Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Are You Happy?

My sister and I are psychic.

No, really.

We can go for months without the merest contact, and then when we finally get on the phone, we've somehow been thinking deeply about the very same stuff. It gets creepy weird sometimes.

This past week was not creepy weird, but it was...enlightening, to say the least. My sister and I, for some reason, had both been pondering what it means to be happy. What makes you happy? Can anything 'make' you happy or unhappy, or is it a state of being?

She suggested I watch the movie, Happy (and since it's on Netflix, how could I refuse?). And now, I'm offering it up as a suggestion for all you Prosers out there. After decades of research into depression, this, finally, is a fascinating glimpse into the mental and biological reasons for happiness.

One of the most interesting parts was the discussion of happiness in relation to extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Per the movie, extrinsic goals are things where value is found outside the person. They broadly include such things as:


Intrinsic goals meet a basic human psychological need and have meaning regardless of external circumstance. These include:

Personal Growth
Personal Relationships
Service or Helping Others and the Community

This has plenty to do with regular everyday life. Research has found, that after basic needs are met, people are not made more happy by wealth, status or praise. Rather, it is the wealth of the intrinsic goals that creates a rich life. The movie chronicles rickshaw drivers, surfers, and African nomads who all count themselves as very fulfilled and happy, not because of the outward (extrinsic) trappings of their lives, but because of the joy they find in family and community and personal fulfillment. It was really quite eye opening.

The other epiphany I came to as I watched this movie is how this might also apply to writing. I know we would love to have our books picked up by a major publisher, maybe a nice advance, maybe even fans (how 'bout a movie deal thrown in?). But what if seeking after extrinsic goals will never turn us into happy writers? It reminded me of the story Stephen King tells of getting a huge desk and putting it in the middle of his room after his first big breaks. Now he was A Writer. But after he had his own epiphany, the big desk was dumped, and a small desk installed in the corner of the room. Because, he said (something to this effect, I don't have the quote on me), writing is a part of life, it is not Life. I also loved Trisha's post 'In Which I Don't Write' and her conclusion, that she has to write because she just likes it. In other words, it makes her happy.

Can writing lead to personal growth? Oh, yeah. All that imagination and those great story ideas roiling around in your head - it's intoxicating, isn't it?

Can it enhance personal relationships? Uh...maybe? I spend a lot more time staring at the screen these days. But it's been fun to see each of my kids pick up a passion for writing their own stories. And my hubby is fab. And there are such great writing communities around (like the Prosers!).

Does it help others? I think it can. We've had several discussions here about books that have touched our lives at just the right moment to make a difference, and how much we would like to give that gift to others, too.

I guess, the thing I took away from this, as far as writing is concerned, is similar to the conclusion MaryAnn came to, and Trisha, and Sheena, and Melanie, and Sabrina - you have to write first and foremost for yourself, for your love of your story, and because you are happy when you do it.

~ Susan

What I just finished reading: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth E. Wein - wow. just wow. read this. really.
What I'm reading now: A Confusion of Princes, by Garth Nix
What I'm listening (and cleaning) to: Tenth Grade Bleeds, by Heather Brewer
What I'm writing now: A blog post. Oh, you mean writing...the end of chapter 20 / 62K.


  1. Excellent post, Susan.

    I've come to realize that that looking forward and thinking if only I had an agent or a book deal or good sales or five star reviews I'd be happy isn't true. If your not happy now, you won't be happy then. And if you are not happy now, you need to figure out why because there is no stage or place you are in life where you can't be happy.

    So whenever I'm not happy. I try to look inward and figure out why rather than look outward to things (like book deals) that I think will make me happy.

  2. I love your answers to those questions. I am so grateful to have people like the Prosers in my life. Whether or not writing has enhanced the relationships I have with the people I live with remains a matter of debate. But yes, writing makes me happy. Most of the time. :)


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