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I’ve long been irritated by the addage that “happiness is a choice.” But I also used to be annoyed by the saying “feelings are not good or bad, they just are”. Psychologists who study subjective wellbeing have long been bedeviled by the effect conditions of measurement have on results. (I could have said affect there :P).

In one experiment they interviewed people in two environments, one pleasant and the other not (think a hot, cluttered laboratory with an ominous odor.) The people in the pleasant place reported better general wellbeing than those in the unpleasant place. But when asked about the place where they live, the people in the pleasant place judged their home environment harshly compared with the people in the unpleasant lab. So the same thing that induces elevated mood decreases cognitive satisfaction.

I propose that the choice of happiness is not about how we feel, but whether we feel or think in response to a situation. If the bathroom scale is low, go with how it makes you feel. If your weight is up, work on positive explanatory style. (How much salt have I been eating? Where are my progesterone* levels? Did I eat a lot of volumetrically filling foods? Have I increased my cardio/glycogen?) It’s important that you be honest in these, of course, and recognize that an increase more than 3% over center weight calls for action.

So to explain my title, it’s like how people who speak more than one language will switch back and forth depending on the situation. In Russian novels, they spoke to their lovers in French because Russian pronouns are too intimate and Russian sexual terminology too brusque. On Firefly, when they want to swear they use Chinese. So perhaps we can think of feeling and thinking as different languages we use depending on whether they will give us emotional happiness or cognitive satisfaction from a situation.

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