As you already know if you’ve read my blogs I’ve been reading a lot of positive psychology. One of the theories is the application of the terms adaptation and habituation to happiness. Good sized words to say happiness doesn’t last. You’ll get used to the good life and then it will lose its power to thrill you.
I’ve had experiences of enduring happiness. Before the real estate crisis in 2008 I lived in a home that was a cross between charming and elegant. I loved my house. Every day I woke up happy, padding into the kitchen for tea and chocolate chip cookies, looking forward to a sweaty yoga class before the work of the day began.
Late afternoon watching light filter through the gnarled trunk and faded flowers of the Smoke tree outside the master bedroom was a pleasure. I put in a fire pit down a little slope outside the master. I created ceremonies feeding the fire with the pains of the past. I constructed prayer arrows. Each one banded together with my promises and positive intentions. I planted them at the base of the tree. I asked the power of the sun the moon the wind and rain, the stars to carry my prayers. Each time I walked into the bedroom I checked to see how the tree was feeling or I just stood taking in her beauty.
Early morning and at twilight the coyotes crossed through the open space behind the house. Blackie barked telling them to keep their distance. They stood and watched unimpressed.
When real estate collapsed and the banks stopped loaning money at the price point of my income rentals I couldn’t rent the properties. I loved all my homes. Giving them up, selling them felt wrong. I thought I could wait it out. Surely after the economy adjusted the rental market would resume. Right??
One year turned into two years. I burned through capitol. At the end of the second year things were getting desperate. There is a line spoken by the main character in the movie The Fault in my Stars, based on John Green's book, goes something like this, “I’m a grenade. Any minute I could explode. I have to do damage control the best I can to minimize the destruction….”
I probably didn’t get the quote exactly right. I hope you’ll forgive the error in service to the point I’m making. My life had turned into a time bomb waiting to go off and on the horizon it didn’t look like the collapsed rental market would change in the foreseeable future…..I mean years into the foreseeable future.
In my efforts to save the money invested in my homes I’d spent my capital; spending money to save money? Hmmm….
But back to habituation and adaptation and the idea that happiness will disintegrate. These are scientific sounding words applicable to scientific phenomenon but don’t necessarily translate into the destruction of authentic happiness. Positive Psychology is powerful, evolving ways to describe living in order to maximize the positive and buffer you from the negative.
That said, in my experience theories of adaptation and habituation do not apply to genuine happiness. What is genuine happiness? How do you know when you have it? Look to the moments and environments where you engage in your signature strengths. Where does beauty inhabit your life? Don’t have any beauty? Make some. Make habits out of utilizing your strengths in service to something greater than yourself.
I lived in my house for years. My goal was for my home to nourish and inspire everyone who crossed the threshold of my front door. I knew I’d hit the mark when friends, family, and even repair technicians walked through the door and let out a sigh. “Ahhhhhhh……”
My home was filled with light, both natural and spiritual. I never tired of the simple things; the sound of my shoes on the travertine tile, walking into the laundry room, with its island and cupboards providing spacious organization and utility. The chime of the grandfather clock, the desert air after the rain, walking to the mailbox on cobblestones I appreciated every minute.
I hope each of you reading this will find your everlasting happiness.
Follow these clues. My theory is adaptation and habituation happen when life is not grounded in authentic ties to beauty, meaning and purpose. Authenticity, engaging personal strengths in service to greater purpose; meaning and beauty, these are the keys to enduring happiness.