Just when I thought I had distilled the secret of happiness down to some 12 bullet points after stumbling on one social media message that led me to another 99 within the hour, came this study that left me unhappy.
Elizabeth Dunn, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Dunigan Folk, a PhD student in Dunn’s lab, had happily accepted all the common happiness strategies when modern science grumbled and called for more stringent studies and interpretation.
So, they lined up the strategies: gratitude, social interactions, mindfulness or meditation, time in nature, and exercising.
Then, as researchers often do, they ploughed through 22,000 papers involving these methods. Only 494 of those were right about the method and out of that only 57 were constructed right to yield reliable statistics. See the smiles fading?
They went on to discover that even the two strategies that best withstood the rigors of scientific testing—gratitude and social engagement—could at best yield short-lived happiness.
The verdict? Those tips might not work for all, and when they do, the smile might not last very long.
Interestingly, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been at it really long. It started in 1938 and has covered 2,000 people across three generations. What did the current director of the study, Dr Robert Waldinger and his team conclude?
The happiest subjects through the study had two major factors in common—they took care of their health and built loving relationships with others.
As one report of the study put it, “good things happened to those who had given up on changing their situation, and good news appeared when they least expected it.”
I decided to ask the “scientist” accessible to everyone these days. First, ChatGPT shot 10 bullets embedded in 377 words at me. When I pleaded for a shorter answer, I got this. “The secret of being always happy is to cultivate gratitude and focus on the present moment.” Nothing artificial about that piece of intelligence, right?
Bobby McFerrin almost got it right in his song. Better yet, when it comes to being happy, don’t query, just be.
By the time the second round of tea was served, two hours after the day started officially, six news clippings were on the CEO’s table.
The CEO liked to be informed at once and the managers liked to have the boss liking them. It was a company that believed in staying ahead and all of them knew what it took to stay ahead.
"Companies to sponsor cages,” was the gist of each clipping. The municipal corporation was trying to salvage the city zoo by coaxing private companies to adopt cages complete with the occupants.
“I think we must take the lead, sir” the communications manager was the first in. The CEO squirmed, imagining the company’s neat logo adorning a stinking enclosure. “We must sit on this,” he muttered. “Right away, sir.” The manager gleefully started working the phone.
Within ten minutes, all managers were in the conference room, glaring balefully at communications and each hoping the boss had noticed his clipping first.
“I wonder what the others are doing,” the CEO said after patiently listening to seven different interpretations of the three-inch news. A hush descended as he said that. It meant a) it was an important project, and b) nobody knew what to do.
“We must hurry up so that we can choose the best animals,” the marketing manager said. He did not particularly care for the monkeys or the rhino, but sticking to birds would have projected a weak image. “If only we could fabricate our own animals amenable to alterations as per market conditions,” he wondered aloud.
That was agreed upon as a separate issue altogether, requiring to be sat on separately.
For the moment, the elephant met with general murmurs of approval until quality raised the issue of sampling. Also, he saw no reason why any animal should be seen in the company’s cage without an apron. Personnel made a mental note to speak to the linen keeper.
“Everything in white,” production made his point. He described the bars painted a glossy white, with matching tiles on the floor. He got a little carried away and didn’t want to spare even the tiger’s hide. “Everything must be appropriate,” the CEO reminded him.
“Yes, I agree, sir,” production sheepishly conceded but fought back instantly. “There must be documented standard operating procedures. How the animal enters the cage, how it leaves, how it is fed and how it paces.” And, of course, what it can do and not do while inside the cage. Everybody looked at production enviously. What an original idea!
Marketing was not one to keep quiet for too long. “The cage must be redesigned so that the logo can be large.” The suggestion to keep the animal out in case it didn’t blend with the décor was indeed radical.
“We must not mix up issues,” the CEO said. Everyone nodded profoundly. “The cage and its occupant will have to be evaluated in isolation first before the two are assessed for a harmonious and symbiotic association,” the CEO elaborated to vigorous stirring of steaming cups of coffee.
Personnel decided to step in. “What about discipline? We can’t have our animals behaving irresponsibly. We must enter into a contract with … with …. I mean there must be a contract—a signed copy must be in our records.” There were smirks all around, so he decided to be less personnel and more positive. “There must be training, well-structured and career oriented.” That didn’t sound strong enough, so he went on, “Let’s have a performance review every three months. In the prescribed format, of course.”
The talk of training gave production an idea. “What about safety? What if there is a fire in a cage?” There was silence until a chorus of ideas burst forth.
“There must be a second door for emergencies …”
“But then the animals will escape …”
“Include a non-escape clause …”
“Every animal must learn to use a fire extinguisher …”
Finally, the CEO said, “Let’s have a schedule.” Suddenly everybody was quiet.
Purchase, who had been trying to get a word in, grabbed the chance. “We must have user tests. In two stages. In stage one, we take turns to host the animals. That way we have a complete idea of the user’s needs. Next, we stay in the cages to complete the study.”
The meeting ended with a unanimous decision to have another meeting in the presence of the zookeeper and three or four cage attendants. The proposal to also invite a few animals was shot down as it was likely to introduce an element of bias.
Two months later, the company got a letter from the municipal corporation. “… we are unable to grant your request as the SPCA has protested against the proposal of managers cohabiting with animals ….”