Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guest Blogger: Dr. Bob Nozik - HAPPINESS, HUMOR, & LOVE

Bob Nozik, MD*
In future BLOGS I will show you ways for increasing your happiness, I promise.  But today I want to let you in on a rather provocative concept of mine relating happiness, humor, and love in a way I bet you’ve never heard before.

My interests primarily have to do with finding ways for raising people’s enduring happiness.  However, I discovered early on that laughter and humor are inexorably entwined with happiness.

What I want to do today is give you, the reader, a unique insight into what I consider some amazing parallels between happiness, humor, and love.

I’ll begin by making a few key observations for each of the three, tie them together and draw some conclusions.

Happiness: There are two distinctly different kinds of happiness: the common “hedonic” and the much rarer “eudaimonic” happiness. 

We all experience hedonic happiness, five, six, seven or more times every day of our lives.  It is the happiness that comes to us whenever something happens we want or like.  Examples would include when our favorite sports team wins a game; winning the lottery; finding a great parking place.  Note that it comes from things outside of our self.  This kind of happiness feels great but never lasts as long as we want.

Eudaimonic happiness, unfortunately, is rarely seen in our society.  It is internally generated and is relatively independent of external events.  Best of all, once we learn how to get and maintain it, it won’t ever leave.  Also, it feels different from its hedonic cousin.  Hedonic happiness comes on as an exuberant, joyful blast while eudaimonic expresses itself as a deep, enduring, inner peace and contentment.

Humor: Humor comes from incongruent or surprising situations and jokes resulting in the emotion of mirth.  Humor, says Rod A. Martin (Psychology of Humor, Academic Press, 2007) is “a broad-based term that refers to anything people say or do that is perceived as funny and tends to make others laugh…”  We bump into humor all around us and most of us experience humor a number of times every day. 

Most of us highly value having a good sense of humor.  In fact, a recent study reports the 80% of us believe we have a better than average sense of humor.  Those with a good sense of humor find humor in almost everything and everywhere.  Some of those with the most highly evolved sense of humor develop what is called a humorous perspective where they find humor in almost every aspect of life, even including death.    Though few reach it, this represents the highest level of sense of humor.

Ardent Love: As in the case of happiness and humor, there are two kinds of amorous or ardent love; the rather commonly seen romantic variety and the much more rarely encountered mature love.  Most of us will experience the passion and heat of romantic love a number of times--five, six, or more times--before we settle down with “the One.” 

It should be noted that 50% of marriages end in divorce and, in my view, at least 50% of those remaining stay together, not because the marriages are successful but due to inertia, fear of being alone, or other fears. 

The number of truly successful long-term marriages, the kinds based on what I call mature love, is very rare indeed.  Still, most of us know one or two couples who not only still love, but truly enjoy and respect each other after 20, 40, or even more years together.

Summary Chart: Let’s chart the parallels we can make from what’s just been said humor, happiness, and love.

Category/sub cat.       Onset             Incidence        Duration         Life Impact
A) Humor                      Rapid              Common         Brief                 Small
B) Sense of Humor        Gradual          Rare                 Long                 Great

A) Hedonic                    Rapid              Common         Brief                 Small
B) Eudaimonic              Gradual           Rare                 Long                 Great

A) Romantic                 Rapid               Common         Brief                 Small
B) Mature                     Gradual            Rare                Long                 Great

Perhaps these similarities between humor/happiness/love are just serendipitous; however, I suspect that the linkages between them are real.  All three have an emotional component (humor, hedonic happiness, and romantic love) and, as the chart shows, they are remarkably similar in their presentation, course, and effect.  Similarly, all three have enduring life-path elements (sense of humor, eudaimonic happiness, and mature love) which are also quite similar in their course, development, and impact.

Could it be that humor, happiness, and love are really just variations of our basic humanity?  I suspect they are linked in a fundamental way.  And, while I am unaware of any research joining them in this way, I suspect that if we looked, we would find that the people who enjoy eudaimonic happiness also possess a strong sense of humor and enjoy mature love. 

"Love doesn't make the world go 'round, it just makes the ride worthwhile."

"Love may make the world go 'round, but laughter keeps us from getting dizzy."

What do you think?  

Bob Nozik, MD, has been writing and speaking on happiness since developing his own deep, inner, nearly constant happiness 25 years ago.  Bob is Professor Emeritus from University of California San Francisco Medical Center, having retired in 1999.  He is the author of two books on happiness: 1) "Happy 4 Life: Here's How to Do It," and "Happy Tymes Rhymes: Just for the Fun of It."  Both books can be ordered from or by contacting Bob at:  

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Steve Wilson

Friday, June 22, 2012

No laughing matter - Indian yoga gigglers banned

No laughing matter - Indian yoga gigglers banned is the headlne of a June 19, 2012, news report fro Mumbai, India. Click on the headline to read the report.

It triggered my flashback to 2003 when flying ice-water taught Certified Laughter Leaders a lesson when I convened the First International Symposium on Laughter in Kissimmee, Florida.

There were 125 of us when Dr. Kataria and I were leading the first 6 a.m. laughter session at the conference hotel. The morning’s venue was around the hotel swimming pool which was centered among the guest room buildings.

We started as usual with the traditional clapping and chanting HO HO HA HA HA. The group was uber-enthusiatic, LOUD and HAPPY.

Very quickly, an angry man's voice from one of the guest rooms above us echoed down to the pool, “Shut up! I’m trying to sleep!”

We fell silent for a moment. Then some of our laughter group start shouting up to the unknown complainer, imploring him, “You need laughter! This is good for you! You should be down here with us!” And they started clapping and chanting even louder than before.
Then, as if raining down from the heavens, a pitcher of ice water was thrown over a balcony, drenching some of our laughers.
Liquid message received.
We stopped the session. Urged everyone to be silent, and quietly explained to our group that we must respect that laughter is not appropriate all the time, there are times when laughter and humor are not welcome, and we must not force laughter on anyone.

Whenever you discover that your laughter or humor is annoying, you must stop it. It is antithetical for us to annoy people with what we do. If you annoy others with laughter and humor, insisting even that it is for their own good (Oh, no!) you violate our most important values and strategies. You violate the social contract that guides all of us to respect others and do no harm.
In that situation, it was incumbent upon us to move away to where we would not bother anyone. We scouted the property and quickly found an area in the parking lot and another, grassy area; both were away from the guest rooms.

We moved immediately and held all subsequent outdoor sessions in those two spots.

No more problems.

A legendary teachable moment. Great object lesson, now often taught in our training.

Maybe the groups in India mentioned in the attached article didn’t get the message. Well, they will now, I am sure.
If you hadn't gotten the message elsewhere, now you know, too!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Happiness Equation

Consider the basis of your expectations. To the extent that you can make more accurate predictions about outcomes in your future, you increase your chances of feeling happiness.

Consider that gratitude is easier to come by when disappointment is minimal.
Tony Robbins gets this, but my mother got it long before Tony Robbins.

Mom and my sister, 1939
She died of ovarian cancer when I was turning 21.
From her diagnosis to her demise was just a matter of a few weeks.
My being rocked by the sudden, unpredicted loss of such a healthy—not to mention significant—woman, propelled me into my quest for meaning.
It  led me to the life-long philosophy, “Don’t Postpone Joy!”

Before her untimely death, my mom was able to offer me many valuable lessons and advice that I was too young and brash to take to heart at the time. I have been sorting it out ever since, and now I can look back on it with amazed, and sometimes amused, appreciation.

Among her many talents, intelligence and abilities, my mom dispensed a wealth of armchair psychology and old-world philosophy. Having landed in Brooklyn for a few years, her Austrian and Hungarian immigrant parents lived with us in a typical Philadelphia "row home," providing a daily amalgam of superstition, philosophy, and Orthodox Jewish law. She was fascinated with the idea of "neurosis". In an era (the 1940s and 1950s) when Freud was all the rage, neurosis was everybody's condition, and psycho-pharmacology, especially the use of barbiturates, was taking off like a rocket.

Some of her advice was patently superstitious and just wrong. For example, we only spoke the names of serious illnesses (polio, cancer) in hushed whispers, as if saying them out loud would make them worse or bring them on to somebody else. If you dropped a knife it meant that company was coming; to avoid bad luck, never put a hat on a bed or open an umbrella in the house. And, this strange warning was issued, "If you laugh before breakfast, you will cry before supper!" Really? Don't be too happy early in the morning? Really?

Even before I was a teenager, she taught me this formula for happiness:
Where H=Happiness, R=Realization, and E=Expectation.

In other words, with any actual outcome or situation, the greater your expectation had been, the less happy you are likely feel.

Conversely, the smaller your expectation, compared to the actual outcome, the happier you will feel.
Prescription for happiness: Keep your expectations low.
In the pseudo-biblical vernacular: She or he who expecteth nothing, ain’t gonna be deceived.


By necessity, most of the decisions, plans and actions that you will make in your lifetime must be based on less than perfect knowledge of the future. By necessity, your expectations rely on predictions and your happiness relies not necessarily on lowering expectations, but on your ability to adjust your expectations appropriately.

Dictionary Definitions of related terms
Expect: to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of.
Predict: to declare or tell in advance; prophesy; foretell.
Wish: to want; desire; long for (usually followed by an infinitive or a clause): I wish to travel. I wish that it were morning.
Hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: a person or thing in which expectations are centered.
Belief: something believed;  an opinion or conviction, e.g. a belief that the earth is flat. Confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.
Evidence: that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof; data.

Here's my point:
  • Expectations are a type of prediction.
  • Predictions are statements, beliefs or hopes, about the future.
  • Statements about the future cannot be labeled "true or false"; until the event happens, predictions and expectations can have some probability of being correct.
  • That probability, the odds of correctly forecasting something happening in the future, will be more or less accurate depending on the basis for calculating those odds.
  • When you know how "good" the evidence is for your prediction, your can adjust expectations accordingly; you can minimize the risk of disappointment, and maximize your happiness --and gratitude-- related to the event you predicted.

He or she is a forecaster of weather events, predicting the weather in statements about the future, and couching those predictions as the odds of the occurrence of some weather phenomenon.

For example, when you hear that the forecast is for a chance of rain you can make plans about taking an umbrella or not, leaving early for an appointment, driving or not, etc. What will be very helpful to your planning is knowing the percentage of chance of rain. A 10% chance of rain may influence you differently than a 90% chance of rain.

Whether its the weather forecast or your best friend telling you about the new neighbors who are about to move in, or a co-worker telling you about the forthcoming policy changes, or a TV ad telling you what will happen if such-and-such candidate is elected, you need ot be asking, "How do you know?"

Your knowing the basis of a forecast is critical to your setting your expectations and, therefore, to your happiness. Did the weatherman consult tea leaves or was modern meterorological science involved?

By the way, whatever the prediction, a careful forecaster will be correct. A 90% chance of rain also means a 10% chance of "not rain". If you tote your umbrella to work and it doesn't rain, don't blame the forecaster; the prediction included the "no rain" possibility, too.

Examine the basis for your expectations and for your predictions of outcomes in your life. Are they based on lots of personal experiences, or on claims made by an actor paid to be in a TV commercial. Are you pinning your hopes on good science or on your most recent Fortune Cookie?

The more important the outcome is to you, the important it is to have a solid basis for your prediction/expectation.

For example, going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant, you will probably pile the family in the car and drive over there. You are actually predicting that the restaurant will be open, and you are acting on that prediction. If it turns out to be closed for renovations, your disappointment over your casual prediction/expectation will likely be minimal and short-lived, and you will find another restaurant.

However, if the restaurant were 150 miles away and the trip required an overnight stay, you probably wouldn't just start driving in that direction. Your happiness and gratitude are at greater risk if you fail to do some checking and, instead, act as if you are 100% certain it was still there and still open, with hotels with vacancies nearby. You could reduce the risk of disappointment to yourself and your family, and increase the likelihood of happiness for them, by doing some calling ahead. You would then make a better prediction and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Typically, adjusting your expectations to maximize your happiness and gratitude takes practice, but I predict that you will say it is worth the effort.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Happiness at the molecular level

Here is a cross-section of a blade of grass, prepared for viewing with a microscope. It was done by Di Davis who asks that you respect her copyright of the image.
Doesn't it look like the grass is full of smiley faces?

Can you imagine a cross-section of a human cell showing something similar?
I can, and it is an amazing, amusing and wonderful thought.

Maybe, someday we'll have this kind of evidence proving that we can create happy human cells.

The source didn't say, but I'm assuming that the specimen is, like, lawn grass, and not the kind you smoke. That leads to a whole other discussion.

I'm just saying...

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