One of the topics I write about most frequently on my other blog is happiness. I am sort an encyclopedia of the research people have done in the past twenty years about what makes us happy.
The most surprising thing is that happiness has to do with outlook. If you are positive and you feel that you are in control of whether or not you get what you want, then you are happier. But you can't really change your outlook. We are born with a happiness setpoint, which Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her book The How of Happiness. We can control for 30% of our happiness setpoint. (Which seems, unfortunately, similar to the situation with our weight.)
So, if you get your arm cut off, you'd think it would make you really unhappy, but it makes you sad for only a year or so. Then you go back to your setpoint. This research is described thoroughly in Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness. Interestingly, one of the few bad things that your brain cannot adjust to is a bad commute. The amputated arm is the same every day—nothing changes about that the arm is gone. So we adjust. The bad traffic is bad in a different way every time and you never know what to expect so you can never adjust to the badness and get back to your setpoint.
I use this information to think about travel with my kids. Because we live so far away from a city, we do a lot of driving, and we travel eight hours to and from cello lessons every Thursday. I thought it would be really hard on my son. I decided that it might work if I keep things regular, though, and I think the predictability of the travel might be making it manageable.
I walked out of the house last Thursday morning and saw that my son had packed his suitcase and put it next to the car to go into the trunk. He had settled into his seat with his DS and his jelly sandwich, and he was set to go. The sight of him knowing the routine so well, and being able to manage himself so well made me so happy.