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What is this human emtion called Happiness?

While I’ve been alternating between despair and apathy, moderately good things have been happening at work. First, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at one of my favorite conferences. Even though it’s a small conference, not one with national importance or anything, my academic friends will understand that this is still a good thing career-wise. The best part is seeing my name on the list of invited speakers next to the names of people who are genuinely important and famous (to the extent that academics can be famous).

Second, I was nominated for Mediocre Institution’s award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. I put a lot of thought and energy into being a good teacher, but am NOT one of those teachers everyone loves. My classes tend to be on the hard side. My favorite thing to hear from students at the end of the semester is, I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but I learned so much! I’m not naturally charismatic, either–in fact, I suffer from severe stage fright that is only now becoming tolerable, but half my brain is still occupied with keeping the terror under control during any given class. In short, I never expected to even be nominated for an award…but I’ve always dreamed that I might win one anyway. There are a lot of nominees for this one and only one award, so I’m not holding out much hope. Also, the next step is for a committee member to sit in on a class and talk to students, and I’m not teaching, so may not even have a shot. BUT, being nominated is great. There’s a reception with the university president and everything.

So, if I were normal, I’d be happy. I’d be like, Things are going well at work! I don’t need to feel like shit all the time about everything! And yet, while each of these events did result in a brief moment of enthusiasm, they don’t actually make me feel good about my life. I think nothing but reaching the second trimester of pregnancy will. Perhaps not even that. In grad school, I read a paper about the way certain life events alter the set-point for life satisfaction. There was an equation for life satisfaction and everything. The basic idea was that your baseline happiness goes down after certain experiences. Your normal happiness level is just lower. Sort of like developing a tolerance to heroin. I think I might be feeling the effects of this phenomenon. I feel like I got a couple of shots of happiness but they just didn’t last like they used to, didn’t get me as high. I need to figure out where I can score some better shit.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. First of all, wow you fancy keynote speaker, you. Congrats! I'm such a little grad student weenie, I still feel *terrified* at even attending conferences. You are so big and important :)That research on our "happiness levels" is fascinating. I almost with I could give it to Lawyer Guy, to help him understand that I am happy much of the time, even if it doesn't look like my old happiness did. And maybe what I mean when I say I won't be happy again until we have a healthy baby is that my levels of happiness won't be restored until that point.Anyway, congrats on both pieces of very happy news and good luck with the teaching award.

    March 13, 2010
  2. Wow!!!! I am so impressed and excited for you! Keynote speaker! Teaching award! Obviously, you rock. And have been doing a great job of keeping your career together through all this shite. I am very glad that you get these pieces of good news to keep you afloat– even though, as you say, it is a shame that you can't fully appreciate these wonderful achievements to the degree that you could if you didn't have these IF issues, I am glad that you have these things to counteract your personal disappointments. And I am super impressed and proud of you. I would love to have both of these things happen to me one day.But, I also (very personally) know what you mean about academic accomplishments seeming bland and unimportant lately. Not that I have had any major accomplishments, but the thought of having one doesn't have the charm that it once did. I think there is something just so OBSCURE about the quest for advancement in an academic field. Everything else in life has to be going well for it to matter– Not the love of the subject matter, that doesn't go away, but to actually succeed in academia, you have to dust off the old competitive spirit, work like a dog, and try to get the 'famous academics' (who no one outside the field has ever heard of) to take notice of you. Quite an obscure undertaking. And one that is not so meaningful when YOU CAN'T EVEN PRODUCE A CHILD. Which is why I lean towards vet school these days. One, I love being a student and being spoon-fed knowledge (mmmm!). Two, because just feel that tending to sick or wounded animals is more in line with my emotional state at the moment than is trying to publish in high-caliber journals… So, sorry to ramble, but I just wanted to illustrate how much I understand the unfortunate and unwanted feeling of Dulled Lustre of Academic Success. Not to dwell on the negative (oops, sorry).Still, you worked hard for these accomplishments, and I hope you enjoy the hell out of them to the best that you can, in your current emotional place! Congratulations, again!!

    March 13, 2010
  3. Congrats on keynote speaker! My understanding of keynote speakers is limited to the episode of Friends where Ross is the keynote speaker in Barbados, but I think it means you are pretty darn smart, right?And congrats on your nomination for a teaching award!I think constant disappointment and pain does dull our ability to be extremely happy about things. I love the analogy to heroine addiction…

    March 13, 2010
  4. Congrats on the award and being asked to keynote the conference! That is really, really awesome. I do understand how even when these kick-ass things happen in our lives, it's somehow negated by the dark cloud of IF thats always over our heads. It sucks, but I like the comparison to heroin – we just need more of the good stuff to keep us going!

    March 13, 2010
  5. That's a nice piece of news. I think you underestimate your charisma, there's something about holding back that terror that keeps you on your toes. Without that cliff of fear to peer over, you might push your students less. I LOVE teachers like you and I really hope that you get a chance at recognition. Also, keynote speaker is kick ass. I've managed to do a few bigger conferences as a panel member or a speaker, but shoot, keynote is beyond my hopes. All of that career push died out after I took the IF path. I am also terrified ever second during those things, so I relate completely. I calm myself down by telling myself that each of those attendees would find me charming and funny one on one. It's funny because I've been having the thought lately that all of the happiness I've pinned on the arrival of 2nd trimester baby belly might also be equally elusive. Not that I don't think I'd be happy, but I wonder if I'm going to get there and expect bliss, only to sit back and say "now what?" Unhappy if I don't and maybe unhappy if I do. Anyhoo, whatever drug you find that helps, do share. Right now, I'm just going to see if this sunbeam will work.

    March 13, 2010
  6. Congrats on your two work successes! That is awesome. I know what you mean though about it not making you totally happy and only lasting for a small amount of time. I hope it happens for you soon!

    March 13, 2010
  7. JC #

    Congrats on being asked to be a speaker and being nominated for an award!! That's awesome, even though I know you'd rather be pregnant than get any award. I'm hoping you get both this year. =) I liked your analogy to the heroin thing.

    March 14, 2010
  8. That stuff about the happiness threshold being re-set is fascinating. STILL, that is fantastic you are rocking it at work and got nominated for this awesome award and invited to the conference. Isn't it amazing how this yearning for a baby feels ALL consuming (it seems like someone should know what's on my mind 24/7 just by looking at me)…yet somehow we pick up the pieces and live our lives. You aren't just living, Bunny, you are kicking some ass. I'm really proud of you.And when you find the shit that works, please share it. I have a feeling it's called pregnancy. Or maybe it's holding the baby in your arms. Aching heart…to experience that! Until then…I guess we survive and take hits of the subpar stuff.

    March 14, 2010
  9. Congratulations on your successes! Store them up. They may not be doing it for you right now–but those are accomplishments that you can continue to treasure, both now and when you are in a different emotional space. I would love to hear more about the research on the set-point for life satisfaction–sounds fascinating.

    March 14, 2010
  10. Good for you. Congrats on your success. I know that compared to what you really want it all kind of pales in comparison. I have been there. Try to feel pride and take a moment to pat yourself on the back. After all you have worked hard and you deserve it.

    March 14, 2010
  11. I knew you were a superstar. That's all very exciting news. Keep looking at the silver lining. Your reproductive system may be in a funk right now, but the rest of your life is clearly awesome. Be proud!

    March 15, 2010
  12. JB #

    Well done, Keynote Bunny of the Year! Try to enjoy the little (but these are HUGE!) things, because they matter. You rock!

    March 15, 2010
  13. Congratulations! Here's hoping your satisfaction set-point bumps up a few notches.

    March 15, 2010
  14. That's great news! Both the keynote speakership and the nomination. I personally think that it's the tough profs, the ones that make students really learn something, that are the best ones. And clearly, others think this too. But I know what a gut-kicking irony it is. Success on one front only drums in the bleakness of the other. When something good happens to me career-wise I never find myself enjoying it. I just think, "Yeah, because of course it'll happen in this fricking bagwa… and of course I'm batting a big fat ZERO on the baby feng shui". But it IS good news. And the thing to keep in mind is that these are all the ways you're feathering your nest. The nest doesn't have a little chirper in it yet. But when it does, it's going to be extra comfy. ("But of course, Bunny. Take all the time off you want. You are one of our finest teachers here at MI and we want you to be happy…" said the department head, beaming beatifically.)

    March 16, 2010
  15. Wow, I think misfits said it perfectly when she said that you underestimate your charisma level. No one could write like you do and not have a decent level of the stuff. I think the fact that you aren't aware of it makes it even better. Congrats on the nomination, sounds like a great honour.I know that success in one area can make you glare at the other areas of your life and just wish for them to catch up too. And that happiness stuff is hard to come by and I think IF definatly waters it down quite easily. I can't even rememeber the last time I was genuinely happy for a continued length of time. But I have moments of contentedness and that seems to have taken place of happiness quite nicely. We can only hope that our happiness is sitting in a bank somewhere earning interest so when we finally do reach motherhood we can withdraw a huge sum of it and live off it for the rest of our lives.

    March 17, 2010

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