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Happy Again

I like to think of myself as even-keeled. Not unflappable, mind you (before speaking in public I get very flapped), and not serene (because I'm always behind in my work, and in a mad rush, to the point that, if I pause momentarily to exchange pleasantries with a colleage or an acquaintance it is surely obvious to everyone that I'm performing some kind of social stunt, that even 20 seconds of normal behavior is, for me, like riding a bike on a high wire). But my mood is pretty constant.

In fact, gosh darn it, I'm a happy person. My Mom says that from an early age I had a sunny disposition, which obviously came from her, since she's quite the songbird, chirping through life, easily delighted, capable of taking pleasure in the sudden appearance in the yard of a new weed. She'll say, "What an interesting thistle!" or perhaps "Look at the pretty little flower on that stinging nettle!"

Like anyone else she's had some cloudy days, some storms blowing through, some lingering subtropical depressions, but she has the uncanny gift of putting them out of her mind forever.

Yesterday the Times published an interview with a professor of happiness. Apparently most people have a knack for being happy, and they're generally resilient in their mood, even when good or bad things happen to them. On a scale of 0 to 100, the mean is to be about 75 percent happy. When a person's happiness spikes to 100, or bottoms out at 10 or 20, there's a sharp tendency to return to the normal happiness level. It's as though we all have a happistat, if you will.

From the story: "We certainly fear the things that would get us down to 20 or 10 -- the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we'd predict. Humans are wildly resilient."

I'm going to estimate that I'm usually set at about 85, though this changes over the course of the day. At dawn with my cuppa joe on the back porch I spike to dang near 100 as the world infuses my spirit with hope. Usually by 11 a.m. the vexations have me in their icy grip and I'm down around 60. If an editor asks me to do some actual work I can go below 0. Right now I'm at 73 because I have an essay due and am blogging instead and it's probably sunny outside and pleasant, not that you'd know here in the blog bunker. But I'll get back to 85 later, somehow, and the mere thought of that has just given me an uptick to 74.


Some excellent news for local high school students (via email):

'The Library of Congress today announced that the minimum age for use of the Main Reading Room to access the Library's physical collections for research purposes has been lowered to 16. The previous requirement was that researchers be above high school age. "The Library of Congress is always looking for ways to create new lifelong learners, to expand access to knowledge and to spark the creativity of future generations," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

"We want people of all ages to be aware of the almost limitless resources that are available in libraries, including their de facto national library, especially at a time when the amount of information online still represents only a tiny fraction of the sum total of human knowledge."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 8 million 16- and 17-year-olds living in the United States.'

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 23, 2008; 1:55 PM ET
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