Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

A Recipe for Happiness (Puke)

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the parentheses. It’s just that I’m a realist, a grumpy one at the moment (more on David’s hour anxiety attack this morning coming this week). And I’ve never been into cooking, so I don’t believe in recipes. Especially regarding happiness. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have enough material to fill up three or four blog posts a day. Aren’t you glad I haven’t figured it out yet? There would be no Beyond Blue. You’d be on your own.
But here’s an excerpt from Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness.” Used by permission of The Free Press (a division of Simon & Schuster). He wants you to use your strengths and virtues (mine … complaining and WHINING) in key areas of everyday life (work, motherhood, marriage … yep, got em covered).


In 1932, Cecilia O’Payne took her final vows in Milwaukee. As a novice in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, she committed the rest of her life to the teaching of young children. Asked to write a short sketch of her life on this momentous occasion, she wrote:

God started my life off well by bestowing upon me grace of inestimable value…The past year which I spent as a candidate studying at Notre Dame has been a very happy one. Now I look forward with eager joy to receiving the Holy Habit of Our Lady and to a life of union with Love Divine.

In the same year, in the same city, and taking the same vows, Marguerite Donnelly wrote her autobiographical sketch:?

I was born on September 26, 1909, the eldest of seven children, five girls and two boys….My candidate year was spent in the mother-house, teaching chemistry and second year Latin at Notre Dame Institute. With God’s grace, I intend to do my best for our Order, for the spread of religion and for my personal sanctification.


These two nuns, along with 178 of their sisters, thereby became subjects in the most remarkable study of happiness and longevity ever done.
Investigating how long people will live and understanding what conditions shorten and lengthen life is an enormously important but enormously knotty scientific problem. It is well documented, for example, that people from Utah live longer than people from the neighboring state of Nevada. But why? ….Too many insidious (as well as healthful) factors are confounded between Nevada and Utah for scientists to isolate the cause.
Unlike Nevadans or even Utahans, however, nuns lead routine and sheltered lives. They all eat roughly the same bland diet. They don’t smoke or drink. They have the same reproductive and marital histories. They don’t get sexually transmitted diseases. They are in the same economic and social class, and they have the same access to good medical care. So almost all the usual confounds are eliminated, yet there is still wide variation in how long nuns live and how healthy they are. Cecilia is still alive at age ninety-eight and has never been sick a day in her life. In contrast, Marguerite had a stroke at age fifty-nine, and died soon thereafter. We can be sure that their lifestyle, diet, and medical care were not the culprits. When the novitiate essays of all 180 nuns were carefully read, however, a very strong and surprising difference emerged. Looking back at what Cecilia and Marguerite wrote, can you spot it?

  • Larry Parker

    “Fake it ’til you make it” may be a much made-fun-of 12-step slogan. But even this curmudgeon admits it actually has a lot of value — especially to those of us with depression.

  • Anonymous

    could it be one did it for love and the other for religion?

  • on the road less traveled…

    Why do people believe that happiness is the “end all” ? I do not believe that any longer. Happiness is at best a temporary emotion- a lovely one, to be enjoyed in the moment-that is all. Real joy has nothing to do with happiness or emotion. Joy is knowing, or at least hoping that God loves you .

  • Beverley

    Well if they were twins and one could rule out genetics then I might be prepared to believe that it had something to do with “attitude” but as they weren’t – my best guess is still genes.

  • Iris Alantiel

    Cecilia seems happier, or at least more aware of her reasons for happiness. Instead of listing the statistical facts of her life, she starts off simply by saying that God has blessed her life from the beginning. She focuses on the blessings she’s been given even more than on what she’s actually doing (which, as an aside, can be really valuable if your job sucks, and I should remember it). Marguerite speaks of hoping to receive the grace of God that will allow her to do well, but Cecilia speaks like someone who’s confident that she already has God’s grace on her side, and now she just has to enjoy the ride.
    Okay . . . let’s say for a second that counting your blessings is a good way to extend your life. How do you get there from depression? I mean, it’s like saying that having a strong heart will extend your life – fabulous, but what do people do if they were born with a weak one?

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