on wisdom and its opposite

Adam Grant offers some tips on how to think like a wise person today: integrative thinking, self-reflection, curiosity instead of judgment, seeing nuances, considering the common good, challenging the status quo, maintaining a sense of purpose.

Grant notes that wise people are not actually happier than their peers, meaning they didn’t experience more positive emotions. But I’m curious whether wise people are more content than their peers. Contentment, in my mind, is not “happiness,” not a positive emotion. It’s neutral. That kind of disposition simply must make it easier to think like a wise person.

I read the Motherlode blog of the New York Times this morning, and was struck by the lack of wisdom we’re capable of when we’re not content. Consider the mom who confessed that she refuses to abide by her six-year-old daughter’s wishes to get a haircut. The mother feels “that when you are given a gift of hair like that, you appreciate it, the way [she] always wished [she] could. It doesn’t come to everyone. It’s special.”

The mother knows she is wrong, knows she is projecting her own issues (putting it mildly here) on her little girl. The girl cries, screams, when her mother brushes her waist-length, blond curly hair. The two fight, to the point where the brother has intervened.

The mother is resolute. The hair will remain long.

I want to write to that mom, and remind her that hair, um, grows. Even after a cut. I want to tell her to get herself some blond extensions (she could have them made out of her daughter’s locks?) and brush her own damn hair. I want to send her daughter to my hair stylist to get a glorious bob.

But none of that would be wise.

I’m left hoping that this mom finds contentment elsewhere, and not on the shoulders of her daughter.

help others, be happy

I nearly drowned in my Twitter feed last night. There’s a tremendous amount of disappointing news out there, about people in the public eye, making choices that serve nobody but themselves.  

But then I read this study from my alma mater, the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Basically, “[b]eing motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness.”

“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” Moynihan says, “but people debate whether we behave altruistically because of hidden self-interest, such as the desire to improve how others see us. Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.”

As Adam Grant’s previous research notes, there are givers, takers, and matchers in the workplace. Givers are more productive, on the whole. And now we know they’re happier, too. 

That pleases me, to no end. Because altruism makes me happy… but validation? Ecstatic. 



Happy Is As Happy Gives…

Well, isn’t this something? Check out this article in the Pacific Standard: “Do Children Make Us Happy?

They do, especially when parenting in a “child-centric” manner: 

Child-centric parents prioritize their children’s needs and wants over their own. The hallmark of a child-centric parent is self-sacrifice. The researchers define the child-centric mindset as one in which “parents are motivated to maximize their child’s well-being even at a cost to their own and are willing to prioritize the allocation of their emotional, temporal, financial, and attentional resources to their children rather than themselves.” 

And this:

In this study, the researchers again found that… child-centric parents… experienced more positive emotions when they were taking care of their children than when they were doing other things. These parents also experienced less negative emotions when they were taking care of their kids. Child-centric parents also derived more meaning out of their interactions with their kids. When they were not with their kids, these parents experienced less meaning and positive emotions.

I’ll just make the leap: according to these findings, being an at-home parent should yield tremendous happiness.

And if a new purpose in life–a new reason to sacrifice, or give, and transcend what you want for yourself–does not manifest by the time one’s children are grown, one would seem to be set up for unhappiness.

Even regret.