Podcast: Is Happiness a Choice?
Are you sad? Just be happy! Does this irritate you? In today’s show, Gabe and Lisa ponder whether happiness really is a choice — especially for people who struggle with mental illness. How do we measure happiness? And what is happiness inflation?
Join us for an in-depth conversation on whether or not people can actually choose happiness.
(Transcript Available Below)
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About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Happiness a Choice” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a psych central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hey, everyone, and welcome to the Not Crazy podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard, and with me, as always, is Lisa Kiner. Lisa, I’m inviting you to speak right now so that you know that it is your turn. This comes up more than you think when Lisa doesn’t know when she can talk. I do take some responsibility for this because, you know, I’m a talker, Lisa.
Lisa: You’re going to have to redo that, because I won’t be able to edit that because you slurred it into your words.
Gabe: I wanted you to, I wanted you to leave that there.
Lisa: Why would I leave that there?
Gabe: Because it’s funny.
Lisa: Uh-huh, it’s not that funny.
Gabe: I thought it was funny, plus I’m picking on you. I think it’s good. We’re supposed to fight more.
Lisa: We’re supposed to fight. Wait a minute. What? I’m sorry, I didn’t listen the last part. Why are we supposed to fight more?
Gabe: People like the debate, they like the acrimony, they like the frenemies, we’ve been accused of getting along too well. We haven’t created enough drama.
Lisa: Someone actually said that?
Gabe: Multiple people have said this.
Lisa: Whoa! Oh, my God, this is my dream. So, you’re telling me that the goal is to fight with you more?
Gabe: The goal was always to be frenemies.
Lisa: But to specifically fight with you more? Oh, my God, I’m going to be so good at this.
Gabe: I know that’s why I picked you.
Lisa: Oh, I’ve been training for this for years.
Gabe: I thought you were uniquely qualified to not be a yes person.
Lisa: Thank you.
Gabe: I was very disturbed when people are like, yeah, the problem is, Lisa’s a yes person
Lisa: I don’t think that’s true; you just usually say that the right stuff, just not always. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong by a lot, but usually you’re good. Otherwise, I wouldn’t hang out with you because it would annoy me too much.
Gabe: Wow, I don’t know what that’s like.
Lisa: OK, going back. You said welcome. All right. Hey, everyone, see, I’m pretending like that whole thing didn’t happen. I’m just going now because I’m a professional. Don’t give me that look. Hey, everyone. Today’s quote comes to us from Abraham Lincoln. And he said, Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be. And he was the 16th president.
Gabe: You know, Lisa, I much preferred the quote, and I’m disappointed that you didn’t use it, which is I feel like I’m constantly worrying about the next part of my life without realizing that I’m right in the middle of what I used to look forward to. And that came from a Twitter user, Josie Vanco.
Lisa: All right, that is an absolutely brilliant quote and describes you perfectly, but yeah, I feel like you’re not really understanding the essence of the quotes. I got the 16th president, the savior of our nation. And you found one of your Twitter followers who does, in fact, say something very smart. I just really feel like you need to up your quote game. Maybe I could get you a book or a website or something. I’m better at quotes than you.
Gabe: You’re arguing with me for no reason.
Lisa: You told me to do that.
Gabe: The, it’s got to be good.
Lisa: Well, this is a burden to me.
Gabe: Let me start over.
Lisa: Can’t just turn it on and off, Gabe.
Gabe: Abraham Lincoln was obviously great, I mean, we learned about him in school and we clearly did not learn about Josie Vanco.
Lisa: His birthday is the same day as my mom’s.
Gabe: They’re about the same age.
Lisa: Ha ha.
Gabe: This quote spoke to me, like you said, it describes me to a T. Do you remember the show The Office? Remember the office? One of the quotes that one of the characters made is that the problem with it being the best years of your life is that you don’t know they’re the best years of your life when you’re living them.
Lisa: Totally true.
Gabe: I think all of us, you know, struggling with mental health issues, depression, sadness, loneliness, anxiety. We don’t know when it’s good when it’s happening. We know when we’re suffering. And then we reflect backwards and think, oh, why can’t I be like last summer when I was happy? But of course, here’s the thing. Last summer, we didn’t know we were happy. It’s only in retrospect.
Lisa: But is that true? I don’t know that last summer you were happy, though. Why? Because you’ve decided that last summer is better than this summer
Lisa: If you weren’t happy in the moment, how do you define happiness? If you didn’t know you were happy, are you really happy?
Gabe: It’s meta right? As you would say, it’s, ooohhh, so meta.
Lisa: You do not understand the meaning of any phrases that I use. That is not what that means.
Gabe: That’s because you use them all incorrectly.
Lisa: No, that’s not why.
Gabe: Is a box of boxes meta?
Lisa: That is totally meta, get it?
Lisa: Whoa. Yeah.
Gabe: But thinking you’re happy when you’re unhappy, not meta?
Lisa: Right, something that’s meta is self-referential.
Gabe: So what if you’re happy, but then you don’t realize it until you have something to compare it to? Is that meta?
Lisa: Yeah, maybe let’s go with for the purposes of this conversation, yes. Yes, it is.
Gabe: My whole point is that last summer, I think pretty much the entire world, will say, was better.
Lisa: Because we’re doing a COVID thing?
Gabe: Well, I mean, it is, in fact related to the global pandemic, but you know
Lisa: Right, right.
Gabe: Last summer we went through the summer and it was just like, oh, we didn’t get the vacation that we wanted. The fair food wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. You know, the concert series wasn’t good. Our sports team lost. It was a mediocre summer. And now we’re at this summer where everything’s canceled. The whole world’s going to hell and we’re starting to reflect back. And we’re like, you know, last summer wasn’t so bad. And in fact, it’s changed our perspective because a shitty fair is better than no fair. And a concert that is mediocre is better than no concert. So we’re starting to realize that last year was actually a pretty decent summer, but it’s only in retrospect. I think this is how happiness works for many people.
Lisa: Well, that’s how happiness works for you, but that’s part of your problem, you’re constantly comparing things, you’re always comparing yourself to other people, you’re always comparing this situation to that situation, and it’s always coming up short. That’s one of the reasons you’re unhappy.
Gabe: That’s because happiness has no definition, see, a dollar is a dollar. Gabe, do you have a dollar? I can look at my wallet and if there’s a dollar in there, the answer is yes. If there’s not a dollar in there, the answer is no. But then if somebody said, hey, Gabe, are you rich? Well, now what? How do we decide? Because I’m going to say, hey, I think having one hundred million dollars is rich, but you’re going to say, well, Bill Gates doesn’t. Bill Gates thinks that’s poverty. All right. Well, now what do we do? OK, so Bill Gates is rich, but, you know, the sultan of of who
Gabe: Is the actual richest guy? The sultan of Brunei, he’s
Lisa: I think it’s Jeff Bezos now.
Gabe: Well, I don’t know. But there’s some Bill Gates is not the richest guy. So that person thinks that Bill Gates is poor. He doesn’t want to play on that level. And Jeff Bezos does, in fact, maybe have more money. But he’s not a sultan. He’s not royalty. He can’t make dictator laws. So I don’t know if Jeff Bezos has more money than the sultan of Brunei, but I do know for a fact that the sultan of Brunei has more power and influence than Jeff Bezos.
Lisa: I don’t know that that’s true.
Gabe: You know damn well that it’s true.
Lisa: Not the point of the story, though.
Gabe: Jeff Bezos does not have a military. He is not royalty. Jeff Bezos cannot go around and murder all of his people for fun. I don’t even know if the sultan of Brunei does that, but he’s allowed, whereas Jeff Bezos is not.
Lisa: Yeah, so that’s not the point of the show. Bring us back around to the happiness.
Gabe: This is my point. We can’t even determine who has more power, Jeff Bezos or the Sultan of Brunei? But you want me to determine happiness? How?
Lisa: No, not for everyone, just for you.
Gabe: Stop, stop right there, you just said, Gabe, I want you to try to determine happiness just for you, but you’ve also said do not compare yourself to other people, places or things.
Lisa: Right, right.
Gabe: How do I do it then? How do I know if I’m happy?
Lisa: You do not have this problem when it comes to recovery, we’ve talked many times about how recovery is self-defined.
Gabe: But OK, fine, so should I do happiness the way that I did recovery?
Gabe: Because the way that I determined that I was in recovery is that my life was better this year than it was last year. I literally compared myself not only to previous examples of Gabe, but I also compared myself to others. And you just said not to do that with happiness.
Lisa: That’s how you decided you were in recovery?
Gabe: Of course,
Lisa: Seriously, that was your system?
Gabe: Yes, 100 percent, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Lisa: Wait, wait, wait. So, for example, the summer of COVID, or if you have a massive car accident tomorrow or if your dog dies, then suddenly you’ll no longer be in recovery?
Gabe: Well, potentially, what are my? What happens after that? And listen, when you said I got in a car accident, am I in physical pain?
Gabe: Yeah, I’m probably not my best self. Don’t you think that’s reasonable?
Lisa: But does that mean you’re not in recovery from bipolar disorder?
Lisa: So, you’re telling me that any single thing bad that happens in your life will automatically mean that you are no longer in recovery with
Lisa: Bipolar disorder?
Gabe: No, I don’t know why are you adding the word automatically. No, of course not. That’s.
Lisa: Because you just said that’s how you decide you decided. Today is better than the day previously. Also, doesn’t that give you, like, no wiggle room at all on a day to day basis? Are you trying to get every single day of your life better than the day before it? Because that sounds pretty hard.
Gabe: I am simply saying that when it comes to recovery, I do compare this version of Gabe to previous version of Gabes to see how I’m doing, I need some measurement to know if I’m doing better. Otherwise I could just declare myself to be in recovery, determine it to be true, and you could be like, dude, you’re homeless, you’re not taking your medication. Your wife left you, you haven’t showered in six months. But according to you, all I have to do is decide I’m in recovery and it counts. That seems like nonsense.
Lisa: So, you’re saying that the way you determine happiness is by comparing yourself to previous versions of you and deciding if you are happy? OK, I can work with this, then why aren’t you happy right now? This is the best you you’ve ever been. You’re the healthiest you’ve ever been. You’re in the best position with your recovery. You have the most money. You have the most stable relationship. You have the cutest dog. Why are you not happy right this second?
Gabe: I can answer this question with needing ten thousand dollars, right? I need ten thousand dollars.
Lisa: To be happy?
Gabe: No, I just I need ten thousand dollars. It’s an analogy
Gabe: Follow along. The goal is ten thousand dollars. Everybody understand? Gabe needs ten thousand dollars. Now you say Gabe, oh, my God, you did it. You have eight thousand dollars. And I say, I know I’m, I don’t have the ten thousand dollars. Well, but this is the most money that you’ve had towards that goal ever. So therefore, you’ve reached the goal. No, the goal is ten thousand dollars. Having eight thousand dollars means I’m still not at goal. Oh my God. You know, when you started this, you had zero and you’ve gone all the way up to eight thousand dollars. This is, in fact, the most money that you’ve had toward the goal ever. You just can’t be at goal. Now, take out the word goal and put in happiness. And there’s the problem. Also, you still haven’t defined the word happiness for me. Ten thousand dollars. That’s an exact number, right? So happiness. I want to know what happiness is. Tell me what happiness is. Everybody looks at me and says, oh, you have to determine that for yourself. It’s internal. You have to decide. Even the sixteenth president, the guy who beat my guy for the quote said, well, most folks are as happy as they make up their mind to be. Well, I guess that is a nice philosophical point and it makes people all warm and fuzzy on the inside. It’s nonsense. It’s literal nonsense.
Lisa: That is a problem.
Gabe: And also, you know, while I’m on the subject, just just while I’m here, Lisa.
Lisa: Yes, please tell me more, Gabe.
Gabe: I just I feel the need to do so. What condescending tripe is that? Oh, you’re dying and you have no money and you have no health insurance and that dog is eating your gangrened leg. Well, just make up your mind to be happy. You’re only as happy as you want to be. Listen up, world. We don’t need to take care of this person dying on the side of the road because they’ve made up their mind to be happy. Wow, that’s fantastic.
Lisa: You’ve got way too many things going at one time.
Gabe: I’ll just sit back and let you respond.
Lisa: Ok, well, it’s going to be a while because you’ve got many things going on here.
Gabe: I’ll be patient.
Lisa: First off, I love your analogies because they are very clearly illustrating everything wrong with your approach to happiness. And incidentally, the reason why you one, are not happy and two will never be happy. Ten thousand dollars represents happiness, right? That’s the analogy.
Gabe: Right, yes.
Lisa: Ok, ten thousand dollars represents happiness. What is your ten thousand dollars? What has to happen for you to reach happiness? Like you said, the ten thousand dollars, that’s clear. It’s exact. We know for sure. Either you have it or you don’t. Done. Do you have such an analogy for happiness? Can you tell me, well if blah blah blah blah then I will be happy? Do you have that?
Gabe: I mean, I do, but
Lisa: Ok, let’s hear it. Go.
Gabe: You’re about to win the arguments,
Lisa: Yes, I am, I know. That’s why I want to continue.
Gabe: I know that I’m about to get checkmated because, of course, there’s been dozens of things.
Gabe: As soon as I get a job, I’ll be happy. As
Gabe: Soon as I can be self-employed, I’ll be happy. As soon as I get in a relationship, I’ll be happy. As soon as I buy a house, I’ll be happy. As soon as I get divorced from the annoying Lisa, I’ll be happy. As soon as I get a new car, I’ll be happy. As soon as I go on vacation, I’ll be happy. Currently, it’s as soon as the pandemic is over, I’ll be happy.
Lisa: It’s always something that isn’t here yet. Always. You always have one more thing that’s going to make you happy, and then when you achieve that thing, you’re like, well, yeah, I mean, I know I said last month that if I got to this goal, I would be happy. But now that I think about it. I can vividly remember the day you told me, this was before you had gastric bypass, that if you could just weigh 300 pounds, that would be it. You would never ask for anything else. That was all you wanted in life. You would be completely happy. That’s all you needed, was to weigh 300 pounds.
Gabe: In my defense, I was not yet diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so maybe it’s not that I’m unreasonable, it’s that I get new data.
Lisa: Ok, what new data have you gotten?
Gabe: The ten thousand dollars isn’t enough, the reason I wanted ten thousand dollars is because that’s how much the thing that I wanted to buy cost. But in the time it took me to save up the ten thousand dollars. The price.
Lisa: The price went up?
Gabe: Yeah. Now it costs fifteen thousand dollars. I’m not the unreasonable one. Society keeps raising the price of things. Its inflation.
Lisa: Oh, my God,
Gabe: It’s happiness inflation.
Lisa: My eyes are rolling so hard, I think I’m going to have permanent brain damage, Your problem is that society is constantly changing the definition of happiness?
Gabe: They’re raising the happiness price,
Gabe: It’s inflation.
Lisa: That is awesome. There are like no words to even respond to that. That’s how awesome the thing you’ve just said is.
Gabe: So I win, right, I win.
Lisa: No, no, no.
Gabe: You don’t believe in inflation?
Lisa: Happiness inflation, OK, so all right, fine, the happiness inflation has occurred. Now you need fifteen thousand dollars.
Lisa: What’s the current price then? You can’t tell what the price is going to be with inflation in a year, 10 years, 15 years. But you can tell me what the price is right now. So what is the price right now? Not what is it going to be when you get to the current price? What is it right this second?
Gabe: I need the pandemic to end so I can get back to my job. I want to get back to work,
Lisa: I’m writing that down.
Gabe: I would also like the things with my job to clear up. You know, there’s a lot of transition right now that’s making me uncomfortable.
Gabe: I’d like you to drop that tone. That would be helpful.
Lisa: You all heard it here first, listeners. Gabe says that once the pandemic is over and the uncertainty with his job has cleared up and I start being nicer to him, perhaps an unrealistic goal, I’ll give you, he will achieve happiness. So that’s what it’s going to take.
Gabe: Well, I mean, assuming that inflation doesn’t take over
Gabe: I mean,
Lisa: Right, right.
Gabe: Inflation is a problem.
Lisa: This is honestly, and I thought this about you for years, and it’s actually heartbreaking and really, really sad to watch. I was reading about how to choose happiness, right. And one of them was set goals. That people who set goals are happier. You do that part. You constantly set goals and they’re usually measurable and reasonably attainable, just as the advice column suggests. Right. But it doesn’t matter because you meet that goal and you’re still not happy. Then you immediately invent a new goal. I have, honestly, I really can’t think of any. Yeah, well, I’m going back through 20 years of knowing you. There are very few times when I felt like you were happy or content in the moment. Almost never.
Gabe: Now, hang on, hang on, this is what makes me driven, could you imagine remember that
Gabe: At the very first. Hang on, hang on. Just hear me out. I listened to you. I weighed 550 pounds, and I said that as soon as I weigh 300 pounds, I will be happy and content. Could you imagine if I’d just stopped there? I never would have got down to 220, right? Now, let’s go with some other goals as soon as I get a job. You recognize that, I remember that and that job that I wanted because I had been unemployed for a few years because I was struggling with bipolar disorder and I was.
Lisa: You were underemployed, you were not unemployed.
Gabe: The point is, is that I wanted to get back to working full time, and I did, but that job didn’t pay very well. It wasn’t a very good job and it didn’t pay very well at all. So according to you, I would have stayed there. Like, that’s not good. Like setting all of these goals is what got me to where I am today. So, you know, my next goal is, you know, to be on like satellite radio or to be on a big network or, I don’t know, to expand out my podcast hosting abilities or to launch a podcast network. And you’re saying that I should just be content with where I am, so I’ll just be the host of the Not Crazy podcast, the host of The Psych Central Podcast, and just call it a day. But you realize that if I would have done that, I never would have gotten the podcast. I’d still be all the way back at that crappy job I hated from 15 years ago, making no money with crappy health insurance. You’re holding me back.
Lisa: Oh. OK, we’re just going to let that one go. I’m holding you back, I’m going to stab you in the face, OK? No, no, no, no.
Gabe: She means metaphorically, she’s not actually going to stab me in the face because that would be wrong.
Lisa: Kind of like how you mean that I’m metaphorically holding you back, which I’m not actually doing. You’ve got to be kidding me. Stop trying to derail the conversation, Gabe. You are trying to change the subject or distract me with off topic things, because, you know, I’m right.
Gabe: I’m not doing that at all. You told me that the reason that I’m never happy is because I immediately set a new goal when I achieved the old goal. Well, but I think setting new goals is good. This is how you evolve as a person. It also creates happiness inflation.
Lisa: You have reframed what is, quite frankly, a personality flaw as you being driven. I’m not impossible to satisfy, I just am motivated to succeed and move forward. No. OK, so you want to set a new goal once you get the previous goal? Great. Yay. Wonderful. But like, how soon after achieving the goal do You need to set the new goal? Because for you it’s within seconds. You can’t like, take a day. I mean, I’m not even asking for much. Right. I’m not even saying that you should be happy for weeks or months, just maybe like a day, maybe a few days. Maybe that would be nice. Maybe if you achieve the goal on a Friday, you could just be happy for like the weekend. And then on Monday you could get around to making this new unattainable goal.
Gabe: Ok, first off, why do you keep calling them unattainable goals?
Lisa: All right, let me rephrase.
Gabe: This is the fascinating part about trying to establish, in my opinion, happiness, because I’m still very hung up on the time that I told you that I wanted to start a national advocacy movement and I wanted to be a national advocate on the same level as Julie Fast, as Natasha Tracy, as all the high level advocates that I have looked up to for years. And you told me, no, that hurt me a lot. Now, you don’t deny that that happened.
Lisa: I did not tell you no, I told you to start with a more attainable goal. You said, Oh, I’m going to blah, blah, blah. And I said, OK, instead of being blah, blah, blah, why don’t you start with getting up off the couch? You’re like those people who are like, oh, my goal is to run a marathon. How about your goal is to walk out to the mailbox? How about that be your goal? I can’t help but notice that the goal you set is always very distant in the future, very difficult to attain, almost impossible to measure and can’t be done immediately. It requires some sort of thing to happen for it to come.
Gabe: And herein lies the problem, you have now completely switched because you said Gabe makes good goals that are measurable and he follows the advice column. And now
Lisa: No, no, no, no, no.
Gabe: Here we are later. And you’re like all these nebulous goals and get Gabe, to, pie in the sky.
Gabe: A pie in the sky and nobody can reach them.
Lisa: No, what I’m saying is, one you remember back incorrectly and the number two thing you are setting the goal that will lead to your happiness backwards. You just said that back in the day, I said that if I could be an advocate on a national stage, I would be happy.
Gabe: I did say that.
Lisa: Well, here you are.
Lisa: Are you happy?
Lisa: Like anything? Were you happy for a minute? I’m not even saying you need to be happy long term. Just was there a period of happiness?
Gabe: How long is a period?
Lisa: More than one minute.
Lisa: Really, how long was that? An hour?
Gabe: Maybe. That’s more than a minute.
Lisa: Without exaggeration, I mean, we’re joking around here, but it wasn’t a day, it was not a whole day.
Gabe: It might have been a day.
Lisa: The first time you got one of those large contracts, you got booked at a big conference, you did not, in fact, have an entire day of happiness. You did not and you don’t now either. Remember how we had the whole conversation about self-talk and negative self-talk? Yeah, one time. This is a true story. We were on vacation. We were on a three-day vacation. We were on the evening of the second day and you started getting all depressed. I said, what’s wrong? We’re having a great time. And you said, yeah, but tomorrow we have to go home.
Gabe: Well, that’s true, we do.
Lisa: We’re on vacation, you can’t even enjoy the vacation because you’re talking about how soon this is going to end. Yeah, no kidding. You realize that that’s actually an analogy for life. All life ends, Gabe.
Gabe: Well, how am I supposed to be happy when you’re telling me that I’m going to die?
Lisa: Everyone dies. We were on vacation, we were actively on vacation, and you were going on about. No, no, no, I can’t have fun because after all, tomorrow the vacation ends. What, so you just can’t enjoy life at all? There’s no hope for you. There’s no hope. You can never be happy.
Gabe: You know, I have a pronounced anxiety disorder,
Lisa: Yeah, it was worse back then.
Gabe: And it was worse back then, but you keep saying this like I have a choice. I know that when you reflect backwards, you think, why doesn’t Gabe choose to be happy? He got the thing that he wanted. He reached the goal. But you know what the definition of anxiety disorder is? I just
Lisa: You think it’s anxiety? Not depression or bipolar?
Gabe: I think it’s all of it, I think in the example that you used of the vacation, it’s anxiety because it’s going to end. I’m anxious about the travel the next day. I’m worried about, you know, back then I was still scared of airplanes. I was really pushing myself really hard. So, it was dread that factors in in no small way. And then you keep saying to me, choose happiness. Do you walk up to people in wheelchairs and say, choose walking? That’s just an asshole thing to do. And you would never behave that way because you understand that that’s real. Do you not think that anxiety disorder is real?
Lisa: That is a good point, and that is a problem, it’s not clean. This whole idea of happiness is a choice, is a burden for the mentally ill. Well, it’s a burden for a lot of people, but we’re talking about the mentally ill. This is a burden for people with mental illness because it implies that you’re just not trying hard enough. Just cheer up. Just get better. So, yeah, it is not clean. You have a non-zero point there.
Gabe: Oh, just, just a non-zero? Just a non-zero?
Lisa: Yes, well, but here’s the problem with it, though, so are you saying that it’s completely unattainable? Yes, it is more difficult for us to choose happiness than it is for people who do not have mental illness. But is it impossible? No, it’s not impossible, especially when you have the resources to be treated and to be in recovery, which you do and which you are. So it is not an impossible thing for us to do. It may be harder than it is for the average, kind of like we always go back to the diabetes example. Yeah, it’s harder to live your life when you’re a diabetic. You’ve got to do more stuff. You’ve got a plan, but it’s not impossible. And you seem to think it’s impossible. It is not impossible for you to choose happiness.
Gabe: I understand what you’re saying, and let’s go back to the wheelchair analogy, right
Gabe: That’s not clean either. I follow this incredible health advocate who recently had to have a part of her leg amputated and she is chronicling her journey. And one of the things that she keeps saying over and over again is I have to choose to walk again. The day that she came out of the surgery, you know, she had the picture and she’s like, I can’t be fitted for my prosthetic yet because it hasn’t healed. Now, this happened like a year ago. So, she’s now at the point where she’s doing the prosthetic and she keeps saying over and over again, of course, that she sees all of these people using prosthetics and they’re just walking normal. She, of course, brings up the marathon runners that are using them and she’s still walking with a cane. And sometimes she steps wrong. And she’s a very, very honest blogger. But you’re right, if she was sitting in the wheelchair, it would not be unreasonable for you to walk up and say, listen, you can walk if you want to. I just want you to understand that she wants to and she’s going through so much hell, she is working so hard. But you’re right, because she is choosing to walk, choosing to want to, choosing to do the work. There is some date in the future that she’s going to walk just fine. And when she wears a pair of jeans, people who just met her won’t even know that she’s got a prosthetic leg under there. I guess I understand what you’re saying, but I feel like people are cheering her on. I feel like when she falls down, people are like, get back up, you can do it. Whereas when I fall down, people are like, choose happiness, dumb ass. I don’t feel like I get the cheerleading that she gets.
Lisa: You don’t, but so what?
Gabe: I think that’s an excellent point. It’s hard enough being sick, but now I’ve got everybody yelling at me for being sick.
Lisa: Ok, but let’s go back to the analogy you just gave about how she is doing some non-zero aspect of choosing,
Gabe: She is,
Lisa: Are you?
Gabe: I am.
Lisa: When you say that she had to make the choice to walk again, have you made that choice?
Gabe: I feel like I have.
Lisa: You have not.
Gabe: I know.
Lisa: And I’m not trying to be a bitch about it, but, yeah, you have not. She says to herself, hey, I know that I’m going to walk again. It will happen. I’m going to make it happen. You don’t say that to yourself. You’re never sitting around saying, you know, this is going to happen. You don’t even think it’s going to happen. And you’re definitely not choosing it.
Gabe: As you know, I abhor the suffering Olympics, but I’m going to play them for a moment because it’s going to make my point.
Gabe: So for long time listeners, you don’t need to send me the hypocrite email, I’m already aware. She knows what it’s like to walk. She’s got a clear goal. When she can walk without assistance, she will know that she achieved it. I have never been happy. I don’t know what happiness looks like and nobody can define it for me because I’m supposed to choose it or define it for myself. So you say, have I chosen to be happy? Every time I set that goal and say that I’m going to be happy then, I think that I have. You think that I get there, I can walk and that I intentionally injure myself in some way so that I can’t walk anymore.
Lisa: That’s not a good analogy.
Gabe: It’s a poor analogy. My point is, is that I believe that that will make me happy. And then when I get there, I realize that I am not.
Lisa: Do you honestly believe that?
Gabe: Of course I do, I genuinely and honestly believe that these things will make me happy, I believed with all of my heart that just being a fully functioning adult that didn’t need supports from society or my family would make me happy. I thought that, you know, being a homeowner, being married, getting a dog, having money in the bank, I thought that these things would make me happy. And according to the research, those things were supposed to make me happy. There’s a research study that says, oh, all people need to be happy is an individual income of about seventy five thousand dollars a year, physical health, employment, experience of positive emotions, good social relationships, moral values and family, and basic access to safety and social equality. I have all of those things, so I thought I should be happy. But I’m not. I’m not happy.
Lisa: That is not exactly what said study said. Said study said that people who define themselves as happy often share these traits.
Gabe: Well, I have those traits and I don’t define myself as happy, nobody called me. I don’t think they called anybody with serious and persistent mental illness. I think they called a bunch of random people who, frankly, are living a great life. And they’re like, hey,
Gabe: Do you like your job, your family? You have money, access to health care? Yeah, I have all those things. Are you happy? But I’m not. Doesn’t that just make me disordered?
Gabe: Well, but.
Lisa: Yeah, it does.
Gabe: You don’t think it makes me disordered. You think that I am choosing not to be happy versus I am incapable of being happy. And therein lies the problem. You think this is a choice that I am not choosing. I maintain that it’s a disorder that I have that nobody is curing.
Lisa: Ok, but what are you doing to cure it? What actions are you taking to get yourself this cure?
Gabe: Ok, I go to therapy, I go to my doctor and take my medication, I speak honestly and openly about it. I’ve, of course, achieved all of those things in that research study that they said that people that are happy to share and I set measurable goals and attain them. And it still hasn’t worked.
Lisa: Ok, you can always do more.
Gabe: Yeah, that’s what I said, that’s why I set a new goal, that is the happiness inflation that I talked about. You’re right, I can always do more. And that’s why I set a new goal. And you said that was wrong.
Lisa: No, what you said here are the things that I’m doing, and yet it has not succeeded in making me happy. Well, then clearly you’re doing the wrong things and or you need to add in more things.
Gabe: That is why I keep setting goals, I am
Lisa: No, no, no.
Gabe: Adding in more things.
Lisa: You’re adding the wrong things.
Gabe: How do you know? Tell me what to add.
Lisa: Ok, well, I got a couple of things. I’ve been doing Internet research.
Gabe: This is going to turn out well, was it on YouTube?
Lisa: No, because I could read faster than I can listen.
Gabe: And you don’t like to listen.
Lisa: But Oprah does have
Gabe: Oh, Oprah.
Lisa: This amazing video.
Gabe: Is going to save us all, ladies and gentlemen,
Gabe: I’m buckling in for this. What’s Oprah say to do? Tell me how the billionaire guru with no psychology background is going to fix the serious and persistently mentally ill Gabe Howard. Go.
Lisa: Right, whatever. Don’t. Forget Oprah, although don’t forget Oprah because she’s amazing.
Gabe: I agree with you, Oprah is amazing and I have a lot of respect for Oprah.
Lisa: Oprah’s amazing.
Gabe: I can’t help but notice that you said I did research on your severe and persistent mental illness by contacting a talk show host.
Lisa: No, you said did you watch a video? I said, no, I did not watch a video, but if you do want to watch a video, Oprah’s got a great video. So if you’re video people watch Oprah. Anyway, stop trying to derail the thing I’m saying.
Gabe: I’m sorry that I brought up that the celebrities can’t save us all and that we should stop valuing celebrities over actual doctors and researchers.
Lisa: Red herring, Gabe, red herring.
Gabe: I prefer a straw man argument
Lisa: Oh, you’re right, that’s better. Yeah, take back the red herring thing.
Gabe: So meta.
Lisa: No, no, no, I’m a little impressed you used strawman correctly and.
Gabe: I’m sad that every time I speak intelligently, you’re shocked. What do you think of me?
Lisa: Really? We were married for years, you think I married a dumb guy? I hate it when you say that. You’re always like, oh, my God, you think I’m stupid. Really? Really. So I just deliberately chose to be around the stupid guy. It’s frankly insulting to my taste.
Gabe: We had a healthy relationship, it’s much better now.
Lisa: It is a lot better now, a lot better. You should all consider divorces, it works out great.
Gabe: Remember when we were married and you specifically told me that fighting in public was wrong?
Lisa: I know, right? That’s why this has changed my world.
Gabe: So fighting in public is wrong, but fighting in public for money is OK.
Lisa: I know. Like I said, I’ve been training for this job my whole life. Who knew you were actually giving me vocational training all those years?
Gabe: Once again, you’re welcome.
Lisa: We’ll be back in a minute after a word from our sponsors.
Announcer: Interested in learning about psychology and mental health from experts in the field? Give a listen to the Psych Central Podcast, hosted by Gabe Howard. Visit PsychCentral.com/Show or subscribe to The Psych Central Podcast on your favorite podcast player.
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Gabe: Now we’re back discussing, what are we talking about?
Lisa: Gabe’s inability to feel happiness and joy and suck everybody else down.
Gabe: All right, are you ready?
Lisa: I feel like that’s an accurate summary.
Gabe: And we’re back discussing my inability to experience happiness and joy.
Lisa: It’s bleak but true.
Gabe: Now explain to me again why it’s my fault that I’m not happy, even though I have chronicled an actual disorder and the celebrity that’s going to save me.
Lisa: Stop trying to derail what I’m saying. I was looking up about choosing happiness, and I agree it is a very trite saying. I’m not a big one for self-help things. I’m in general not a snuggly, huggly, cuddly person. On the one hand, I feel a little bit icky saying choose happiness, because, yeah. I’m pretty sure rainbows or hearts are going to start coming in here pretty soon, and I really don’t like those things.
Gabe: Space unicorn.
Lisa: Well, OK, never mind, I take back. Space unicorns are great, also narwhals, they’re the unicorns of the sea
Gabe: Narwhals, narwhals, swimming in the ocean
Lisa: Narwhals, swimming in the ocean.
Gabe: Anyways, continue. You’ve been trying to make a point now for about an hour and a half.
Lisa: Gee, I wonder who’s distracting me from that.
Lisa: Oh, for God’s sakes. All right, focus. When you say I’m doing the following things, I do recognize it’s kind of the marathon runner thing where people say, oh, my God, you’re so lazy. I just ran a marathon. Yeah, but did you run a triathlon? I mean, can’t you do better? So there’s always more. No matter what level you hit, there’s always more. So when you say I’m doing the following things, that’s wonderful. That’s great. But there’s always more. And here specifically, Gabe, are the more things that you could do, stop living in the past and more importantly, stop comparing yourself to others. You are constantly comparing yourself to other people and saying, look, I don’t have as much as those people, sad. Well, why are you picking those people? The majority of the world and the majority of humans throughout history are worse off than you are at this exact moment. So why aren’t you comparing yourself to those people? Because if all it takes and you’re the one who just told me that, that the reason you’re unhappy is because you’re comparing yourself to this person and that’s why you’re unhappy. Well, then compare yourself to a different person and poof, happiness.
Gabe: Because the people who are worse off than me, I feel like it’s my job to help them be better. That’s what being a mental health advocate is. So, the fact that they are worse off than me is a representation of my failure and how much more work there is to do.
Lisa: Wow, wow,
Lisa: Wow, I don’t even
Gabe: Yeah, I internalize a lot.
Lisa: Whoa the ego on that. Wow.
Gabe: I understand what you’re saying about ego, and probably is some of that there. I think that it is intermingled. But, you know, it bothers me. I have this guilt that I was able to get help. Whenever I hear stories of from family members who are talking about their loved ones who died by suicide. And I realized that they lived the same life as me. Their parents love them just as much as my parents loved me. Why was I the lucky one? That disturbs me. I can’t enjoy my recovery until everybody else has recovery, too. It pains me to know that there are people that could be living the exact same life as me if only they could get access to treatment and care. Because that is just so incredibly unfair. That keeps me up at night. The kids nowadays are calling that being an empath. It’s where you absorb other people’s emotions and claim them as your own, which is kind of an egotistical thing to do. And I don’t understand why it doesn’t work with happiness. I am traumatically affected by the suffering of other people who I consider a kindred spirit. And that is the basis of my advocacy. I understand that there is an element of ego in there, but it’s not because I think that I’m great or because I can fix it. A lot of people just don’t care.
Lisa: Yeah, there is no answer to that, you are completely right and it’s horrifying.
Gabe: Hey, I win, I win, I win, I win, I win,
Lisa: No, because you’re
Gabe: All I do is win, win, win and then I win, win, win. No, not too soon,
Lisa: No, no, no. Also inaccurate, but again, sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Gabe: I love how you get to be both my debate partner and you’re like the judge, you’re like inaccurate, no points awarded. I’m just like what happened here? I think I did win. I decide all points awarded.
Lisa: Ok, so you decide, huh, but you’re not able to decide other things.
Gabe: I can determine
Gabe: I can determine things for other people, I
Gabe: Can’t determine things for myself.
Lisa: I’ve noticed that about you.
Gabe: I know it’s, it’s a quirk.
Lisa: That you’ve rebranded once again, reframed, as it were, as a virtue.
Gabe: I learned it from watching you. You are the most critical person I know, and you say that being critical allows you to spot problems before they become bigger problems,
Lisa: You’re welcome.
Gabe: Right? You are correct, but you realize that you have rebranded being just this incredibly negative, spiteful, hateful person as no, no, no, I can spot problems before they become bigger problems, which I can’t deny. But most of the time you’re just complaining about a movie that everybody else enjoyed while we’re all trying to eat our dinner.
Lisa: What I’m trying to say is you do it only in one direction, right? Like you look downwards of people who are not doing as well as you and say, well, look, I can’t be happy if I compare myself to those people. That’s not right. That’s morally wrong. Which, hey, you might have a point there. That’s not good. That’s not something that will enhance my happiness. OK, all fair points, all good. But you can look upwards at people who are doing arguably better than you and say, look, that’s the reason I’m unhappy. I can compare my happiness to those people and find it lacking. You consistently say I cannot use a downward measurement to do anything with my happiness. I can’t use that, but I can use an upward measurement. And that is definitive. That shows that I’m not happy and it shows that I’m completely reasonable in this belief. That does not make sense. You can’t have both. I think that you need to one, define happiness for yourself because you’ve never successfully done that.
Gabe: Define happiness for you, Lisa.
Lisa: I’ve got it.
Gabe: Ok, you claim that you’re happy.
Lisa: Yeah, I am happy.
Gabe: What is Lisa Kiner’s definition of happiness?
Lisa: Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s a difficult thing to say. It’s kind of like that whole porn thing. I can’t really define it, but I know it when I see it, right? Yeah, I’m happy. Strangely, you don’t think I’m happy, but I am. I’m happy.
Gabe: Define it then. Tell me the definition of Lisa Kiner’s happiness.
Lisa: My mental illness is under excellent control. I haven’t been suicidal or hopeless in years, I admit it’s a low bar, but nonetheless it was one that I took a really long time to clear. So pretty excited about that. And overall, I’m mostly content and derive pleasure from things that I do in my day to day life.
Gabe: All you do is eat Rice Krispies and sleep.
Lisa: I find both of those things very pleasurable.
Gabe: So I just need more sleep and more Rice Krispies, and I, too, can lead the Lisa Kiner life?
Lisa: If those were the things that worked for you, yeah. You need to define the things that work for you in your own life, you get to define.
Gabe: But a lot of people feel that you’re wasting your life.
Lisa: So what? All of those habits that people who choose happiness have, that’s another one of them that you don’t have, you are defining yourself in comparison to others and you worry too much about what other people think.
Gabe: But you worry about what other people think to this day,
Lisa: Not like you do.
Gabe: You are still upset that you don’t have a master’s degree.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, I am.
Gabe: Well, but why?
Lisa: Obviously, I’m not upset enough to go get one.
Gabe: How will having a master’s degree help you sleep all day, podcast and eat Rice Krispies?
Lisa: Which is why I don’t have one.
Gabe: Then why are you upset that you don’t have one? You clearly don’t want it or need it.
Lisa: Well, that’s my point. You remember how one time we were at Weight Watchers and the lady had an example of, oh, I saw a classical musician and he was amazing. And I thought, oh, my God, I would do anything to be able to play the piano like that. I would do anything. Would you? Would you practice six hours a day for eight years? Her analogy was, oh, I would do anything to be thin. Would you? Well, then will you go to the gym every day and follow this weight loss plan? Yeah, this is the same thing. When I say, gee, I’d really like a master’s degree. Well, apparently, I don’t in fact, want one. If I wanted it that badly, I’d have one.
Gabe: But doesn’t it upset you that people that you’ve known a long time, the reason that a master’s degree is so important to Lisa is of course, because that’s all she wanted in high school. I believe you wanted a Ph.D.?
Lisa: I did.
Gabe: You wanted you wanted to go all the way and you just have a bachelor’s degree in physics. Just.
Lisa: I was very academically successful when I was younger, when I was in high school, etc. But yeah, mental illness has a way of derailing some of your academic plans at that age.
Gabe: But there’s a lot of friends and family that are disappointed in you for not
Gabe: Having achieved it, and they say things like, oh, you’re so smart, why are you just a podcaster?
Lisa: You had such potential,
Lisa: You had so many possibilities before you.
Gabe: Doesn’t that bother you coming from people you love?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s super annoying, totally bothers me.
Gabe: Well, how come that doesn’t affect you?
Lisa: How much are you going to let stuff like that bother you?
Gabe: I, it bothers me a lot.
Lisa: Exactly like I just said, that’s one of the habits you’re not choosing. You worry too much about what other people are thinking about you. And don’t get me wrong, I understand, as we talked about in a previous episode, this happens to be a little bit self protective. In general, people like you. People like you, they get along with you. People in general don’t like me and don’t get along with me and find my personality to be abrasive. If I cared too much about what other people think, I would just have to curl up and die. There’d be no solution because most people, in fact, do not like me. To say to myself, hey, I don’t care about what other people think. Well, isn’t that convenient, since most people don’t really care for you? Yeah. Yeah, it is. But nonetheless.
Gabe: I like you just fine, Lisa, but it’s self-protective for me to listen to others because there was a point in my life where I didn’t listen to others when they said things like, Gabe, get off the roof, Gabe, don’t spend all that money. Gabe, you can’t behave this way. Gabe, you’re treating us poorly. Gabe, your behavior is problematic. Gabe, you need to get help. And I would like to point out that somebody once said, Gabe, being suicidal is not normal. You need to go to a hospital. And I did not listen to them. I was tricked. I was taken there under false pretenses, which was for my own good. So, once I realized that, oh, my God, I should have been listening to these people all along, I’ve now listened to them more. When did they switch from saying reasonable things to stupid shit? I don’t know. And how do I tell the difference?
Lisa: That’s a problem, that is an absolute problem, and once again, it’s harder for people with mental illness, but it’s not impossible. So, yes, it is harder for you because how do you find that line? You couldn’t trust your own thoughts before. So what, you’re supposed to trust them now? That doesn’t make sense. It is more difficult for you, but it is not impossible. And you understand that in other areas of your life. There are plenty of people that tell you about various things you should do. The obvious answer would be politics or religion, right? There are plenty of people like, no, no, no, you should vote this way, Gabe. And you have no problem with saying no, you are wrong. That is incorrect. I should not vote that way. You don’t have any problem with that. That’s like a proof of concept. How do you find that of no, no. I am confident in my own beliefs on this subject. How do you find that for this? In your own self-worth or your own level of happiness?
Gabe: Obviously, I understand what you’re saying, but let’s hang on to that political example that you gave for a moment. You know, Gabe and Lisa, we have pretty much the identical political leanings. I mean,
Lisa: Pretty close.
Gabe: So it would give me pause if one day you said Gabe X and I was like, no, Lisa, it’s Y. It’s always been Y. And you’re like, Yeah, but now it’s X. You’re saying that I should be 100 percent confident that I’m still right? No, that would give me great pause, great long. That would keep me up at night.
Lisa: So, what you’re saying is that there are people whose opinions you respect who if they said something counter to what you believe, you would have to stop and consider it.
Gabe: Like hard.
Lisa: If you respect my opinion so greatly or you respect your long-term therapist or your doctors, et cetera, they’re telling you the same stuff.
Lisa: Why aren’t you listening to it?
Gabe: The role of a therapist or a doctor is not to tell you that you are happy. So, no, that is incorrect.
Lisa: No, no, no, no, no,
Lisa: That’s not what I’m saying. They are telling you if you do the following things, it will be beneficial to you.
Gabe: We’re not debating whether or not I have beneficial things in my life.
Lisa: No, we’re debating whether or not you do the habits of happy people and you don’t.
Gabe: Yes, I do.
Lisa: No, you don’t.
Gabe: Yes, I do. What habit of happy people do I not do? I don’t choose happiness? I don’t feel happy. I’m sorry I can’t choose it. And I think that’s ridiculous. It’s like choosing to have a headache or not to have a headache. You can’t choose it. It’s not a choice. That’s nonsense. Utter nonsense.
Lisa: But you, you could choose to avoid your migraine triggers; you could choose to go to the neurologist and get a better treatment plan.
Gabe: I do all those things, I absolutely do.
Lisa: Oh, but see, that’s just it, you don’t. And once again, marathon triathlon, you could always do more. The thing you do not do is stop worrying about what other people think. Stop comparing yourself to other people and stop living in the past. Those three things are what is keeping you from having the ability, or from just generally choosing, happiness. Is it harder for you than the average? Sure. Life screwed you. But so what?
Gabe: This is the happiest I’ve ever
Gabe: Been and this is also the most content that I’ve ever been. I recognize that I don’t feel like I should, but I do notice that when I reflect back, I do feel that I, we see this in our own marriage. When we got divorced, it was awful. We had a lot of problems. But now from this vantage point with our friendship, we actually have a lot of happy memories from the time that we were married and together, I think that our memories are constantly adjusting and shifting as new data becomes available. And that’s why the quote at the beginning, not the one you picked, not the crappy one from the president guy, but that’s why the quote really struck me so much when I saw it on Twitter, I feel like I’m constantly worrying about the next part of my life without realizing I’m right in the middle of what I used to look forward to.
Lisa: Yes, and when you showed it to me, I thought, oh, my God, this person is brilliant and apparently is following you around to write down quotes, because this encapsulates your entire life and your entire mindset and not for nothing, it’s hard to watch. It’s difficult to see this in you all the time. It’s depressing and it makes me sad for you, which is messing with my happiness, Gabe.
Gabe: I recognized myself in it, too, and actually, as you know, the first thing I thought about when I saw it is, oh my God, that’s what Lisa says about me. And I actually screenshot, Lisa is not on Twitter. I screenshot it and sent it to Lisa. But here’s the thing that I realized. That thing has been retweeted 36,400 times as of like four days ago. So I don’t even know what it’s up to now. And four days ago, it was liked 133,000 times. I am not alone. I am not the only person that thinks this way, feels this way or has this particular problem. And that’s what made me want to do a deep dive into it. Also, I love subjects where Lisa just gets to scream over and over again, you are so wrong. I still maintain that nobody is looking into happiness inflation, and it’s a real problem. But I also maintain, Lisa, you are correct. There is an element of control that I have and there is an element of control that the 133,000 people who liked this tweet have. We can steer our own destiny. I don’t know if I’m willing to say control it, but I think we can move the wheel back and forth and try to get a handle on it.
Lisa: I also like subjects where I can tell you repeatedly that you’re wrong. We should definitely pick more of those subjects in the future, that will make us all happy. But your main problem is that you’ve never actually defined or determined what happiness does mean to you.
Gabe: In the meantime, I will take solace in the fact that I am right in the middle of what I used to look forward to, which means retroactively, past Gabe would be very happy.
Lisa: And you are certainly not alone.
Gabe: All right, ladies and gentlemen, this is the point of the show where I plead with you, if you have any subjects that you want to hear Gabe and Lisa debate, argue about or cover, hit us up at [email protected] and tell us about it. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Also, please rate, rank and review it and use your words and tell people why they should download and listen as well. And hey everybody, I wrote the book, Mental Illness Is an Asshole: And Other Observations. It’s three hundred and eighty pages of awesome. You can get it on Amazon, of course, but you can also go over to gabehoward.com and buy it from there and I will sign it. I’ll also throw in a bunch of free stuff, including stickers of the Not Crazy podcast.
Lisa: Remember, there’s always an outtake after the credits, and we’ll see you next Tuesday.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. Want to see Gabe and me in person? Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail [email protected] for details.
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