Bookclub: Stumbling on Happiness

This whole IF thing really messes with you, amiright? When you isolate the problem, it seems fairly straightforward: you’re not able to physically have a child.

But really it isn’t that simple. It isn’t simple because it makes you question your entire life. That sounds so dramatic when I see it written out, but it really does. For me, it’s made me question the very path I wanted and believed I was headed down. I live so much of my life in the future tense, and now that’s a big, stinking pile of Question Mark. Let the crisis ensue.

So I did what any nerd does at a time like this. I read. First I read some Dalai Lama. That man is the shit. Seriously, get on that. In this same vein, I’ve also started reading Thich Nhat Hahn. Also good, especially if you’re working on mindfulness. (Which is something I’d strongly recommend, if you’re piling on fear and anxiety to your IF-related grief. That’s no way to live. You gotta shake it out, folks.)

All this reading of Buddhist monks made me wonder if I was becoming a cliche. I mean, come on… I wouldn’t exactly be the first white western lady to hop on that bandwagon. I worried I might start burning incense and wearing Free Tibet t-shirts. Bring on the patchouli!

Before I dove off the eastern philosophy deep end, I decided to pick up Stumbling on Happiness. Contrary to what the title may imply, this isn’t about how to find happiness. It is about how human beings are wired to pursue happiness, how we predict our futures, and how delighted we think we’ll be once we get there.  And I LOVE IT.

There is a whole lot that speaks to me in this book. Here are a few quotes that slapped me in the face. It’s like the author, Daniel Gilbert, is living in my brain.

On my new-found peace with living childless:

“It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience, which is why we love the clunker in the driveway, the shabby cabin that’s been in the family for years, and Uncle Sheldon despite his predilection for nasal spelunking. We find silver linings only when we must.”

On my feelings of having “unexplained” IF:

“People expect to feel equally bad when a tragic accident is the result of human negligence as when it is the result of dumb luck, but they actually feel worse when luck is dumb and no one is blameworthy.”

On why I cannot feel good about anything. Like at all:

“We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present… When we try to overlook, ignore, or set aside our current gloomy state and make a forecast about how we will feel tomorrow, we find that it’s a lot like trying to imagine the taste of a marshmallow while chewing liver.”

And of course, I’ve saved the best for last…

On why blogging about all this just hurts so gooood:

“When experiences are unpleasant, we quickly move to explain them in ways to make us feel better… Indeed, studies show that the mere act of explaining an unpleasant event can help defang it. For example, simply writing about a trauma– such as the death of a loved one or a physical assault– can lead to surprising improvements in both subjective well-being and physical health.”


In summary, I’m chewing on an entire plate of metaphorical liver. But if I blog about it, it’s all a little less bad?

Yes, if only by degrees. A little less bad.


One comment

  1. labmonkeyftw · July 15, 2014

    I am now user 9 of 9 on the library waitlist for Stumbling on Happiness: thanks for the recommendation! It sounds perfect.
    If you chew on metaphorical liver, it opens the door to marshmallows, and I can’t imagine anything more fun than marshmallows ringing my doorbell.

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