A Mark Morford piece, "Study: Live happy and healthy and die soon anyway," appeals to my basic cranky old man sense of WTF.
Sure, I'm happy most of the time. Especially when I'm complaining about something. Which includes religion.
But I don't enjoy feeling that happiness is a must, that if I'm not happy bad things are going to happen to me. (Aside from being unhappy, of course.)
This is, though, how in the past I've looked upon supposed scientific findings that a positive outlook is good for your health. And, if one believes in religiosity, for your soul.
Thankfully, according to the New York Times, "Happiness doesn't bring good health, study finds."
Go ahead and sulk. Unhappiness won’t kill you.
A study published on Wednesday in The Lancet, following one million middle-aged women in Britain for 10 years, finds that the widely held view that happiness enhances health and longevity is unfounded.
“Happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality,” the researchers concluded.
“Good news for the grumpy” is one way to interpret the findings, said Sir Richard Peto, an author of the study and a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford.
He and his fellow researchers decided to look into the subject because, he said, there is a widespread belief that stress and unhappiness cause disease.
Such beliefs can fuel a tendency to blame the sick for bringing ailments on themselves by being negative, and to warn the well to cheer up or else.
“Believing things that aren’t true isn’t a good idea,” Professor Peto said in an interview. “There are enough scare stories about health.”
Morford took these findings and ran with them in his column. Here's how he ended his piece.
For the apocalyptically religious, for the devoutly nihilistic, for those convinced life is a hellhole sinbucket merely to be “survived”? This is surely terrible news indeed.
After all, millions of us are taught and trained to be addicted to stress and unhappiness. It’s the norm. It’s just what modern humans do.
How many people do you know who, every single day, actively (and masochistically) seek out things to make them more bitter, scared and resentful? How many among us love seeing the world as an relentlessly offensive riot of debauchery, suffering, and corruption? How many are convinced if they’re not working to exhaustion and sleeping horribly and never getting enough “done,” they’re just not trying hard enough? How many feel, deep down, morbidly reassured that at least they’ll die soon anyway, so who cares?
Alas, their sour antipathy will linger, on and on, like a rash. Fun!
But what about the alternative? What of the elusive “happiness” thing? Is there really no proven health benefit if you flip it all around and try to do as the wise ones suggest, and practice, say, releasing your death-grip on your made-up convictions, chill out on the relentless striving and maybe dissolve, just a little, your ego’s furious insistence that you have some sort of clue as to what’s really going on?
Put another way: What happens when you forgo your poisonous insistence that something, somewhere is always wrong, broken, flawed and goddammit why can’t life be the way it’s supposed to be, and why won’t someone fix it for me?
As the marvelous spiritual teacher Adyashanti put it, “There is a very simple secret to being happy. Just let go of your demand on the present moment.” What might happen if you do? Have you ever tried it?
Science shrugs. You probably won’t live longer. You might not prevent illness, though a billion years of empirical evidence – not to mention common sense – seems to suggest otherwise.
But you might, just might, uncover a life of surreptitious, messy, imperfect bliss, shocking and weird, still full of pain and loss, but no longer tormented by it all, no longer endlessly, numbly disappointed for reasons that have no true basis in reality.
The panic might subside. The veil might lift. You might just become, as they say, more fully awake to the moments of your life, free of the toxic overlay, the karmically lethal undercurrent of bogus dissatisfaction telling you, every moment of every day, that something is always wrong and that things should, somehow, be different. In short: You won’t live longer, you’ll simply live much, much better. Can you imagine?
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