My friend’s husband often brings her coffee in the morning. He confessed to me that if he really wants to make her smile, he brings it to her in a mug that matches what she is wearing. “Don’t tell her about that,” my friend responded. “Now she’s going to think I’m crazy.”
Well, yes, wanting your coffee in a mug that matches your clothes is probably not normal, but my friend should know by now that I never thought she was normal, and I honestly don’t know anyone else who is either. So no worries about the color thing; it’s just another quirk.
Did you know that I code all of my to do lists? I have seven different symbols I use, depending on whether the task described is a household chore, or related to my writing, or a favor for someone I love. Seriously. I do this. Is that normal? Probably not, but it makes me happy.
Which gets me back to my current fascination with happiness. A few weeks ago I wrote about a report generated by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University about which countries have the happiest people. The results came from asking people to evaluate six parts of their lives which account for most of the variation in world happiness. I summed these six up as wealth, health, love, freedom, fairness and kindness.
Today, I’m thinking about the freedom part. We usually consider freedom in grandiose terms, as in the right to free speech, or to bear arms, or to choose our own religion. Obviously these are important topics, but I think it is the little freedoms to be ourselves that make for true delight.
Yes, we all do have to fit in enough to function at our jobs and be able to relate somewhat to our friends and family. Past that, though, it’s the goofy little things about us that make us smile. Getting to be quirky, our own harmless kinds of quirky, yields not only happier people, I believe that it also yields healthier ones — physically and mentally. In other words, acting a little odd doesn’t make you crazy, it helps you to stay sane. And once a society starts to tighten the constraints on individual expression, that society gets more pathology, not less.
We tend to take the freedom to dye our hair purple or own six gerbils or collect rugby memorabilia as a given, because no one passes laws against these things. But society has other ways to force us into abandoning our happy little habits. Work places, living spaces and organizations all impose restraints which should be for the good of the group but which sometimes seem designed more for conformity. Religions restrict behavior in ways intended to be for the good of the individual, but many edicts seem to be more about simple control. Perhaps most effective in today’s world are the many public ways we have of shaming each other into conformity. From commercials that make fun of the outliers to posts on social media, we exert a pressure on others to conform to the styles and tastes of the herd.
I contend that the endless struggle to be normal is much like the endless struggle to make more money and have more things. Up to a point it yields a certain amount of happiness,, and then after that it just doesn’t make a lot of difference. In fact, endlessly chasing after the money to buy the latest possession (yes, I’m talking about you iPhone 6s Plus) is like endlessly trying to have the latest possession to fit in. Neither is really going to make your insides glow with joy. And now we have a study to prove it.
(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)