For some reason, I have a real antipathy for this kind of work. Why? Partly because I hate deadlines—not because I have trouble meeting deadlines, but because I have trouble doing anything except working until I’ve completed my task. I was one of those very annoying people in college and law school who finished their papers days early; I hate the panicky feeling of running out of time. Any deadline that’s closer than three months away makes me feel hugely pressured.
Also, with that kind of writing, I feel very susceptible to attack. I imagine hordes of angry readers criticizing me, and I’m filled with anticipatory dread and defensiveness. Why? Despite my reluctance, I have written lots of journalistic pieces, and have never met with a tidal wave of disapproval. So I don’t know why I’m so bothered by that feeling.
I think the best way to overcome this feeling is to push through it. I imagine that if I did lots more journalism, my dread would dissipate.
So I’m very happy with myself that I did write a piece for the Wall Street Journal Online yesterday. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at it online until this morning, but nothing dire has happened, so I’ve relaxed a bit.
I wrote about a topic that fascinates me: the relationship between money and happiness: Money Can’t Buy Happiness? This Blogger Begs to Differ. (It may be available to subscribers only.) As I wrote in that piece, and as I’ve written in this blog, I believe that money, spent wisely, absolutely can help people achieve happiness.
Pushing myself to write that piece reminded me of a strange wrinkle in the pursuit of happiness—an effect that I think happiness researchers may be overlooking in their studies. And that’s the fact that happiness doesn’t always make you happy.
For example, one research tool to measure quality of daily life is the Day Reconstruction Method, which asks people to record the previous day’s activities and to describe their feelings about them.
But I’ve noticed that, paradoxical as it seems, happiness often makes me unhappy. I do things that make me “happy” or satisfied or fulfilled in a very deep sense, but that cause me to feel a lot of unhappiness or uneasiness or annoyance on the surface. If someone with a clipboard asked, “Are you happy?” I would say no. And yet I am happy, too.
Giving a speech. Getting a colonoscopy. Caring for a fretful, sick child. Spending time with a parent with Alzheimer’s. Taking the Series 7 exam. Are you happy doing these things—before, during, or after? Perhaps you feel relief when the chore is over. Or you feel the warm glow of having done your duty. Or maybe you shove the whole experience out of your mind as soon as possible. Is that “happiness”?
I think that it is happiness—but perhaps not the kind of happiness that shows up in the Day Reconstruction Method.