25th Trillium Award

Guest Blog: Happiness: It?s All in the Research

 
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Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings is an author who lives in a sweeping log residence on a pristine lake, which he shares with his wife Louise. In his guest blog, he tells Open Book about the research that went into writing his most recent book, The Power of Happiness: How to Get Happy in Unhappy Times.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I began a non-fiction journey that resulted in my new book The Power of Happiness: How to Get Happy in Unhappy Times. The most fascinating part was the research component. Days? weeks? months scouring websites, making phone calls, sending emails as I got caught up in the field of positive psychology — essentially, the study of happiness.

What really got me going was my early research into a guy I?ll call Rick. I learned that he grew up with an alcoholic mother and family life featuring scenes of marital discord between his parents. Burdensome arguments confronted him as they tormented each other about this alienating condition. Eventually, his mother died of breast cancer. Then his sister died of the same disease. Next, his high school sweetheart, who he?d courted and married and raised two great kids with, contracted ovarian cancer and languished through a long, painful, debilitating death. To escape the tragedies thrust upon his life, Rick set out to fulfill a dream: a cross-continent motorcycle trip with his best friend. A week into the adventure, his buddy wiped out on a North Carolina highway. With little time to react, Rick ditched his bike to avoid hitting his friend and ended up in the hospital nursing broken bones. His pal died from his injuries. Upon returning home, Rick devoted time to his friend?s widow as they both mourned. Surprisingly, the two of them discovered their compatibility and cautiously began a relationship. But the fates were not done with him: she contracted cancer and died. Surely this isn?t a recipe for happiness, right? But as I researched Rick?s approach to life, I discovered that finding happiness for him is a daily focus that inspires a positive and fulfilling outlook.

Investigating people?s lives as they consider happiness is no easy scheme. Frankly, I expected to be shut down by many of the folks I contacted, but persistence won out: most of my interviewees were eager to talk. For instance, I read about John Robbins, he of Baskin Robbins family fame, and contacted his agent to request an interview. Now, John is an extremely busy man and I was pretty sure I?d be declined. But the next thing I knew, Robbins was on the phone from California: ?Peter, I understand you?d like to interview me for your happiness book. Sounds exiting. Let?s do it.?

My research led me in myriad directions and ended up with some wonderful results. Chuck Leavell, pianist with the Rolling Stones, agreed to my request, telling me on a happiness scale of 1-10 ?I?m an 11!? Joel Stein, humour columnist with Time Magazine, surprised me by accepting my solicitation and then offered serious, no-nonsense thoughts on happiness. Allan Fotheringham and I spent a delightful afternoon sipping wine while he regaled me with wonderful stories supporting his happy space.

Another part of my research involved familiarizing myself with the work of PhDs dealing with positive psychology. This was challenging since it involved skipping rope with some pretty sharp minds as I discovered these sobering markers:

  • Unhappiness in the form of depression is the No.1 psychological disorder in the
    western world and it?s accelerating in all age groups, in virtually every community.
  • at the current rate of increase, the despondency and despair of those facing depression will be the second most disabling condition on earth by 2020, right behind heart disease.

Armed with facts like that, I had intriguing discussions with clinicians such as Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar whose course at Harvard has become the most popular class at the respected university. Leo Bormans from Belgium talked with me about his milestone book The World Book of Happiness. Dr. Sue Johnson at Alliant University in San Diego told me how seven conversations can increase the happiness quotient in any relationship. And I was lucky to get Dr. Christine Carter to sit down at all for my interview: she?s recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, etc.

Who knew happiness would demand such strenuous research? But it was more than worth it, and I look forward to starting on Volume 2!


Peter Jennings has completed researching and writing his most recent book, The Power of Happiness: How to Get Happy in Unhappy Times. Peter and his wife Louise live in Muskoka, Ontario, where he is part of a 6-generation cottaging family. A keen observer and chronicler of life's adventures, he has a passionate interest in family, writing, singing (to learn more about Peter's singing career, visit www.pjentertainer.com), films, jazz, golf, swimming, spirited conversations with good friends and gentle lake cruises in the family's 1909 mahogany launch, "Ruth." Information on Peter?s other writing projects can be found at www.pjauthor.com.

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