Thieving Thursday: Rose Colored Glasses

>> Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wow, so many good comments this week. I was apparently on fire with brilliance in every direction. (As far as you know.)

I did have a great conversation with Relax Max on Russian and the US space race which reminds me I need to write up Russian space history which most people here in the US don't know as well as they know NASA's achievements. But that's going to take more than one blog post. I'll start that next week.

No, today I'm going to talk about something my husband read to me last night and Observations of a Nerd talked about today. Apparently, there was a study to compare how well happy and grumpy people really saw things (and if there were a difference). You can read the links to get all the cool and gory details but basically they found out that people who were happy saw more in the periphery, more of the details beyond what was focused on. So, one speculation one could draw from this is that happy people see the big picture a bit better than those grouches, the ones who claim to see reality and rain on your parade. You know the ones I mean. Many would say that's counter-intuitive.

Now we could talk all day about the implications. It puts a whole other spin to humoring a pilot or anyone else who needs to be alert and observant to protect others - keep 'em happy! And I can't help wondering if there are implications to other forms of observation. Do you not just literally see the big picture better, but do you figuratively see the big picture better as well?

What if people who aren't overtired or stressed have better judgment or logical ability than those who are all but burnt out? What if doctors that haven't been on call for three days before seeing you in the ER can listen, can notice, can evaluate better than someone who hasn't had but 30 minute's sleep in three days?

What if children that have good food and parents that can and do take the time to spend with them without violence or emotional battering can learn better in school than those that are neglected, undernourished or miserable?

What if people who were happy in their work, who had flexible hours and felt appreciated did better work and were more productive than people who were just counting the hours until they went home or overstressed workaholics who put in untold hours but produced very little?

What if being satisfied with your lot made you more sympathetic and understanding of others, more tolerant, more patient, more open to different ways of thinking and feeling than someone who felt the world had cheated them, who was suspicious and angry all the time?

That's odd. It doesn't seem so far-fetched now, does it?


  • Jude

    It's very true that when you're depressed your focus is more narrow you will be drawn to all the depressing things in the world and block out everything else and you also draw more negativity to your self.

    When you're happy you seem to just draw more happiness and you can see the bigger picture.

  • The Mother

    But Stephanie, we already know that kids who are cared for by attentive parents and not abused are better in school. We already know that happy employees are better, more productive employees.

    We already know that people who are happy and satisfied and not mad at the world are more tolerant and sympathetic of others.

    Not that I'm denying the utility of the science here. But I'm seeing it more from a depression-management point of view.

    We have tried pigeon-holing all depressives into known biochemical abnormalities. It doesn't work with all of them (and doesn't work with my son).

    Some depression IS social. This idea that it's about the way things are perceived (or affects the way things are perceived--clearly an egg-chicken argument) could start a whole new approach to looking for new biochemical pigeon holes.

    At least I can hope. In the meantime, I'm thinking about tinting my son's eyeglasses rose. Think it might work?

  • Stephanie B

    Agreed, Jude.

    That's the point, Mother. When my husband read this to me and I've seen others discuss it, they seem shocked, like it's counterintuitive. I was trying to make the point that it really wasn't - we know happiness/stress/exhaustion affects judgement, thinking, observation, etc.

    I would love to see perspective explored in helping people deal with depression. I remember from my own experience that dragging oneself out of depression is no mean feat.

  • musingwoman

    I was a happy person once. But, a divorce, a dead end job and the death of the love of my life beat it out of me.

    I'm not sure looking at the bigger picture would help right now. What is the bigger picture anyway?

  • musingwoman

    P.S. meant to say it's my inside that's unhappy. My outside still acts happy much of the time.

  • Stephanie B

    As Mother noted, there is a chicken-egg thing going. Does seeing the big picture make you happy or is it that being happy reveals it to you?

    Truth is, and I don't mean to make light of it, when you're depressed and truly miserable, "Snap out of it," "Being happy is better," "Cheer up!" does not fix it.

    But the idea is (a) being miserable doesn't make you see things more clearly and (b) being happier is better if you have a choice.

    I hope you can regain your happiness. Being miserable is, well, miserable.

  • The Mother

    I actually think that this may be why antidepressants work as well as they do--if you can just GET a little perspective, if you can just feel a LITTLE better, maybe you can see the world a little bit differently, a little bit more happily.

    I know that when I really needed it, the biochemical lift made a big difference.

  • Stephanie B

    It helped me as well when I needed it so I could get a handle on my depression.

    I just wish I hadn't been pregnant with my son at that time. I'll never know if it's a factor in his unique little problems.

  • The Mother

    DON'T beat your self up about that. Most of the antidepressants have been used anecdotally without problems in pregnant and nursing women.

    And woulda-shoulda-coulda doesn't do any good.

  • Aron Sora

    One of the reasons I love space habitation is that I believe humanity needs a restart button. The sadness and suffering of the past is reflected today. If we can somehow stop the passing down of suffering from generation to generation, it would stop. Do you think we can hit the restart button?

  • Stephanie B

    There is no restart button like hope, Aron.

    (Thanks, Mother)

  • JD at I Do Things

    Before even reading your excellent examples of how happy people might be more capable, I didn't think that observation was counterintuitive. It makes sense to me right off the bat. Grumpy, pessimistic people do tend to focus only on the bad, the "right here and now," the small picture, whereas I think happy people, being more optimistic, look beyond. I know I notice a difference just in myself, on those days when I'm feeling more chipper. Possibilities are endless. But on a crabby day, it's hard to see much further.

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