My former boss at Self, Lucy Danziger, just co-wrote a book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, all about how to figure out, when you feel like crap, exactly why you feel like crap, and how to de-crapify your life.
Or at least change your feelings about your life, which is really all that counts, when you think about it.Â Most all happiness research uses measures of “subjective well-being” to gauge what is happy-making and what fails to deliver lasting joy. In other words, they ask folks what makes them happy, super jazzed, and off-the-hook ecstatic and for how long. Then they analyze the data and come up with truisms that the likes of Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Bette Midler and countless others have been singing about for decades: Girls just wanna have fun, you gotta have faith and you gotta have friends. Oh, and for what it’s worth, money can’t buy you love, nor does it lead to lasting happiness.
Good reminders, all, and I appreciate when there’s solid research that confirms what we know or dispels conventional pop music wisdom. It’s just that I live in fear of the day that science figures out where on a woman’s body to attach electrodes to measure how “objectively” happy she is. After that, it’s only a matter of time before certain people are declared sub-optimally content, even if they were pretty sure they felt fine (they’ll call it SOC Syndrome), and market old drugs under new names to treat it. Pretty soon, the women who feel fine will start to feel sub-optimally fine and want the pill. There will not be a generic until it goes off patent…you know the drill.
In any case, I’m enjoying the book, and not just because I know and like the author and see lots of little interactions we had over the years in a new light. There are lots of dishy women’s stories about the little irksome negative things that vex us every day, along with some interesting insight as to how to untangle them.
Lucy’s nine rooms refer metaphorically to each of your emotional spaces–the bedroom, in which you sort through intimacy and romance issues; the bathroom, in which you deal with health, body image and aging, and so on. (That’s the last time I make fun of my husband for spending too much time in the can. Apparently I practically live in the bathroom.)
The idea is to make sure the stuff in one room stays where it belongs, so you don’t, say, spew old “basement” problems (like that your dad never thought you were good enough) in your actual or metaphorical office, where you deal with issues of success. You also want to work on keep your rooms as tidy as possible, so you don’t open the metaphorical cabinet door and get concussed by a metaphorical can of chick peas in your metaphorical kitchen.
Living as I do in a two-bedroom apartment with a husband, two six-year-olds,Â every single one of the elaborate glittery arts and crafts projects they’ve ever made and an inexplicable surplus of chick peas, I can’t help thinking that nine rooms (plus one that’s all mine to do what I want in it) would make me happy in the literal sense. But according to the book, it probably wouldn’t. What’s more, nine actual rooms would be hard to keep clean, just as it can be hard to keep all nine of your metaphorical rooms clean.
But it’s a worthy pursuit, and if the rambling Victorian mansion imagery helps you organize your thinking about how you take care of yourself, the book has lots of interesting new ways of looking and old problems (the co-author is a psychiatrist who has a lovely, non-judgmental way of approaching things.)
What I liked most about the book was that while I understood many of the aggravations the women in their 20s and 30s discussed–the needy friends, the belief that the behaviors of those close to me reflect on me–having lived through them, I have far fewer of them than before I was a Formerly. Whether my rooms are cleaner than they were, or whether I’ve come to embrace a certain amount of messiness, I’m not sure.
One thing I do know is, now that I’m a Formerly, my life isn’t objectively better than it was when I was in my 20s and 30s. I just feel better about it. And, like I said, that’s all I care about.
Question for you: Is it more important to change your circumstances to improve your life, or to change your feeling about your life, as is, including all or most of its preexisting conditions? I’d love to hear from you.