August 21st, 2013

Finding happiness in the psychology aisle

Don’t Roll Your Eyes when you see what’s coming but every nine years or so, I use this column to report on a visit to my local bookstore to peruse the current psychology offerings. On my recent visit, I got in the back door shortly before closing time and sidled unobtrusively into the psychology aisle just as a celebrity chef was winding up a book signing. There were three people there before me, the Quiet man, The Dude and the Zen Master. The quiet man held a banner proclaiming Introvert Power and, when I asked what was going on, he said simply that this was The Introvert’s Way – Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. “Of course,” I replied, “we would all do better if we slowed down and weren’t always so Crazy Busy.” Warming to the topic, the quiet man said that what we needed was The Slow Fix – Solve Problems, Work Smarter, and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed. “That’s the ticket,” he added for emphasis.

Maybe it was the talk of speed but something caught the attention of the dude and the Zen master and they joined our conversation. The dude said that Thinking Fast and Slow were both important skills to cultivate but, as for him, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World was really the number one priority. The Zen master said this was simply a matter of Finding Your Own North Star and Daring Greatly. “Daring what?” the dude inquired. “Well,” said the Zen master, “you’ll find the answer to that question by asking yourself, What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? You have to Stop Walking on Eggshells or you’ll be forever Missing Out.”

Be Fearless –Challenge Your Brain, Change Your Life,” proclaimed the Zen master. He was really into it now and a few people clutching signed copies of the celebrity chef’s new book started to gather at the end of the aisle. “Not so fast,” said the dude Bouncing Back, “you’re talking about a major Identity Shift. Taming Your Gremlin just isn’t that easy.” “Incognito,” the Zen master replied, “The Secret Lives of the Brain” should never be underestimated. “Look,” said the dude, “The Righteous Mind is a thing of beauty deserving of respect. Don’t go talking about subverting it with secret lives. I know about these things because I am a righteous dude.”

These two were getting hot under the collar and I started thinking about The Better Angels of Our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined and hoping they wouldn’t come to blows. The crowd at the end of the aisle was growing and I could just see the top of the celebrity’s chef’s tall white hat moving up from the back of this small knot of nighttime readers. The last thing we needed was a fight and, at this rate, it was going to take more than One Good Deed to prevent one.

Just then the quiet man stepped up and, addressing the adversaries, said that the key to happiness was to Organize Your Mind – Organize Your Life. “Organize?” questioned the Zen master. “What does organizing have to do with Finding Your Element?” For once the dude seemed to agree with the old man, as if organizing anything was at the very bottom of his to-do list. “I’ll organize my mind tomorrow,” he chided, skilled as he was in practicing The Art of Procrastinating.

Now What?” I wondered. Was this a classic case of triangulation, conflict averted by the emergence of a scapegoat? Unruffled, the quiet man looked the dude and the Zen master square in the eyes and calmly said, “You Need Help.” “And what about you?” retorted the dude. “If you’ve got it all together, what are you doing in the self-help aisle?” “I’m learning How to be an Adult in Love, said the quiet man as he locked gazes with a woman who appeared as if on cue from the home repair section on the other side of the psychology display. Carrying a heavy load of books on recreational plumbing, macramé, and nuclear physics, she took her place beside the quiet man and nodded hello to the dude and the Zen master. Her smile melted the tension in the room.

Our little group turned in unison toward the murmur coming from the center aisle as the celebrity chef and his fans oozed into the psychology section. He was a big man who carried a copy of Your Spacious Self in one hand and removed his tall white hat with the other as he bowed with a flourish to acknowledge us. “I heard your lively discussion,” he said, “and just had to see for myself what all the excitement was about.” “Happiness,” said the Zen master, “and how to find it, or perhaps it is only The Myth of Happiness.” “Nonsense,” said the chef, beckoning his assistant, who pushed a covered trolley. “Happiness is real. You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap). Tonight it’s free.” With that, the chef removed the cover from the trolley and gave each of us a cupcake. n

Alan Bodnar, Ph.D. is a psychologist at Worcester State Hospital and a consultant in the field of leadership development.

By Alan Bodnar Ph.D.

One Response to Finding happiness in the psychology aisle

  • August 28th, 2013 at 1:05 pm Claire Ford posted:

    I wanted you to know how much I enjoy your column and look forward to reading it every month. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights.

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