Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day 17 - The Pursuit Of ...

Last night was my first good night's sleep in almost three weeks! I want to talk more about the link between alcohol and pneumonia soon - because I learned some interesting things (nothing to be alarmed about, just some important info to tuck in your cap). But I'm sick of talking about sickness so I want to talk about wellness instead.

In particular, happiness.

I didn't start cleansing just so I could keep drinking. The main reason I started cleansing is because I wanted to get rid of the misery of addiction and move in the direction of more joy in my life.

As part of that ongoing 'project,', every cleanse I usually have some sort of psychological self-help book to read. Reading is an excellent thing to do when you're cleansing. It's peaceful, personal and relaxing. And it gives you a real sense of accomplishment when the book - and the cleanse - are done.

I haven't been able to focus on all that much reading this time around. But I did manage to get through the New York Times on Sunday. I was particularly interested in an article about Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Moscow-born psychologist who came to the U.S. at the age of 9.  Now a successful author and professor at the University of California, she's devoted her career to a relatively new science: the pursuit of happiness.

One of the things that really leapt out at me was the fact that unhappy people were generally more "analytical" than happy ones. Unhappy people also felt more satisfaction when others around them performed poorly (in life, on tasks, etc.)  compared with themselves. The article contends this phenomenon could explain why most of us are familiar with the German expression schadenfreude (deriving joy from another's suffering) but probably haven't heard of the Yiddish term shep naches (feeling happy about someone else's success).

I was also fascinated by the idea that Dr. Lyubomirsky seems to have discovered that we all have a happiness "set point." Sure, good things can happen to us and they can float our boat for a while. But before long, we'll revert to a mood that's more familiar and comfortable to us.  Meaning, ultimately we "adapt" to happiness and probably need more stimulation to feel it again.

She used the example of her husband's desire for a new big-screen TV. The 52 incher (or whatever) was fun in the early stages, but the doctor's hubby eventually "adapted" to the new tube and it wasn't such a big deal anymore.

In other words, we get used to the acquisition of goals and possessions and before long, we need "more" to feel happy again. 

That makes a lot of sense to me.  If I think back on times when I should have been overjoyed in my life (hearing I got my first book deal, for instance, or got into the school of my choice), my happiness lasted, oh, all of about twenty seconds before I start thinking of all the things that could go wrong. 

It also occurred to me that alcohol works in our lives the same way. In the early stages, a drink or two can make us feel really blissed out and joyful. But after a while, those two drinks don't do the trick anymore and we need more, more, more.

Happiness - like alcohol - must be addictive, though a much healthier addiction obviously. Because the pursuit of happiness addiction keeps us moving in the direction of our dreams,  goals and desires. And that keeps us growing as individuals - and as a society.

I agree with Dr. Lyubomirksy's work and I'm looking forward to reading her books, The Myths of Happiness and The How of Happiness (the latter being praised as one of the only self-help books backed by empirical data) - whether I'm finished the cleanse or not.

But there is one thing I want to mention when it comes to happiness "set points."

As much sense as Dr. Lyubomirsky's theories make, I can tell you one thing: if you're addicted to alcohol right now and wallowing in the depths of dopamine-depleted depression, the idea that you have a "set point" when it comes to your mood might make you suicidal!

What if I feel like this forever?!!

I know if someone told me when I was so depressed due to addiction that "this" was it, this was as good as my moods were ever going to get, I think I would've pulled out a map and started looking for the nearest bridge.

But I can tell you this: although alcohol cleansing might not bring you rainbows, unicorns and smiley faces every moment of every day for the rest of your life - it can help you out of the pit of despair you might be feeling right now. I know that because I've been there.

I've been there - and I got out.

As I said, life may not be perfect once you move past addiction (shit happens: i.e. pneumonia!), but the absolute bone-deep, relentless sadness you might feel right now can not only be improved - it can be a thing of the past. Forever.

I honestly mean that. Because it happened to me.

It's now Day 17 of my cleanse. More than two weeks - and two weekends! - without a drink. 11 days left to go! I'm well past the halfway point!

Um ... yayyyyy!!

Here's the original article about Dr. Lyubomirsky from Sunday's NYT.

And in honor of today's happiness theme, I want to leave you with a video from a band that meant a lot to me back in the 80s. The ironically-named The Pursuit of Happiness was a Toronto-based group that was huge on the college circuit (and pretty damn big elsewhere too). Their hit I'm An Adult Now was practically my theme song back then ... even though I was barely an adult at the time.  It's fun to remember what Toronto looked like back in the 80s, too. We're so polished and scrubbed up now! Enjoy!