Happy Happiness

👤Charlynn Toews 🕔Dec 01, 2012

A new book, Happy Money: The Science of Spending, tells us about an experiment where people were given $20 and either told to spend it on themselves or on someone else. Authors Elizabeth Dunn of UBC and Harvard’s Michael Norton conclude, “Those whom we told to spend on others report greater happiness than those told to spend on themselves. In countries from Canada to India to South Africa, people are happier when they spend money on others rather than on themselves.”

Another study asks how happy people are after winning the lottery or after breaking their neck. After a few years of getting used to their new situations, lottery winners and paraplegics are surprisingly close to being equally happy, says Dan Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness. In fact, “very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.”

Another way to get happy, according to Arthur A. Stone, is to get old. Picture a round yellow happy face. Now look at the smile. At the top left of the smile you are 18 and happy, then moving down the curve there is worry, anger, and sadness until you hit bottom at about age 50. From that point, there is nowhere to go but up as enjoyment and happiness keep increasing.

If you can’t follow Stone’s advice and get old now, and you can’t count on the short-term high of a lottery win, consider improving your grammar.

That’s right: grammar.

In his book Gwynne’s Grammar, N.M Gwynne provides the proof: Thinking cannot be done without words.

If we don’t use words rightly, we shall not think rightly. If we do not think rightly, we cannot decide rightly. If we do not decide rightly, we shall make a mess of our lives. If we make a mess of our lives, we shall make ourselves and other people unhappy.

Here’s his elegant summary: “Grammar is the science of using words rightly, leading to thinking rightly, leading to deciding rightly, without which happiness is impossible. Therefore: happiness depends at least partly on good grammar.”

Let’s dip into Gwynne’s Grammar a bit and get a little happier.

I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion: “Of all punctuation, the importance of the correct use of the comma is especially worth noting and studying: since using it or leaving it out can produce radically different meanings.”

His example:

1. Politicians who tell lies are to be despised. 2. Politicians, who tell lies, are to be despised.

“In the first sentence only some politicians are to be despised; in the second sentence, all of them.” I would add that our voter turnout at the next election, even the health of our democracy, could depend on comma usage!

This is the conceit of the title of Eats Shoots and Leaves, an excellent and hilarious guide to punctuation by Lynne Truss. As written, it could refer to a bamboo-loving panda, but with commas added (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) the same phrase conjures up an armed restaurant robber.

Truss suggests listening for a comma in Handel’s Messiah: If it’s “Comfort ye my people,” it means, “Please go out and comfort my people.” If it’s “Comfort ye, my people,” it means, “Just cheer up, you lot!”

Happy holidays.