BY FLORENCE LEVINE
“Look out!! Beware!! A saber-toothed tiger
lunges from out of the bushes at my great,
great, great, great, great, great, great, great,
great, great, great bubbe to have her for lunch!
With a stretch of my imagination, I can hear
A history of our happiness begins back then,
around six million years ago. Our caveman
ancestors are hardwired for survival. What
does that have to do with today? They have
happily passed that hardwiring on to
us. To scan the environment for danger, to
respond in a
nanosecond. They couldn’t bask in
the sun. That would’ve been a luxury
of time they didn’t
have. Bask,..and be eaten!
But given that we no longer have to
hunt down our lunch and we do have
leisure time, (especially since retiring),
we do think of making life better, of
being happier. The problem is that this
negative wiring we’ve inherited is today
a glitch on our happiness. Negativity
detracts. Enter Laurie Santos and her
“Happiness Lab” at Yale. She wants us
to know how our minds work. And that
there are things we can do about it. “Our mind is
filled with a ton of little glitches,” I learn. “BUT-
there’s something you can do.” I’m all ears.
She addresses the universal question: “My
life is awesome, so why can’t I enjoy it?” And
that “Many of us want to lead happier lives,
but we are not sure how.” Then she explains how.
“Those glitches are going to be there,” she
says. “But, we can override them.”
Glitch #1: We are hardwired to be negative,
to scan the environment for danger, to react in
a nanosecond. Think ‘fight or flight.’
The override: Be MINDFUL, aware; you are
thinking negatively. Stop yourself, come back
to the present. This reminds me of a recent
I was in the middle of brushing my teeth one
night. My mind wandered…from ‘teeth’ to
‘dentist,’ to ‘dentist’s chair.’ At this point I’m
in the dentist’s chair and not a happy camper.
Then I stop! I realize my mind’s wandered.
An iPhone study found our minds wander about
40% of the time. I return to the present and my
warm beige marble bathroom, really happy to
It’s a comfort to learn this happens to Laurie
Santos too. With all the positives in her life,
that her mind can slip into the negative. It’s
good to know we can override this, feel better
and bump up our happiness.
Glitch # 2: ‘Hedonic Adaptation.’ (Say what?)
The override: GRATITUDE. We get used to
stuff. New and exciting in the beginning, we
get used to things. Stop! Notice! An initial
rush, like OMG, “I got into Yale!” can later
become pressure to perform, keep up grades,
and compete. (A number of first year college
students are anxious and depressed. Colleges
actually run seminars for freshmen to address
this and enlighten them about possible hardship
in their first year. Being informed and sharing
with others can help. My father actually taught
this course back in 1962 in LIU, my first year
of college too!)
Living here in North Shore Towers, we get
used to the luxury. I learn that I can stop and
savor, take in the good. The presence of the
majestic holiday tree that fills our lobby, a
wonderful place to run into a neighbor as
opposed to being in our probably quiet home
we once were. Take in our chivalrous doormen,
still-green golf course and newly added
walkway. Appreciate anew that you are here.
Take in nature’s magnificent offering of a rose,
its layers of perfection, velvety petals, sweet
fragrance. So easy to pass by, Savor. It takes
some wherewithal to stop and notice. Gratitude.
A way to reroute from our negative state and
bump up positivity.
‘Snippets’ add up. A rose, a friend, beautiful
tree, add to your day. We each have our own
preferences. I laughed to learn that Tal Ben-
Shahar, teacher of happiness at Harvard, (really,
Psych 1504) learned about a gratitude journal
from Oprah! Scribble down your own gratitudes.
Glitch #3: Social comparison.
The override: DON’T. Instead, appreciate
think of the
contrast: What if
I didn’t have this person, or thing?
The reason: a lot of what you think is
not real. It’s made up by us. We view
through our own lens, what we imagine
is so. There’s always more than what
we see on the surface, like people on
Facebook putting their best foot forward.
Social comparisons are not even
real. “We assume. We make it up. We
think others are happier, but people
estimate wrong,” Santos says.
Personally, I’m still sad about
I was once surprised listening
to a group of women talk openly,
women who in my eyes
seemed to have so much. I
heard the ‘stuff’ they had in their
lives that I never dreamed! The
A story of mine, sadly, had no
resolve. I had a neighbor here I
liked very much. I admired her
good looks, wit, artistic talent.
She had invited me in to see
her paintings sprawled across the walls of her
apartment. She confided one day that a former
diagnosis had come back. I gave her a hug and
some dark red organic apples. “Let’s get together,”
she invited. “I’d love to!” But neither of us
called. Then one day I decided I must talk to
her. I tried every contact for her in the Green
Book. I sadly learned that she was gone. I miss
her so. “Why did I let the moment pass?!”
The next snippet for happiness: EXERCISE.
Science calls it a magic pill with no side effects!
But it’s not about running a marathon, says
Dean Ornish, who’s backed by Medicare. It’s
about: DON’T BE INACTIVE. Or simply,
MOVE MORE. And know that a ten minute
walk gives a feeling of wellbeing for hours.
Last Snippet: BREATHE. Breathe deeply,
slowly. “Breathe in. Then slowly out, a longer
exhale,” Santos says. “That simple action deactivates
our sympathetic nervous system.” Calms.
Bumping up happiness takes effort, as shown
What will you do? Call an old friend? Make
your daughter’s favorite soup with her via
FaceTime, like me? (Looking forward, Jamie!).
Walk outside with a friend?
My gem for the new year: Glitches and snippets.
Glitches + the snippets to override.
I wish all of you a happier 2021, including
a plethora of happiness snippets! We’d love to
hear yours. Just forward to Jill Davis at the NST
Courier to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!
LIFE’S A GLITCH
January 2021 ¢ NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER 27