More on Happiness: Can 79 College Students be Wrong?



The New York Times blog tells us that happiness comes from deep discussion, and not from shallow. That's based on the experiences of 79 human guinea pigs at the University of Arizona, and I see the conclusion as an argument for getting a degree in creative writing. The late Carol Bly wrote about creative writing classes as oases of meaning in "American junk culture." So how about a slogan for AWP:
Study writing, get happy.

Farewell, tortured poet. Leave your troubles inside your garret. Come to the cabaret.

You can read about the Suicidal Poet Predictor in Scary Place to see the difference in vocabulary and subject between suicidal and non-suicidal poets. According to Scary Place,The poets who committed suicide used many more first-person singular self-references such as "I," "me" and "my" and fewer first-person plural words than did the non-suicidal poets [according to a study by psychologist James Pennebaker and graduate student Shannon Stirman in Psychosomatic Medicine].

"Issues of identity, isolation and connection to others is revealed in pronoun usage," Pennebaker said in an interview. "One of the most telling words of all is the word 'I.' People who are suicidal or depressed use 'I' at much, much higher rates, and there's also a corresponding drop in references to other people."

The suicidal poets also generally reduced their use of communication words such as "talk," "share" and "listen" over time heading toward their self-inflicted deaths, while the non-suicidal poets tended to increase their use of such words. The suicidal ones also used more words associated with death, but surprisingly the amount of words with negative emotion (for example, "hate") or positive emotion ("love") did not vary significantly between the groups.


Those of you who read this blog know that suffering is included with the price of admission. I remember once when I came home from college I was talking to my aunt B and we had both read The Bell Jar. I told her that Sylvia Plath (pictured above) had described the way I felt. She was surprised. Alarmed. And that was the end of it. I think Plath had already killed herself by then. I have not. She died before the really good drugs were invented. And the good drugs aren't good for everybody.


I met a woman today who lectures and writes about humor in the Bible. The funniest story? The Book of Job, she said. Seriously.

9 comments:

Susan messer said...

At the last Chicago Humanities Festival (theme was humor), Aaron Freeman presented a skit about the Book of Job, and the ad for the event quoted him saying the same thing--that this was the funniest story in the Bible. So I was very anxious to see what he would come up with, but it was not really very funny. More bitter than funny.

Cancer Bitch said...

I suppose Job could say at every turn: You've gotta be kidding me!
The woman I met said she would send me her lecture. I look forward to reading it.
C. Bitch

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Mr Humm said...

Those L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poets are such infernal pests, aren't they.

Cancer Bitch said...

"Hats incorrect to you send..." That's pure Dada, Mr. Humm! But you lived and died before Dada was born.
(Hats off to you?)

ruth pennebaker said...

Did you notice the name of the researcher on the suicidal poets' study? An angry, homicidal poet almost dismembered him with a butter knife at one of our holiday parties for his data and conclusions. Said he "demeaned" poetry, which is clearly a capital offense (although perhaps not in Texas).

Cancer Bitch said...

Yes, I noticed that the researcher had played the role of the younger brother of Marion the Librarian in a Midland, TX, production mid-century.
For those of you who are not Ruth Pennebaker, I'm referring to her husband, John. It turns out that he was in community theater with my uncle in TX. Pennebaker (husband) is known, for among other things, linking journal writing with emotional and physical relief/healing. Ruth Pennebaker is a breast-cancer survivor and wickedly funny writer who blurbed my book.

ruth pennebaker said...

James Pennebaker is his name. I'm pretty sure.

cancer bitch said...

I thought he changed his name from James to John in order to hide from deranged poets w/ butter knives.