The story ran over a series of four days and analyzed the every movement of Mary Claire Orenic, age 50, "The Happiest Woman In America." It looked at her life, in conjunction with a recent Healthways study in well-being and 23 pieces of data identified as keys to well-being. Mary Claire was presented as the poster child who demonstrated that when you have these 23 things on the Well-being Checklist, you will be happy.
Here's the thing, Mary Claire does seem to be a genuinely happy person. And that's wonderful. What is less convincing is the assumption that the trappings of her wonderful life are what caused her happiness.
This is a case of confusing the effects of happiness with the cause of happiness. Let's look more closely.
- "Eating five small meals a day and taking frequent walks has helped this busy mom stay in shape."
- A well-timed empty nest is critical for well-being. "You need to have launched your last child by the time your reach age 50."
These assumptions and many more, whether implicit or explicit, make happiness a function of your body shape, of your wealth, of your children and of your friends.
This well-intentioned article dissects these so-called causes of happiness with a view to instructing people in how to carve their own way to well-being. It misses the elephant in the room.
Well-being is not a stop on the tramway, or a lost sock.
I know articles like these intend only to be helpful, but they do more harm than good. At best an article like this does nothing to point to the true causes of happiness. At worst it reinforces the already too-widely unquestioned idea that our contentment and well-being are out there somewhere and the problem is to define the "somewhere" and somehow sneak up on it before you die.
Only from this logic could it ever make sense to prescribe "1-5 hours of social interaction per day," "Strong support of family," and the other 21 things that are listed as essential contributors to high well-being.
What a disservice to humanity. What a lie.
Look more deeply.
Rummage around a bit in Mary Claire's real story and you will see that the key information was mentioned only in passing -- cast aside as if it had no bearing on her long-term happiness -- and the real questions were never asked.
How did she know to follow the roads that she did? How did she hear her own inner direction to "learn from a past mistake" and to turn away from "being a slacker in high school," to "wait to get married later in life." Where did her decision to become "an achiever" suddenly spring from? These questions deserve attention because they point to something more important than what happened next. What was she listening to? How did she know to follow it?
Something inside her told her to get a sponsor to help further her career. She and her husband were "deliberate" about when to have children. Mary Claire keeps up with friends from her past -- all results not the causes of her happiness. Ask rather, how does she "know" to do that? How does she know to do any of it?
Where is she getting her information?
I know one thing, she didn't have a copy of the Well-being Shopping List with 23 things on it. Many of her choices in life flew in the face of logic, reason and what other people told her to do. She went her own way.
Everything she has now arose from herself first. Call it good judgement, common sense, self-listening, or just tuning inward. It doesn't matter what you call it. The point is, she is not special or gifted or amazing.
We all have what Mary Claire has. She's just using it.
And thus the most important part, the universal and most hopeful part of her story was completely missed. She's not "The Happiest Woman in America" because she can cross off everything on the well-being check list, she's happy because she listened well to her own good counsel. She followed her compass. She saw her own north star and said "that way!"
That's possible for any of us. That directional mechanism is inside all of us already.
What do you think Steve Jobs was listening to?
So burn the case studies, the research and the shopping list for "Wellbeing."
When you can hear the guidance within you that is telling you what's right for you, make the choices that are in line with you. They will feel right. Learn what that feels like. Louise Hay used to call it, "listening for the inner ding."
Mary Claire is a good example of someone who did just that.
Forget the rest.