The Delights of Distraction No.81: The formula for happiness

Here’s the formula for being unhappy 
Do you know the formula for unhappiness? 
Don't do these things if you want to be happy! 

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a lot of time to think. 

 With Ami down with COVID19 3 weeks ago, and Viv succumbing to the virus a week after that; long hours of staring up at the ceiling has had us solve the universal formula for happiness. Okay, sorry, we’ll rephrase that: we’ve solved the universal formula for UNhappiness. Happiness is a large, complex goal that has too many psychological, emotional, societal and existential factors that require more than the minds of a couple of flu-ridden hags like us to untangle. 

Making a depressed person happy is notoriously difficult, but making a happy person depressed… THAT is simple.  

So how do you make someone unhappy? 

Treat them like they’ve got symptoms of COVID19: 

  • You remove any contact with friends, family or people who they connect with and are their pillars of support and strength. 
  • You make sure that they stay isolated, that they don't get any sunlight exposure or go outside. 
  • You’d make them stay in their room all day. Which would also mess with their sleep and wake cycle and circadian rhythm. 
  • You’d ensure they get enough “rest”, so they couldn’t exercise, so no feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released post workout. 
  • While in bed, their only form of entertainment would be doom-scrolling through anxiety-inducing social media feeds on their phone; the horrors of click-baity news headlines and the self-damning comparisons to insta-worthy glamorous lifestyles online. 
  • Finally, in a state of isolation and sickness, you’d ensure they’d be unable to connect to their job which made them feel valued and like they were creatively contributing to something they care about. 

And Voila! A couple of weeks of COVID-patient treatment, and you’ve got yourself a robustly unhappy human there. 

So the “inversion” logic follows - If that’s how you make a happy person depressed, it has to be true that doing the opposite of the above should make a depressed person feel better? Not necessarily ”happy” - but definitely help them find some slivers of sunshine in their life. The insidious irony about feeling low, or sick is that the actions which make you feel worse are precisely what your mood encourages you to do, further worsening your state. So: Meet your friends and family, get some vitamin D, take a walk, move your body a bit, stop doom-scrolling, stay hydrated, sleep 8 hours or so and enjoy your work. 

The bottom line is that if you want to be happy and haven’t covered all the bases above, then you are not giving yourself the best opportunity to stumble upon it when it finally comes for you.

To read: The Paris Review always delivers, and this beautiful essay, about lockdown, cancer, tragedy, and a goose, jabs you right in the heart. 

“It was March 2021, a few days before the anniversary of my brother’s death. I had been coming to the landing for a year. I’d gotten into the habit of stretching my arms out and stroking Goo for a moment before I left, never getting too close. I know now that this was a mistake, that I was teaching Goo that he could touch humans. I saw him try to play with them and I reassured them, but they fled, hiding their children behind them. I recall one poor girl whom Goo was adorably pecking. “He just wants to be petted,” I said, but she was frozen in terror, gasping. “I don’t know how to pet a goose,” she whispered.” 

To learn: Here’s how to forgive someone who isn’t sorry and doesn’t apologize: Forgiving can be a justifiably selfish act that’s actually good for you! 

“Forgiveness is what we call a paradox,” Enright says. “It appears to be a contradiction but is not. It looks like you as the forgiver are doing all of the giving, and the other is doing all of the getting.” That mindset, he says, overlooks all of the benefits that you as the forgiver will likely experience. According to Enright’s research, people who have gone through the process of forgiving someone experience “ a reduction in anger, anxiety, and depression, and increase in self-esteem and hope for the future.” 

To joy scroll: Architect Kei Endo creates really lovely watercolor paintings of hotel rooms that she’s stayed in — you can find her work on Instagram and her website. The paintings include floor plans of the rooms, exterior and interior views, illustrations of the food, and even precise renderings of the bath products. We love their detail, their whimsy and how you can take something seemingly everyday and mundane and elevate it to art. 

To ponder: Despite there being no differences in IQ or general intelligence between males and females, men often overestimate their IQs, considering them to be higher than females, while women underestimate their IQs. Why does this matter? Because intellectual self-image is often a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think you can’t, you won’t. When girls undervalue their intelligence in school, they tend to choose less challenging course content – especially in the STEM subjects. It also in part explains the gender gap in wages and bargaining power with employers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, as a society, we could build the confidence of girls and young women to a level where they believe in themselves and achieve ambitions that would change the world for the better? 

To try: It’s a weeknight inevitably: scrolling through the infinite options on Netflix, yet feeling absolutely clueless about what to watch. This website, which works for both TV shows and movies, provides you with interesting candidates for a movie or show that you like. The closer two names are, the greater the probability the two movies are similar. So in a 90s retro mood, we input one of our favourite movies from that era: The Shawshank Redemption. Close candidates to watch (from the many options): Fight Club, Memento, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects. All ace suggestions! 

To watch: The weekend whizzed by listening to this video series where an expert explains a difficult concept to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert. Start with this one, a neuroscientist explaining memory, and move on to an astrophysicist explaining black holes and a computer scientist explaining machine learning.  

To listen: We’re always looking for music without lyrics that you can play as a sound score to work. Try this fantastic and very relaxing Japanese ambience compilation with flute, piano and koto music - not just for work, but for sleep, meditation and contemplation. 

To quote: In keeping with our subject above, this quote is from one of our favourite non-fiction books, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. The book is one of the most lyrical, comprehensive and empathic books on the pain, darkness and suffering of depression that we’ve ever read, examined from the author’s own experience with the disease and his scientific research. Do watch his TED talk, to get a glimpse of his insight and sensitivity.  

“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don't believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it's good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.”  

by James Crews
Treat yourself as an honored guest 
in your own home. Sweep the floors, 
whisking loose hairs and crumbs 
into the dustpan, clearing cobwebs 
as if you were about to arrive here 
for the first time. Stoke the fire 
in the wood stove, stacking logs 
of birch and maple, whose bark 
curls into flames that will warm 
the whole house as you step inside 
your body, learning to love its shape 
like never before. Offer yourself 
the wedge of brie you’ve been keeping 
at the back of the fridge, pop open 
whatever bottle you’ve been saving 
for the moment you finally become 
your own dream date, your own 
special occasion. Now sit at the table 
set for one, and feast on a simple 
meal of bread and cheese, relishing 
each taste of this new life, which has 
always been waiting inside you. 


We hope you spend the weekend relishing life dear reader, and please, for the love of bread and cheese - mask up! 

Viv and Ami

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