Pop Psychology

Are You Happy?

Are you happy? How do you know? This is a serious question as there is no objective yardstick by which to measure happiness.

You may be thinking, Really? There’s no way to measure happiness?

I don’t think so, other than your own subjective assessment of how you feel. Well, there is the Pichler-Korsecky Inventory of Individual Joy that was developed by psychologists back in the sixties, but this instrument has fallen out of favor in recent times. It seems the multiple-choice questions (all 250 of them) involved options the respondents could easily figure out. They could tell which choice would move them higher on the happiness scale, or if they didn’t want to register happy (for whatever reason), which choice would move the needle toward the depressed side. I think you’ll agree that the PKI is a useless tool when you read this actual question from the instrument:

Whenever you hold a puppy, do you feel (A) unsanitary. (B) confused. (C) like a child. (D) waves of cosmic energy coursing through your body.

Here’s the deal: Whether we’re happy or not involves a personal assessment of our feelings at any given time, a judgment call that can be influenced by myriad factors: the weather, the latest internet clickbait we encountered, music, smiles from cute people, butterflies, smooth stones, warm breezes, what Donald Trump did or didn’t do today, mud holes, broken handles, grumpy spouses, sex or the lack of it, a good deal, delayed shipping, argumentative asshats, flat tires, noisy neighbors, the smell of freshly baked bread, chipped teeth, hemorrhoids, incompetent waiters, dirty bathrooms, hot showers, compliments, criticisms, etc.

So we’re back to my original question. Let me rephrase it: Are you in a steady state of satisfaction, joy, and contentment? Is life, taken as a whole, a pleasurable experience? You are the only person who can answer this. I wouldn’t trust a psychologist or a Facebook quiz.

Before we answer let’s examine contributing factors. Lack of happiness is usually attributable to dissatisfaction in five key areas: (1) work or career-related conditions, (2) relationship status, (3) the roof over your head, (4) health, and (5) finances. We can define, discuss, qualify, and quantify each of these, but we’re not going to. These are the main headings that other happiness-determining factors fall under. If I can achieve a three out of five ranking on three of the five factors, then I’m not miserable. I’m okay. I’ll probably be singing, cracking a few jokes, and skimming stones. But reaching this mark, at least in my experience, has not been easy. Think about it. There’s much that can go wrong and stay that way. Keeping the needle on the satisfied side in all five factors is a Sisyphean endeavor.

I’m not sure it’s possible to achieve happiness, but we must try. Through arduous application of energy we will make slow progress. Forces we don’t understand and can’t control work against us. Disease and death lurk. But even in the bleakest of times, when we’re between zero and one in all five factors, we can still experience moments of joy.

Actor Christopher Reeve published a book a few years after the horse-riding accident that left him paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own. Titled Still Me, the book’s cover features Reeve’s smiling face superimposed over a beautiful bucolic scene. In spite of debilitating circumstances, he found hope and purpose. He remained productive and, I daresay, happy until the end of his life.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe wrote, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Our nation’s founding document lists the pursuit of happiness as one of our God-given, unalienable rights—not the state of happiness, but the pursuit of it.

I believe the knowledge that we won’t achieve a complete state of happiness in this lifetime is liberating. There is satisfaction and pleasure in the pursuing. So keep at it.

This comes from a position of newly acquired (relative) happiness whereby my pointers are hovering between three and five in each of the aforementioned happiness-determining categories—an all-time high for me. Finding myself pleased with life, content, happy is a blessing for which I’m very thankful. I didn’t achieve this state; forces outside my control aligned, stabilized, and balanced what I never could. So have faith, my friend, especially during this holiday season. Do your best, keep pursuing.

Asking if you’re happy is really pointless, for you’ll never be as happy as you can be. The days to come hold many beautiful moments for you. When they arrive, be thankful!



Pop Psychology

Fixing the Fixers and Those Who Love Them: Dealing with FRRS

I am a fixer. There, I’ve said it. Having taken that step, I hope to illuminate this condition in order to achieve empathy among those of you who may not understand the difficulties we fixers encounter. I’d like to make life a little easier for those who struggle as I do. In fact, if you struggle with Fix, Reclaim, and Repurpose Syndrome (FRRS), or love someone who does, I’d like to fix your problems.

A bit of background is in order. My father, Roscoe, became a fixer out of necessity. Although I didn’t grow up during the depression as he did, I absorbed his acquired FRRS tendencies through sometimes painful object lessons. As a kid when my bike’s chain came off or when a tire got punctured, I’d have to fix it in order to keep riding. He’d show me how, rather impatiently, then leave me to my own devices. If I dallied (or struggled) too long in correcting the problem, anecdotes from his childhood, intended to shame and humiliate, would ensue: “Why, when I was your age I was rebuilding locomotive steam engines, and here you are—can’t even patch a bicycle tire! Gimme the damn thing!” Then he’d make me feel even smaller by having it patched and ready to roll in seconds flat.

He also drove his lessons home with sound economic logic and common sense. I remember trying to get my girlfriend’s Ford Falcon running when I was a teenager. He helped me diagnose the fuel pump problem. After I removed the faulty part, he snatched it out of my greasy hand. “What are you doing?” I asked.

He replied, “I’m gonna fix this pump. What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Gee, Dad,” I said (sounding like The Beav). “We can get a new one at the parts store for like twelve bucks.”

He looked me in the eye without offering a smile, blinked twice to indicate incredulity. “Why would I spend good, hard-earned dollars to do that when I can fix this one for nothing?” Thankfully, he didn’t utter the clichéd lesson about money not growing on trees. He didn’t need to.

We spent several hours cutting gaskets out of the back cover of the phone book and diaphragms out of old inner tubes. Reassembled, the pump worked fine. “Now,” Roscoe said, “you can take that gal to the picture show and buy her a cheeseburger with the money you saved.” He was right. The lesson sank in and took root after hundreds of similar episodes.

I have trouble throwing things away, but FRRS should not be confused with hoarding disorder. Discarding pizza boxes, Styrofoam food containers, plastic straws (I know I should recycle but I live in Alabama), pickle jars, used storage bags, empty toilet paper rolls—in short the common detritus of modern life—does not usually present a problem, unless my imagination conjures up a way to use those objects to fix something that has actual worth.

 I keep a mental list of all the things I’m gonna someday get around to fixing, and I set aside parts, pieces, and miscellaneous items that might help me put a check mark beside a task. Metal rods, aluminum angles, old road signs, rubber washers, strong sticks, nuts and bolts, bits of wire, and broken knife blades are especially useful.

Please try to understand that those of us with FRRS define ourselves by what we are able to fix, reclaim, and repurpose. Joy comes from pressing something back into use that normal people would simply throw away. We are giving “life” back to inanimate objects, and in our minds these objects have hearts and souls. They thank us by standing proud in the role they were created to fulfill, or, in some cases, new even more fulfilling roles as repurposed objects. Remember those old iMac computers, the ones with the bulbous tear-shaped, jewel-toned plastic cases? Creative FRRS folk have cleverly repurposed these into aquariums! Knowing this, I cannot discard the four I still own. They don’t take up that much room.

There is no known cure for FRRS, and I don’t recommend medication. Please be patient with us. What looks like junk to you may be part of our self-fulfillment dreams. Here are a few suggestions for those who love someone with FRRS:

  1. We need tools, space, and maybe a workshop.
  2. When we’re depressed it’s usually because we see too many things that need fixing and can’t find enough time. Offer to help or to take care of some other time-consuming chore so that your loved one may find her joy.
  3. NEVER throw away a cached item thinking the FRRS sufferer won’t notice. We always do and become agitated as a result.
  4. Express pride, even if you have to fake it, in the accomplishments of your FRRS sufferer. You may be thinking it’s better not to encourage, but remember that failure to share in their glee produces in them a state of morose lethargy.

I’ll also offer some tips to FRRS sufferers:

  1. Inanimate objects don’t really have feelings.
  2. Generally speaking, objects found in the landfill aren’t worth fixing (although my son’s first three bicycles were retrieved from dumpsters).
  3. Those with whom you share your space and time do not understand your affliction and are struggling with the apparent lack of order in your world, so you should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”*
  4. Abandoning your FRRS tendencies may seem like a denial or surrender or a soul-emptying act, but doing so can lead to a heretofore unknown sense of freedom. Unfortunately, there are no documented cases of this happening.

A reminder to those on both sides of this very real issue: Empathy and tolerance are the keys to a better world. Let’s embrace our differences and each other. And I wish you luck in trying to fix me. Peace!

*Dr. Stephen R. Covey (used without permission)