I’d Give Up Being Happy To Be Happy

Tonight a friend of mine drunkenly called me after hitting up a bar too many (or maybe it was the perfect number of bars).

We were having a pretty funny and awesome one-sided drunk conversation for awhile (I was unfortunately just sitting soberly at my desk), when the tone turned slightly negative. It was a still pretty awesome conversation, the way one sided drunk and negative conversations can often be (admit it), and things were said such as ‘sometimes people can just suck! Why?? Why do they suck??’ Rambling rants commenced.

Then my friend suddenly said “I just want to be happy. I’d give up being happy to be happy.”

I laughed and asked what in the world that meant.

“I don’t know,” was the reply, “I’m drunk. I’m rambling.”

“Haha, I see.”

“But I just want to be happy now. Not just later.”

My friend made an offhand drunk comment, but it got me thinking about long term happiness vs short term happiness- or long term happiness vs short term pleasure.  Right now, I’m kind of down and I just want everything to be okay. When I’m feeling upset,  sometimes I just want the shortest road to feeling better. Even though I know what will lead to happiness in the long term, there are times I just want things to satisfy me now.

Wanting pleasurable experience after pleasurable experience without sacrificing for the long term is called the hedonistic treadmill. Some people spend their whole lives on it. That short term patchwork feel-better “happiness” is actually just pleasure, whereas deeper and true lasting happiness is something far different. A good example is eating platters of nachos on the couch instead of exercising, when your goal is to get fit. The platters of nachos may be delicious and give you short term “happiness” (pleasure), but seeing results from your workout regime would give you way more long term happiness.

Right now I find myself grappling with this a lot, in much less obvious ways than the nacho example. I see the hedonistic treadmill issue pop up when I’d rather stay in a non-ideal situation rather than go through the discomfort of demanding better things in my life. Or when I want to feel peaceful all the time and can’t face occasionally upsetting but natural feelings in order to work through them.

Do you recognize a pleasure-addiction syndrome in your life- even a subtle one? What can you do to better face occasional unpleasantness and sometimes very scary feelings in order to have greater happiness in the long run?


How To Say Goodbye

“I have to go.”

Why are those words so hard to say sometimes?

Occasionally I’m on the phone and have to get off for whatever reason. Sometimes I really need to go to sleep because I have work very early in the morning. Other times I have to do work right then- maybe I’m in the middle of packing for a trip or doing my taxes or getting ready to go out.

I’ve never gotten much better at cutting off long conversations gracefully, even though I’m in my 30’s. I still find it super difficult.

If I was talking to someone I didn’t really like, then it’d be easy to get off the phone with them. I’d wait for the quickest pause, and then interrupt with ‘I’m so sorry, I better go to sleep because I have to wake up at 6am tomorrow” or “Sorry, I’m going into a subway tunnel,” or whatever. But why would I be talking on the phone to someone I didn’t really like? Usually, I have the opposite problem- I’m talking with somebody that I really DO like, and I know I have to go, but I don’t really want to. However, I’m getting more and more anxious about the time. Then I can barely concentrate on a conversation I really like, because I’m distracted by when I need to end it, and I don’t really get to enjoy the end of the talk anyway. And then I’m late.

This happens to me in person too. Sometimes I know I have to be somewhere or do something, but I’m just having the best time hanging out with someone. Then it starts getting later and later and anxiety creeps in. I’m worried I’m going to be late somewhere and I get distracted and can’t enjoy myself as much.

I wish I was better at figuring out these situations. Not only am I fighting myself with my obligations versus fun friend time, but I’m also worried about hurting another person’s feelings by cutting them off in the middle of a great conversation.

Jane, my lovely co-blogger, is way better at finagling this than I am, so I ran the issue by her. Even though I’ve experienced her gracefully end conversations with me numerous times because she had to run, she told me that even she feels like she has major problems here and feels anxious about it.

I’m trying to recount how she, and other friends of mine, are able to end conversations so tactfully and without hurting my feelings. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Find the quickest pause and then start with something nice.

In order to end the conversation, start with telling the other person how much you’ve loved talking to them so far. For example: “This has been so great, …but I have to get home and pack or I’ll get no sleep. I’m so sorry!”

2. Start the conversation with an end in mind.

If you know you have to end at a certain point, preface with that. For example, “Just so you know, I can’t talk too long because I have to pack for my Tahiti trip tomorrow. I apologize!” (Darn those Tahiti trips.)

3. Make a new plan

You can always end with a raincheck. For example, “This was great. Sorry I have to run…maybe we can catch up again tomorrow? You around?”

That’s all I’ve got. I’m going to try implementing these strategies and see how I feel. What do you guys think? Are you good at ending conversations gracefully? Do you worry about hurting others’ feelings? Or missing out on something great?


The Happy Shuttle Driver

When I got on the FlyAway Shuttle to LAX this morning, I was greeted by an incredibly friendly, happy driver. He immediately started talking about growing up in LA, his love of driving, his nine uber-close siblings, and his passion for motorcycles.

There was a lot of talk of pranks played as children, precocious brothers and sisters, and flying home for the holidays. I laughed so hard I nearly cried as he told story after zany story.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, the driver said, in the same even tone of voice he’d been using before, ‘My two best friends just died.’

I jerked my head hard as if I’d been slapped. The comment was completely out of nowhere. “Oh god- I’m so sorry!” I said. There was a silence. I squirmed. I didn’t want to pry.

He opened up without me asking. “We were all part of a motorcycle group. We did daredevil stunts and jumps and all kinds of tricks that most motorcyclists won’t do. Then one day we went to a motorcycle meet, and I was watching as my friend pulled his motorcycle out of the garage. A drunk driver came by and hit him then, and he was dead on the spot. He was just pulling out of the garage..”

“Oh my god,” I said. I didn’t know what to say. “That’s horrible.”

“Yeah. It wasn’t even the motorcycle that got him killed. It was a drunk driver.” He paused for a second, and then continued in the same even tone, “the other one too. My other best friend…hit by a drunk driver. I was actually working my shift at the time, driving the FlyAway Shuttle, and I looked over into the lane next to me. For his birthday, I’d given my friend a pair of sneakers he’d wanted, as a gift. And I looked over that day. And I saw a sneaker, the same sneaker…all alone, all by itself. And I wasn’t able to stop and see anything other than that sneaker, but I found out later. My friend had been cycling down the freeway, and a drunk driver started going the wrong direction. My friend swerved and was thrown from the bike. He still had one sneaker on. He died, and I just happened to drive by right then. It was too late. Both of them hit by drunk drivers.”

I was heartbroken. How was it that underneath this man’s happy exterior was the darkest, most earth-shattering sadness? And before we got to LAX, he continued his stories, telling me he’d been a shuttle driver for over 10 years and that he worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. “It’s good,” he said, “It keeps my mind off the hard things. It’s very good to be distracted.” And he smiled.

We arrived at the airport and bid our farewells. I’m shaken by the deep pain hidden under his smiling stories. Shaken by his love of his job for the saddest of reasons…and if the shuttle ride had been just a bit shorter, I would never have known.

You never know what people have going on under their happy, smiling exteriors.

Making Friends When You’re in a Long Term Relationship

Let me preface all of this by saying, I love female friendship. I’m kind of obsessed with it, actually. From the popular Sex and the City and Golden Girls to the less well-known Walking and Talking and Heavenly Creatures, I’ve seen EVERY movie and TV show about female friendships. Maybe it’s me being an only child and craving siblings, but I find these friendships to be deeply sustaining and life-affirming.

But I realized that since I’ve been in a relationship, about five and a half years, I haven’t made many super close girlfriends. I’ve made a lot of acquaintances, but not as many really close pals. It might simply be more challenging to meet new friends in your thirties, or it’s just plain harder when you’re in a serious relationship. Most likely, it’s a combination of both of these things. But for me, there’s one more element that I think is a factor.

Talking about boys.  In high school and college, I bonded with a lot of my friends by talking about boys and dating. I don’t feel like less of a feminist for saying that I love talking about these subjects, because I enjoy talking to my female friends about other subjects too. But one of the ways I bonded with new female friends was over men. This may just be my personality, because I was the girl who ALWAYS talked about her crushes or my fear that I would never meet that special someone.

I think it touches on something deeper, though. Talking about love and dating is really intimate; it’s not just superficial talk. You expose yourself, share your hopes for the future and that’s vulnerable. When I would share a story about my crush with a new friend, most of the time, she would share her own romantic adventures with me, and often, a friendship was born. I suppose I could share stories from my relationship now, but honestly it would almost feel like a betrayal to share anything negative about my relationship to new friends, since we’ve been dating for so long.

Now I feel like I’m more of a listener, and less of a contributor to these conversations about dating, and it makes me a little nostalgic for the old days. I don’t have stories involving crazy dates, or the drunk dial from the ex I still care about,  or the cute co-worker who I kissed once…And since I met my boyfriend before the boom of Tinder, I’m bummed that I can’t share my own adventures in swiping left and right.

But I guess you trade one thing for another. I wouldn’t want to go back to dating lots of new people just for the stories I could share with my new girlfriends. It’s about finding fresh meaningful ways to connect with recent women friends….quilting, anyone?

How Polite Are You?

Politeness is one of the most underrated skills I know. Even knowing that, I continually underrate it myself.

The word ‘polite’ makes me think of ‘table manners’ and ‘finishing school.’ I equate it with place settings and buttoned up shirts. It feels outdated somehow. Who puts ‘polite’ at the top of their list of self traits?

Would you strive to be exceptionally polite?

Although ‘polite’ and ‘proper’ are two similar words that aren’t exactly the same, they overlap, which makes me politeness only seem good up to a point. Saying please and thank you is good; keeping your elbows off the table is boring. When someone holds a door for me, that’s nice; when someone reprimands me for holding a fork ‘like a shovel’- that’s not so nice (this has happened in my adult life).

Holding a fork correctly is apparently a major skill.

Holding a fork correctly is apparently a major skill.

Am I polite? I try to be. I give up my seat when I see pregnant women on trains. I hold the door for the person behind me. ‘Please and ‘thank you,’ are regular parts of my vocabulary, as is the phrase “I’m sorry” (probably to an overblown extent). I try not to push tourists when they stop on the street for a photo.

But is that the extent of politeness? I read this article the other day called ‘How To Be Polite’ (which, from the title alone, I already thought was a bizarre, ‘too proper’ sounding article) that ended up broadly expanding upon politeness in a very surprising way.

The author describes his politeness as being way more than just well-mannered. He makes sure whoever he’s talking to in a conversation is heard. He asks probing questions and lets the other person talk while he truly listens. He writes emails of apology if he believes he’s wronged someone and believes in giving people second chances… even if he hated them the first time he met them. And if he hated them the first time, he’s polite enough that they’d never know. He also believes in virtually invisible politeness- never being polite in a showy way, but instead weaving it subtly through his interactions.

For him, politeness is really respecting other people- treating them as you’d want to be treated yourself. It becomes holding yourself to a certain standard, but not necessarily expecting that standard back from others. Because you never know what’s really happening in someone’s life:

“People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens.”

Perhaps politeness isn’t outdated and stodgy at all, but is something that desperately needs to to be rethought and brought back to life. If politeness was equated with second chances and empathy, with listening and not asking for anything in return, it can become a trait of very high value.

And maybe we just need to claim politeness as an important trait and build upon it. I’ve always been extremely empathetic, and I’m a pretty great listener, though not to the extent of the author in his conversations:

“I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. What does the jewelry feel like in your hand? What do the celebrities feel like in your hand? Which one is more smooth?”

That’s a lot, but it would be nice to feel that way! Politely overwhelmed with love and empathy for others! Politely full of a curious passion for the stories people tell! Even if they’re boring. Even if you hate them at first. When I think of politeness, that’s how I want to feel!

What if the word ‘polite’ went beyond ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and equated itself with curiosity, love, and second chances? I’ve already newly adjusted it into my vocabulary.


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