This Emotional Life

by Gretchen Rubin

The folks at PBS sent me an advance copy of their upcoming documentary, "This Emotional Life." It's a three-part series focused on how people can be happier. Ah, my favorite subject!


I've been thinking about this very question all day long, practically every day, for the past several years, while I was writing my just-published book, The Happiness Project, and working on my daily blog, also called The Happiness Project. I whole-heartedly agree with one of the main tenets of "This Emotional Life": you can be happier than you are. But how? That's what the documentary seeks to address.


Episode Three, "Rethinking Happiness," was particularly engaging, because it covers many of the most fascinating--and controversial--topics within the larger subject of happiness. What's the relationship between money and happiness? Does marriage bring happiness; do children bring happiness? Who fares best--and why--when faced with a huge happiness challenge, like being a prisoner-of-war for years, being paralyzed in a diving accident, or not being able to find a job? How can people learn to forgive?


I was particularly interested in the discussion of the question: Has any of the advice given by the "self-help" industry been proven scientifically to work--and how effective is self-help, anyway? Turns out self-help is enormously effective, but some of it is dangerously unproven.


I'm a big fan of Daniel Gilbert's work (he's the author of Stumbling on Happiness), and he made a charming host. The episode features several profiles of compelling people, as well as appearances by some of the most interesting researchers in the field.


There are also lots of fun little cameos by celebrities like Larry David, Chevy Chase, Alanis Morissette, and (a bit incongruously) Adam Gopnik. (Larry David's contribution: "If you don't have a job you like, and you're not having sex, you're not going to be happy.")


I could have kept watching for hours.




Watch clips from the series:


Larry David, creator of TV hits CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and SEINFELD, shares his unique perspective on happiness. From THIS EMOTIONAL LIFE (PBS, Jan. 4-6, 2010).


This Emotional Life: Happiness


This Emotional Life: Stress/Mental Well-being






Emotions are ALWAYS an interaction between OURSELVES & our environment.
This show is an irritating wallow in people who seem helpless to manage themselves & their emotions, which is the side of that interaction we CAN have an effect on.
When we begin to manage our emotions [without having to kill the potential treasure of them off] then we can sometimes better operate in & manage even our external environment to some degree.

It is so non-analytical it is just aggravating.
Many times we are angry because it is OUR internal impulse to be angry & we find rationales in our environment to hook into.
Guilt is often felt by people with no apparent reason to feel guilty.
This has to be true of all emotions.

We can't pin our emotions solely on the external environment alone.
We are an absolutely essential part of that equation, our emotional AND intellectual relationship with our environment/world.

It is up to us to explore where our emotions arise from in ourselves. Evolution, biochemistry, diet, health etc.

It is up to us to manage, shepherd, utilize our emotions in interaction with a balance of intellect on our part.

This is where we find proportionality of response. We find rationality. & when we manage that we can optimize our lives for well timed & maximized joy.

If, as this show seems to indicate we are just helpless emotional worms, devoid of intellectual capacity, always at the mercy of our environment we might as well write ourselves off as a species.

Intellect & emotion in some [personalized?] reasonable balance is imo in order.

I am taping it, but i can't even stand to watch it.
This is why people hate 'liberals'. Because it is taken as a license to be helpless emotional worms.

It offers virtually no applicable tools.
It is a tour guide of unsuccessful emotional management, without even showing anyone who is successful at it.

It is non-clinical, it is non-analytical & imo garbage that gives people virtually not even hope of success & balance.

Well that is my initial opinion.

What a difference an episode makes.

Just watched the 3rd episode. A program very well worth watching.

It had people doing critical, clinical & scientific analysis. The Narrator [author?] takes a skeptical [skew?] view of self-help regimes.

While it showed people who have gone through emotional/psychological hell it showed how many [most?] of them have dealt with it. Both using explicit techniques, as the Vietnam POW had, as well as the more implicit organic avenues of the spinally afflicted man, & others.
Experts speculated, posed evidenced rationales for why.

Emotions are elusively delicate, including my own.

caution; self appointed 'intellectuality' follows; read at own risk. can be tedious.

An intellectual point of perspective, we must exercise caution about being reflexively 'happiness' obsessed. From a species/society strategic standpoint we have no clinical data reflecting what this does or does not have in the way of implications for society, civilization at large.

On a personal basis of course we like happiness. Advisably, with maturity we may wish to ration it. We can use happiness as a 'reward' to sculpt our psychology, or perhaps more clinically [better?] see it as a likely necessary dissociated sustenance to our animate psychology. Or be a true ascetic & reject its manipulation altogether.

As for self-help, it can in many cases work as a kind of hype on an initial basis, sort of like a placebo effect. In essence it reflects an openness to the idea that there is a 'solution'.
If however there is no good, deeper theory [strategy] behind talking/convincing one's self of how to be or that one is happy, it quickly evaporates.

We can skim the surface to a point, but if there is no structured vehicle or theory of operation that foundates it, it is very short-lived. As an aside, maybe we are better off to consider living in immersion?

Sometimes we attempt to do things through 'force-of-will' alone. While that is a 'response' it has to be the most primitive, marginally effective, dare-i-say idiotic response.
Sometimes alternatively we use a gimmick. If we can develop/acquire tools of the intellect, & garner them successfully we may find better [more 'successful'] options.

Go ahead & talk yourself into happiness, into positive psychology, but it might be advisable to examine, if you can discern them, the possible/probable roots of them.

Be your own scientist. You probably already are without realizing/acknowledging it. It could be rewarding.

As for the program [3rd episode specifically] I personally hope people don't leap to any particular conclusions. That they see it like a possible, inherently limited, menu of ideas.
They may pick & choose things to try & see which produce experimental effects for them.

In some ways the idea of meditation has a good ethos [imo]. It isn't that we always want to be gleeful or ecstatically 'happy', but that we have an easier, proportionate relationship with the world around us. that we have a peaceful, free floating point of initial perspective. Then we can select our responses more often than simply reflexively spasm to/about them.

That of course is the ideal. Circumstances will impose how when & where they will. There are no final conclusive 'answers'. If something works for you, & you want to pursue that, by all means feel free.

The passage of time is by definition non-conclusive. All theory, including science, will in all likelihood be proven ineffectual at some point.
Use what you will, & the best thing you can take with you is what you [seem to have] learn[ed] [imo].

It sounds philosophical [lame?] but those are the thin threads we have to grasp at.

I've finished the first two episodes (4 hours) and am now at the middle of the third. Overall i think this show has little to offer in that it is not self critical at all. Everything is about putting a positive spin on. "Lie to yourself and be happy" should be its title. The segment that focused on the pilot captured by the Vietnamese perfectly exemplifies this because they never really ask what is it about this individual that made them a survivor. Nor did they really ask what it means to survive - there are no details. Nor did they ask those who have collapsed under the weight of their lives why it was they "failed". And last, the show never really asks the fundamental question of what "success" and "failure" mean in these situations.

I am a Christian who has been meditating for nearly 8 years now. The focus of my effort is "attention". That is, with meditation i work to be right where i am, to see things as they are. And i, as others have, found that this gives us a very rich, and honest, life. This show suggests that self critical examination is irrelevent; just create a nice illusion for yourself and you will get by. How very sad for those who believe this lie, how sad for those who cannot believe this lie, and therefore, feel even worse, and how sad for us all that intelligent people like the author of this piece feel such contempt for humanity that they feel they are justified in offering us such ultimately contemptuous tripe.

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