Friday, December 5, 2008

Maya's Girl Scout Promise

True Happiness

This month, our book club is reading What Happy People Know by Dan Baker. So, I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. Not just my own, but of society in general.

My Great Aunt Sadie died recently. She was 96. A lot of changes have occurred between her generation and mine. I think of all of the things that have been added to most (if not all) American homes since she was a child on the farm (one of twelve children, I might add): indoor plumbing, a washing machine, a television, a phone, an automobile, a microwave, a computer. These are all things we have long since taken for granted. Life is much more convenient now, but are we happier and more fulfilled because of it? I don't think so...and neither does Professor Kelly Lambert, PhD, who conducted research that suggests that the hands-on effort and completion of physical tasks that were once required to provide life's necessities (referred to as "effort-based rewards") are actually key components of happiness. In a recent study, Lambert tracked two groups of rats: The first had to dig through piles of cage bedding to find their food, simulating the gathering of a harvest. The "trust fund" rats of the second group were simply given their food--no work necessary. The working rats came out of the experiment healthier, showing higher levels of persistence and boldness than their coddled counterparts--characteristics that are vital to overcoming difficulties in life. The trust fund rats, meanwhile, became fat and depressed. Completing any kind of manual task--whether it's cooking a meal or shoveling a sidewalk--triggers the efforts-driven-rewards circuit in human minds, too. Working together, this network of key motor, emotional and rewards centers plays an important role in creating a sense of happiness and well-being over time.
I won't dismiss the many benefits of technology, but it is good to remember that it does not change the ways our bodies and souls are wired.
(Pictured above, during the summer of 2006, are Aunt Sadie, Maya, me, Ava, and Grandma Baker--who, by the way, refused to ever use a microwave because she thought it greatly diminished the quality of the food...and just didn't want to change the way she cooked, God Bless her!)