The Pursuit of Happiness

Dear Wombat and Dingbat: I’m a human girl but I’ve always wished I could have a tail to wag like dogs have. Even though I don’t have a tail, what’s your advice for living a life worthy of wagging your tail all the time?

—No Tail

Dear No Tail,

Well for starters, you seem to have slipped into that error of confusing correlation and causation. Are dogs happy because they have tails to wag, or do they wag their tails because they are happy? Luckily, we can test this. The Dingbat, like me, has no tail, but he is also ridiculously, continuously, and kind of annoyingly happy. Ergo, wagging tails are a symptom, rather than a cause, of happiness.

She should wiggle her butt. That’s what I do. I am a super butt wiggler. And, you know, really happy. I bet she has a butt.

Guessing she does. So, yeah, you could try that, although depending on the circumstances, people might look at you funny. But I see a couple more issues here. One is that nobody is happy all the time.

I am.

Correction. Nobody normal is happy all the time. Maybe you need to adjust your expectations. Many people are unhappy because they fail to live up to some standard of how they think their life should be. They think they should have as much money as their cousin or as nice a house as their brother or as devoted a spouse as their friend. Or they don’t measure up to some internal sense of what is “successful” or “beautiful” or, yes, “happy.” Before you set out to achieve a goal, you should decide whether a) it is realistic and b) it is genuinely what you want. If it’s not something you can actually achieve, it isn’t really a goal, it’s a fantasy.

I have a fantasy in which humans wiggle their butts all day long. I think that would be awesome.

I suspect they might not agree, but I could be wrong. In any case, I see one more factor at play here. Humans are notoriously bad at knowing and pursuing what actually makes them happy. For instance, almost all of them think they would be happier with more money, but beyond a certain basic level, that turns out not to be true. In fact, social scientists ran a bunch of experiments that showed that giving money away actually consistently made folks happier than spending it on themselves.

What if they spent the money on their dogs? Did that make them happier?

Strangely, I don’t think they investigated that. Always room for more science. Anyway, one way to be happier, in addition to giving up on being happy all the time…

And wiggling your butt…

…would be to gather some data on the things that make you happy. Try stuff, and ask yourself a couple of hours later how you feel. Write down what you discover. Maybe it turns out that things that you think will make you happy, like following endless YouTube links, just leave you feeling dazed and sluggish. Maybe things that you think you don’t want to do, like, say pulling weeds or helping at a food pantry, actually leave you feeling happy and energized. When you have real information on the things that make you happy—or unhappy—then you can make better choices about what to do with your available time.

You should definitely try running around, yelling really loud, digging in the dirt and snuggling. If, you know, you want to be as happy as me.

I think we’ve established that no one is as happy as you.

Wiggles and kisses,

Wombat and Dingbat

Tagged ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *