Monday, June 30, 2008

How happy are we now?

A few weeks ago my non-paying tenant finally moved out. He's living in a homeless shelter, is working with social services and the Veterans' administration, and is slowly getting his life in order again. His truck is still in my driveway because it is not yet registered.

His life had taken quite a fall before he left, before he finally got the message that he had to leave. He was no longer in touch with his family (they sent him emails and he did not answer, they presumably tried to call but nobody answered or returned calls). He had no money. He no longer had his drivers license and his car and truck were both out of registration and there was a ticket for out-of-date registration on one. All of his worldly possessions were in his bedroom or in my storage building, because he also lost the storage building he was renting. Clearly he was in the kind of depression that is difficult to get out of for most of us. For him it was near-impossible because of a condition that appears to be something like Asperger's Syndrome. No initiative, no sense of how to do ordinary things, a mind that takes things very literally and that does not read others well.

It was because of all of these things that I let him stay as long as I did. It was also because of these things that I knew I had to get him out, for his sake as well as mine. The trick that finally did it was a note I scribbled hastily when I was on my way out the door on another trip. Whatever I said in that note finally got through to him. I tried to be kind but also tried to get through to him that his staying on was a stress for me as well as for him.

So now things are looking up. P comes over to change clothes in his truck every day or so and we have started weekly dinners. He comes over for dinner Saturday night. I use him as a guinea pig to sample recipes I am trying out and he has an obligation, a "date" every week, which I think is good for someone without much in the way of friends. He lets me know his progress, shares what he has discovered in his homeless state (it isn't as bad as he imagined, the shelter or the people in it) and I get the sense he's proud of his accomplishments so far.

I am relieved. More, I have my house back and I am loving it in the way a newlywed might love a first house, except it is all mine, all mine. I have converted P's room to a guest bedroom, complete with bookshelves, DVDs and a DVD player (portable), a luggage rack, and a guest book. I keep fiddling with it to make it more pleasant and complete. The bathroom across the hall is always clean and ready for guests (and for me when I need it) and I even took a bath in there recently.

I have hired a new housecleaner, a "green" cleaner, whom I like very much. She is a vegan and we can talk about a lot of interests in common while she shines away. She is detail-oriented, cleans things the last one did not, and I think this is a good match. She comes only once a month and I manage in between. Having her scheduled keeps me from panicking about the state of my house, and having P over once a week also helps me keep things tidy.

I played music yesterday afternoon, as loud as I wanted, and let it flow through the house. First I played the piano myself, then I played favorite CDs.

I am very fortunate. I have a nice small house with two bedrooms and an office and two bathrooms and a nice kitchen and dining room, all to myself. When my children visit they can have a private room to themselves. I am cooking more because nobody is hanging around asking about this or that and I can think. I watch whatever television I like, during the day sometimes.

There is no doubt I have made a major happiness leap.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stumbling on Happiness

A delightful book that defies easy categorization. Most of this book is devoted to answering questions about the future: how will we feel when we have attained a certain goal? when we have lost a loved one? when we have reached a certain age? How will we feel if we develop a severe permanent disability? All of these questions, centering on how we feel, are answered: not as good as we expect, not as bad as we expect.

All of it hinges on our imagination and memory and how they work. And it is a fascinating tale. Our brains operate not at all like a computer when it comes to imagining the future. Or remembering the past. We leave more and more out the farther we are away from either, and what we remember is not an even-handed report; our imagining of the future tends toward a fuzzy glow while our memories of the past focus on the last part of an experience.

This and much more is revealed in this little book. I place the book with others that take a different look at a subject: The Tipping Point, Blink, The Paradox of Choice. These are all little books, and they all take a look at how we see things differently than we thought we did. And how we act differently than we might think we would. If you are interested in the human mind these little guys provide a lot of bang for the buck, and it's so easy to get it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

When I was in the hospital about seven years ago, with an ulcer, I was not allowed to eat anything. When my little hole had started to heal and I could have some clear liquids I requested a vegetable broth. The nurse who brought me the broth said "Doesn't that smell awful?" I, on the other hand, thought it smelled and tasted wonderful.

I don't necessarily have that same perception of clear vegetable broth at other times. What made me happy then doesn't necessarily make me happy now. And what made me happy then would not have made that nurse happy then.