Happiness Is An Inside Job — And An Outside One  

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When I Googled myself the other day, as one does, I noticed something strange: A new little summary box in the upper right corner. If you decide to join their ranks and search for me, too, you’ll see what I saw. A little picture, my name, and the Google-official title “writer.”

It turns out this is called a knowledge panel, and Google creates them when it decides enough people are searching for a subject that an official TL;DR is in order. 

The mind loves an external reward like this. Mine did. I mean, Google has Christened me as a writer. Is there anything more official in late-stage capitalism? I kid. But also, a part of me felt a surprising surge of satisfaction. And then — shame. 

After all, isn’t it true that happiness is an inside job? That we should seek an internal peace that resists the pushes and pulls of our unstable environments. I certainly (well, mostly) think so. So it was embarrassing to realize just how validating I found some first-page search results. 

But here’s the thing: It’s normal to be impacted by what happens to us, even and especially socially salient information, even delivered digitally. 

It’s not that we should expect ourselves to feel fine no matter what happens to us. A healthy emotional life means we respond appropriately to what happens without getting stuck. We can feel fine, sure, but we can also feel uncertain, sad, alone, elated, and all the rest. Feeling fine all the time isn’t a good thing, it’s toxic positivity (a topic I wrote about recently for Everyday Health).

Maybe you can already tell, but I tend to overly focus on internal factors that impact my well-being and under-appreciate the significance of external ones. I’m trying to right this balance. Part of that work, I think, is to embrace complexity. 

Happiness is an inside job — and an outside one.  

We should seek an internal peace that resists the pushes and pulls of our unstable environments — and the pushes and pulls of our unstable environments do impact our internal peace. 

Two things can be true simultaneously, and what’s true isn’t a personal failing. It’s just reality. 

So here’s my reality: My Google knowledge panel doesn’t really matter — and feels neat anyway.

Books I Think You’ll Like

The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions
by Jonathan Rosen in Emily P.G. Erickson's bookshop

The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and The Tragedy of Good Intentions by Jonathan Rosen is one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s a memoir about Rosen and his childhood best friend, Michael Laudor, a brilliant man diagnosed with schizophrenia. You may remember Laudor, who made front page news in the late 1990s as a Yale-graduate who killed his pregnant girlfriend. The book strikes a remarkable balance — it doesn’t excuse what Laudor did, but it also doesn’t place blame (on him or anyone else) in simplistic terms. Rosen’s book is meticulously researched — weaving in historical, political, and legal context in an effort to explain what happened to Laudor and what lead to this horrific crime. Like all the best books about mental health, Rosen raises critical questions and restrains from pontificating. Highly recommended for anyone interested in mental health, healthcare, or politics.

The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work by Simone Stolzoff.

My career path has been anything but linear — I’ve been an urban planner who championed public health and a researcher studying PTSD and a writer covering mental health and parenting. Each leap has been part of the process of honoring my talents and the whole of who I am. On the last day of May, I joined other Macalester College alumni to share our unconventional career paths for the inaugural Curveball: A Virtual Panel. If you’re nodding your head right now because your career has been wind-y too, I think you’ll like The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work by Simone Stolzoff. Stolzoff takes a journalistic look at how career functions in the U.S., common pitfalls, and advocates for a new vision of what’s good enough.

 The Trouble with Happiness: And Other Stories by Tove Ditlevsen  in Emily P.G. Erickson's bookshop

Born in the same era as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, The Trouble with Happiness: And Other Stories by Tove Ditlevsen contains taught, tense snapshots of domestic life. It’s definitely not a happy or joyful read, but Ditlevsen’s writing (translated from Danish) is perfect in its economic brutality. As a writer who needs to delete about half of the words I type, I deeply admire those writers for whom no word is wasted. Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy (her memoirs) made a splash when they were published in English a couple years, so when I saw her short story collection in a local bookstore, I had to snatch it up.

Check out my Bookshop here for more excellent reads!

Let’s Connect!

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Published by Emily P.G. Erickson

Emily P.G. Erickson is a freelance writer specializing in mental health and parenting. She has written for popular digital publications, including Everyday Health, Health, The New York Times, Parents, Romper, WIRED, and more. Emily is a professional member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ). Previously, Emily researched PTSD for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and earned a master's in psychology. You can find the latest from Emily at www.emilypgerickson.com.

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