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the happiness test

I love documentaries, another form of creative non-fiction – true stories, moving, informative, well told. I watched one the other night on happiness, on CBC-TV. The filmmakers took four ordinary people and gave them a happiness or optimism test, which consisted of getting them to put one hand in a dish of ice water, and timing how long they lasted before pulling out.

They then were instructed to complete three tasks: first, to do something highly pleasurable for themselves, like going to a spa or, for one guy, test-driving a luxury motorcycle. They then were asked to do something good for other people – working in a food bank, giving away tons of clothing to a shelter – and they spoke afterwards about how much better and richer they felt after completing the second task than the first.

Then they did one final and very important thing: they made a “gratitude visit.” They went to see one person who had made a huge positive difference to their lives – a parent, friend, mentor – and told that person what his or her efforts had meant. These encounters were heartfelt, as you can imagine, with much hugging. And then they were given the ice water test again. For all of them, the time they allowed their hands to stay in the water had doubled or more.

One of the things that we do in writing class is to look back and make sense of important events and people. In that way, part of memoir writing can be seen as the making of gratitude visits. It often seems that people who are exploring the important truths of their own lives in writing – and on film – are finding a new way to happiness, or, at least, to peace and understanding, which is the same thing.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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