time a few days ago and it was a HOOT. I think it's going to be my new wintertime sport. It's a great way to extend the hiking season and it doesn't require any verve, brio, daring or hipness (unlike snowboarding, which I used to do) - or a hogshead full of cash. And it's quiet. Just you, the snow, and the SCRAPE-SCRAPE-SCRAPE-THUMP-SHRRRUK-SCRAPE-SHUUURRRSH of your snowshoes on the the hardpack. No, honestly, it's much less cumbersome than it seems it would be. I thought that I'd have to shackle my feet to bedframes and sacrifice my hip flexors. As it turns out, modern snowshoes (pictured, above) are delightfully lightweight and easily maneuverable. And grippy, too! They're tenacious little buggers! It beats the crap out of trying to negotiate snow-covered trails in your hiking boots. And best of all, it doesn't matter how cold it is outside, the joyful exertion keeps you warm. It was only 19 degrees with a hell of a wind when I went, and I worked up a sweat that soaked through to my jacket. (I know that's not too smart. I should've dressed lighter, but how was I to know?)

I'm going to leave off now and end with some pictures of my snowshoeing adventure, which is hopefully the first of many to come.



Regardless of what the name might lead you to believe, there are no whales in Humpback Creek. My theory? Too shallow. Way too shallow.

Me (foreground) and Elizabeth (background) on the bridge at Humpback creek on January 15th (Martin Luther King Day). Teresa couldn't come because she had to work even though it was a holiday for the rest of us. My theory? Microsoft just hates black people. That's all there is to it.

Still life with dog: Pete Aiken with Cassidy on the bridge at Humpback Creek. If you were thinking that Humpback Creek was the only photo op we took while we were on the trail, you're right. Trying to wrangle a camera out of your pocket with gloves on is a pain in the ass.

14 January 2007

Happiness, Pt. 3: Hey, This Shit Works!

Vincent Van Gogh's Moleskine notebook.
For years, creative nutbags the world over have
used the Moleskine notebook to record the erratic
pulsations of their nut-gland. Hey, if it's good enough
for low-life chumps like Hemingway and

Picasso, it's good enough for this low-life chump right


You know about my "happiness" experiment, right - the one where I take a moment before I go to bed each night to write down three things that made me happy that day in my Moleskine notebook. The effects have been remarkable. First, I sleep much more soundly and dream more. (I might sleep even more soundly if I weren't quite so vain, and didn't spend a few mornings each week turning my chest and forearms into throbbing bands of blazing soreness. That's the only thing that interrupts my sleep at the moment. Still, that's better than being shocked awake by nightmares of long division as though demons were hurling ice-balls filled with math at my groin. Am I a little disturbed? Oh mais oui.)

Second, when I do get angry or upset, it's for a much shorter time. In fancier and more science-y terms, the amplitude of the emotion seems to be about the same as it always was, but the refractory period seems to be a heck of a lot shorter. I'm talking about ten to fifteen minutes as opposed to a couple hours or half a freakin' day. Furthermore, whereas the same little things seem to irk me, the episode of irksomeness, the inclination toward irkitude, and the wildly arcing parabola of irkotasticity all seem to be lessened a great deal. Or there is greater time when I feel less of it. In other words, I'm feeling more of that less pissed off feeling. You get my point.

I made another discovery about how this exercise works completely by accident. On a couple of occasions, I choked and forgot to write down my list of three before I went to bed, so I did it when I got up in the morning instead. Lo and behold, doing the exercise first thing in the morning instead of last thing in the evening has a tonic effect on my mood as well. It seems to impart a general feeling of optimism that lasts through most of the day. When I went back to school in 2001, I discovered that whatever I studied first thing in the morning kind of got "stuck in my head" - pretty much the same way a song gets "stuck in my head" if I think of it first thing in the morning. Perhaps this has happened to you. (Try not to think of "ABC" by the Jackson 5. Whoops! Now it's stuck in your head! See what I mean? Now go listen to some Edgard Varese until it goes away.)

So knowing that, here's a new twist I'm gonna add to the exercise. I'm gonna get another Moleskine notebook, this one for the morning. Every morning when I get up, I'm going to write down three things that I have to look forward to that day. Nothing will be too small, although I'll try to keep it realistic and attainable. Like I don't think it's too constructive to look forward to curing all disease that day or attaining perfect enlightenment by noon although, hey, it could happen. However, getting a really good workout, finishing my tax return or having a really tasty new scone will all be candidate events of equal importance. (I found a cherry almond scone that completely kicks ass. It may also give me superpowers. Although I'm not sure if it's the scone itself or the scone in conjunction with heavy doses of my Super Black drip coffee that give me the ability to fly* and fold space.) Likewise, if I don't achieve any or all of the things on my list, that's okay too. This isn't supposed to be a "to do" list. It's just a list of possibilities - some things that would be nice if they happened, but aren't going to cause me disappointment if they don't. I'll let you know how that one works out.

And finally, another pleasing discovery. Speaking of my notebook, it turns out that Moleskine is pronounced "MOH-leh-SKEE-nuh", and not pronounced like that other word that refers to either those pads Dad used to put on his corns or the pelt of a tiny burrowing varmint. Now when I refer to my notebook by name, I'll sound more like a smarty-pants intellectual and less like a backyard fur trader.



*I can too fly, dammit! It's just that I can never get cleared for takeoff by any of the candy-ass flight controllers at Boeing Field. They keep telling me a I need an "airplane" and "serious time in therapy". Bastards.