In a 2011 Los Angeles Times review of Dean Bakopoulos's novel, My American Unhappiness, the reviewer wrote that "the novel affectionately satirizes the national culture as its characters catalog the little things that make us miserable." This novel may feel familiar to us because everything seems to make folks in the United States unhappy. Absolutely everything. The litany of unhappiness on our Facebook or Twitter feeds can serve as a reference here.
Why is this? Is it because the world is terrible, like the characters in My American Unhappiness think? Is it because we are kinda jerks, like the main character Zeke? Or, is it something else? To put it another way, as this reviewer in The Huffington Post did, "the aim of Zeke's project is to question why, with all our comfort, wealth and opportunities, we are unhappy, and through this author Bakopoulos is able to philosophize about, ruminate on, and ultimately convince us of the hopelessness of our present way of going about things."
This we know for certain: complaining into the void about what we don't like doesn't in itself do a whole lot to improve things. Actions change things. Helping people changes things. Shouting into the void may make us feel validated temporarily, but that validation often encourages us to keep shouting rather than act to solve issues. Which world would we rather live in: the one where we are all noise and no action, or all action toward something better?
If you’d like to think more about your individual relationship to happiness as compared to others with similar backgrounds, the University of Pennsylvania has set up a collection of quizzes through their happiness research center. Maybe take a few and see where you stand. Never know what you may discover about yourself. https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
Ayurveda? What's That?
Ayurveda is the sister to yoga. It looks at our daily practices to help us live in balance with our natures. In Ayurveda, there is no “one size fits all” formula for balance. Each of us is a unique combination of predispositions we were born with. This means that living in balance looks a little different for each of us.
To explain: my prakruti, or nature, is Kapha-Pitta. During certain periods, my Kapha nature becomes heightened, or imbalanced, and I react with depression and gain weight easily. During other periods of my life, my Pitta nature will drive me to excel in leadership pursuits, to take on new physical fitness challenges, or to burn out. These things are neither good nor bad: they are merely aspects of myself. By listening carefully to my body and mind, I can tell when I fall out of balance, and also understand how to be at my best.
So what types of things do I do to remain in balance? Since I’m in a time in my life when my Kapha nature is easily heightened (it seems I can gain weight merely by smelling food), I incorporate a number of Kapha-pacifying activities into my days. There are foods that inflame the Kapha aspect of my nature (refined sugars, fried foods, dairy) and foods that calm this aspect (spicy foods, apples, cherries, most vegetables). So, for example, each day to satisfy my ferocious Kapha sweet-tooth, I drink an Ayurvedic hot chocolate made with raw cacao, spicy Trikatu powder, water, and a touch of maple syrup. I balance my Kapha tendency to nurture myself with stillness by making sure I break a sweat first thing every day: if I wait, Kapha will rise and my body will be like, “Nah, girl. You’re good in this chair. Forever.”
What works well for balancing my nature, on the other hand, would not work well for my husband, whose prakruti is Vatta. He loses weight quickly, loves to be in motion, is not particularly interested in sweet foods, and loves anything dry and crunchy (pretzels, popcorn, chips). So, to balance a heightened Vatta, he would need to incorporate stillness as well as some sweet and denser foods...even though those things may not come naturally to him.
Getting the idea of how this works? What we gravitate toward when under stress can sometimes aggravate us. This is one reason why the pandemic produced different changes in people’s bodies as they responded to stress: some folks got thinner, some folks got buff, some folks gained weight.
We can start with Ayurvedic thinking just by listening to our bodies and getting to know them better. Every one of us has amazing qualities and challenges. Make friends with yours.
This Week's Classes
Join in my group yoga classes from your home for free through February. Sign up by going to erinclairyoga.com and clicking the "Book Now" button.
• Feb 8–Monday at 6:30pm CST: Music-Based Yoga. Music Monday featuring Kings of Leon. Class is online via Zoom or in-person at Força in Russellville.
• Feb 10–Wednesday at 6:30pm CST: Power Yoga. Class is online via Zoom or in-person at Força in Russellville.
• Feb 11–Thursday at 6:30pm CST: Music-Based Yoga, Inside Flow style. Class is online via Zoom or in-person at Força in Russellville.
• Feb 12–Friday at 2:00pm CST: Meditation. Class is online.