You may not have time for a TED talk right at the moment, but this one is worth it. So when you get home tonight, come back to this post and click on the link above. Sit down, maybe with a cup of deliciously bitter Chinese herb/mushroom tea (ok, I'm speaking for myself here), kick back and take it all in. It's glorious. Dan Gilbert pushes the limits of what we thought about happiness by explaining how we manufacture happiness in our brain cells, even when we think there is no happiness to be found. I viewed this talk 4 years ago and have come back to it many times since, because I find it so compelling.
The Cole's Notes: Dan Gilbert, a flamboyant Harvard social psychologist, describes how we're each built with a psychological immune system. What does that mean? He argues what the Buddhists have known for millennia, that the external conditions of our lives are not what creates happiness in humans. Well, not long term happiness anyway. He says we overestimate the importance of external events in their ability to make us happy, when in fact they don't matter that much. We can create happiness out of shitty circumstances no problem, Gilbert says. Watch the talk to see how he demonstrates this through a series of interesting experiments. He also peppers his talk with astounding anecdotal accounts.
The Kicker: In one of the experiments he discusses towards the end of his talk, Gilbert describes how two groups of students were compared on their ability to synthesize happiness. In both groups, students took a photography course. After taking a number of pictures on campus, they were taught how to develop the pictures and were allowed to develop 2 large size pictures. Both groups of students were told that they would be allowed to pick one and relinquish the other as proof of participation. Students in one group (reversible group) were told that if they changed their minds over the next 4 days and wanted to switch pictures, that would be totally cool. Students in the other group (non-reversible group) were told that their decision was final. When contacted 3 days and 6 days later, those in the non-reversible group, those whose decision was final, liked their pictures a lot. Those who were still deliberating about exchanging their pictures (reversible group), really weren't happy with their picture. Gilbert concludes that those in the reversible group were not able to properly synthesize happiness because they were left ruminating about changing their picture.
The IF-Link: I've been reading IF blogs for a while now and I'm always trying to draw patterns in the data I find there. Mea culpa: I can't help it, really. It's not that I see your blogs as data. It's more that I think about your blogs and your lives as those of individuals 80% of the time, and I think about broad trends in the data about 20% of the time. That's just my over-intellectualized defense, trying to make sense out of a world of chaos. Anyway, you can hate me now, but let me make my point. I was reading Jess' blog post today about how something in her just snapped and she no longer wants to be stuck on feeling miserable because she doesn't have a baby. It got me thinking about how much we put on this external event and how much we expect it to bring us happiness. Don't get me wrong: I'm 100% certain that having children will make us all happy. The part that I'm thinking about right now is the unhappiness in the meantime, as Jess so aptly describes.
I feel like the "unhappiness in the meantime" has largely to blame the sense of reversibility many experience in the way treatments are structured. The choice is always all on patients; there are always more complex (and expensive) treatments to solve the problem of infertility; it is rarely final unless: a) the woman achieves pregnancy or b) the couple gets off the ART ride. I mean, is there anyone reading this who have been told by their RE that there was nothing more they could do for you? I'm not bitching about having options here, I'm just making a point that all this choice of further treatments is actually, in Dan Gilbert's words, stopping us from synthesizing happiness. If treatments had finality somehow, we would be able to move on. Psychologically, this would be at our advantage. Yet, since many have gotten pregnant only after several grueling years of fertility treatments and quitting sooner would have obviated that success, it would also represent a disadvantage.
I am not suggesting that we quit trying and I am not putting down any of us for our persistence. I just want to highlight what I think makes women and couples miserable in this process (aside from the obvious lack of infant in their arms). If Infertility was like amputation, we would move on with the business of living our lives without our right arm. But IF is the land of question marks, of reversibility, of maybe one more time or with a different RE. It never lets the dust inside us settle, but instead keeps us actively focused on external outcomes for a chance at happiness.
May we all take utter delight in a small joy today and remember that it's in us to feel, this happiness I speak of. May we all get our babies home, and may we remember to find joy in the meantime.