I was musing yesterday on the points made in Stumbling On Happiness. One thing that particularly struck me was — well, I have to encapsulate a bit of background here.
It turns out that one of the most accurate ways to predict how we will feel about something is to ask people doing that thing how they feel about it. “D’Artagnan,” we should say, “how do you like being a musketeer?” We are no good at remembering how we felt or predicting how we will feel, but we are good at identifying how much we enjoy something at the time. And, when people are forced by experimental design to predict their own reactions based on the reported reactions of a randomly-chosen person who is actually doing the thing, they are far more accurate than when they make a guess based on information allowing them to imagine their own reactions.
Now here’s the thing I thought interesting: even when people are acquainted with research demonstrating this, they still choose the less-accurate method of imagining their own reactions. And that is because we are all convinced that we are so special and unusual that we cannot go by others’ reactions to things. We, we think, are different.
And we aren’t.
Gilbert proposes that the reason we think we are different and special is that our experience of our own thoughts and feelings has a richness which our experience of other people’s thoughts and feelings doesn’t have. What with our not having any first-hand experience of other people’s thoughts and feelings.
A friend’s son is experiencing deep misery during graduate school. All of us who have been to graduate school can say, “Well, of course. Everyone experiences misery during graduate school. It will go away when you finish graduate school. Relax” But to him it is a special and unique experience, a particularly deep misery, nearly intolerable. Being told that it is a normal feeling and part of the human condition doesn’t help.
And in fact, being told that one’s teen angst, early marital difficulties, loneliness when out on one’s own for the first time, dissatisfaction with one’s first job, midlife crisis, or irritation at aging is perfectly normal and everyone feels that way is not comforting.
Last night at choir practice we sang a song which sounded to me like Christmas on the Pirate Ship. You can hear it by clicking on “Followers of the Lamb” on this page. However, the words are new and not hanging around on line anywhere, so it cannot be the song of the day in spite of its very catchy and piratical tune.
Instead, I offer you a really pretty and easy tune. #2 daughter and I will be singing “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” at the Christmas Eve service. This nice gospel song by South Carolinian Adger Pace has been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Chanticleer, the Stanley Brothers, and a bunch of other folks since Pace wrote it in 1940. We will most likely be doing it as an a capella duet, but it sounds great in six parts with a fiddle and other bluegrass instruments, and please invite me if you plan to do it that way in your parlor.