Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Healthy Pleasures

In 1990, when I picked up a copy of the book "Healthy Pleasures," by Robert Ornstein, it was one of the few books that looked at the scientific research about happiness and wellness. Most research up until then was focusing on mental illness, not mental wellness, and this book pointedly asked, "What makes people happy?"

Almost twenty years later, this basic observation still holds true:

The most healthy people do not follow the correct advice about health… some
assault the government's dietary guidelines at almost every meal… they salt
their foods… they love dessert… they drink a few glasses of wine everyday… the
exercise they get (to paraphrase Mark Twain) is as pallbearers at the funerals
of their overactive friends… They are keenly aware of their senses and relish
opportunity to indulge in sensory pleasures; savoring a tasty meal, listening to
favourite music or bird songs… they expect good things of the world and they expect pleasure in much of what they do.

Here's a preview of some of the pages in the book.

It was interesting to read in the February 2009 Psychology Today article Happiness, How to Turn it On that "happiness literature" has since exploded - last year 4,000 books were published compared to only 50 books released in 2000. Now the pendulum is swinging back - with the observation that "...our preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we've tried to banish from our emotional repertoire." Academics are observing the phenomena and publishing titles such as, "How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder."

The article presents a 'Greatest Hits' list that's of interest and there is an accompanying piece featuring a "passle of pedestrians" answering questions about what makes them happy. If I were one of the passers-by I would have talked about trying to find happiness in the pleasure of everyday moments, instead of looking at happiness as a place or destination or the consequence of something I own.

The 1990 title, "Healthy Pleasures" is still relevant, talking as it does about the importance of meditation, taking "music baths," deepening sensory experience and spending time recognizing simple pleasures like a good meal or spending time with friends. This book receives a 5 star rating in my Google Library because it changed not only how I look at the world, but how I live in the world.

Incidentally, I've noticed that since starting this blog I'm more aware of savouring these moments and pleasures, and yes, I guess I'm much happier in general, so here's a toast (with a cupfull of great wine) to 'Things We Love." Because they are so good for us.

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