How to adjust to anything

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.


10 replies
  1. G
    G says:

    The happiness research reminds me of similar health-related quality of life research. In the quality of life research people are asked how many years of life they’d be willing to lose to avoid suffering a medical condition, like amputation. These questionnaires are given to both people with and without these medical conditions and there is lots of debate about which group should be given precidence. People without the medical conditions nearly always overestimate the impact compared with people who have the conditions. The major exception where the general population underestimates the impact on quality of life is chronic pain. Perhaps we don’t adjust to chronic pain for the same reasons we don’t adjust to bad commutes.

  2. Suzie Bee
    Suzie Bee says:

    OK, but it’ll take a LONG time for me to adjust to this new layout… Why CHANGE?? It also looks too much like a free WordPress layout.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s probably an achievement that it looks like a normal blog layout, because this blog has to do a lot of things that a regular blog doesn’t. For example, I actually have one layout for two blogs. And a bunch of other stuff — like the career coaching I do. It’s really hard to get all that stuff into one blog design and have it actually look like a blog design.

      That said, hopefully, as I make tweaks to the design all week, you’ll find that it looks a little more interesting.

      Biggest problem right now: There is nothing on the header that says this is the homeschooling section. So, stay tuned for that…


      • Suzie Bee
        Suzie Bee says:

        The reason I meant that as a criticism is because there’s nothing about it visually that immediately says “Penelope Trunk”. I can’t tell it’s your blog just from looking.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I read this book a few weeks back and have used its advice regularly.

    It helps to know about my set-point (a raving lunatic of happiness I’ll never be. However, the things that have made me happy in the past can be recycled indefinitely to bring me renewed good feelings.

    Also, the “Big Things” we all want (right job, right money, right body) will wear off like everything that brought happiness.

    It takes off the pressure to get “there” when “there” never stays put.

  4. JML
    JML says:

    I like the new layout. It’s less harsh, more pleasing. However, the font seems a lot smaller and is more difficult to read on the iPhone (the main way I read blogs).

    I really cherish alone time and the car is one of my favourite places (even if I’m not alone in the car, but I have to be the one driving). Sometimes I welcome bad traffic because then I get more time to myself without the guilt (because traffic is out of my control!)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the feedback on the font. The new design is a work in progress. There are always tons of things i need to change after I launch a new design. So I really appreciate that feedback. Thanks.


  5. Angela
    Angela says:

    Mid-February of this year I began homeschooling my daughter. The classroom environment was causing her so much difficulty that she was stabbing herself with a pencil and eventually developed a tic. While I’m thrilled that she’s no longer stabbing or “tic-ing” since we’ve started homeschooling, I find myself struggling often…then I open my email, check your latest homeschool post, and I’m motivated once again. Thank you for giving me the courage to be a mother to my daughter.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. “You really do not see your kids if you have a very big job.” | thebrackpipe says:

    […] So I’m sitting in a cello lesson taking notes on measure sixteen even though I don’t read music. And I’m terrified every time my son finishes a song ahead of schedule because it means we’re one day closer to having to make the eight-hour trip to cello lessons three days a week instead of two. […]

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