On Happiness

When I realized Isaac Hanson had started an Instagram, I was excited. When he started posting the kinds of quotes that make the basis for his Grace Unknown podcast, I was interested. But one quote in particular was like a needle being dragged off a record: “Happiness is a decision, not a reaction.” I don’t care how good this Kool-aid tastes to the rest of you, I’m going to pass. This is an idea that makes me actively uncomfortable.

What are we even talking about? What is happiness? According to the newest podcast, it’s recognizing and appreciating what we have to feel good about. It’s looking at things positively and writing down things to appreciate, because when one does these things and forces oneself to smile and act happy, the feeling follows. I’ve read this idea before, and since it didn’t seem so far off from what motivated me to start writing in the first place — remembering the happy events of the summer I got Middle of Nowhere — I’ve tried writing down things to be happy about more recently. Overall, I know I have more than most people do via some luck, some hard work, and a few difficult decisions. And the only thing writing down those happy things accomplished was making me feel like an overprivileged first-world asshole.

Here’s the thing: research has found that if a positive frame of mind doesn’t come naturally via your life experiences, trying to force one is actually counterproductive. Acting positively only induces happiness in already-positive people. It makes sense to me. Happiness is partially controlled by the same brain chemicals that are also known to be low in people with depression (and I’d guess vary even in the nondepressed). If one lacks the requisite chemicals to feel happiness, it really doesn’t matter how many good things you write down or how many smiles you force.

These days, my life is a calculated balance of things that I don’t always enjoy, but on the whole, keep me from wanting to punch someone in the face or never leave my house again. Literally every day, I refer to a list of medications and actions that I’ve found genuinely do make a difference: antidepressants, exercise, giving myself enough sleep, vitamin D, et cetera. Despite all those efforts, sometimes I am not happy. Sometimes, those low brain chemicals leave me ruminating on an annoyance or embarrassment or sadness even when I’m trying to think of other things. This is a straightforward biological fact, not some failure on my part because I wasn’t thinking positively enough.

If positive thinking and gratitude journaling genuinely make you happier, by all means, do them. Isaac makes some excellent points, but for me, this wasn’t one of them.

Top Twenty-five. . . ish.

Hanson asked recently for “Your Top 25 HANSON Songs,” which twenty-five songs we’d choose to introduce someone to the band. I got as far as copying the list of options into Notepad and started nervous laughing. Even though I have favorites lists going back to ’97, a decade of last.fm playcounts, and some time spent thinking on this exact matter already, Hanson have set a task that is not doable — this is worse than the Triwizard Tournament.
I could give them Hanson 101, easy, the stuff the most casual fans or non-fans might already know: the singles that received radio play and were performed on TV, and the songs that get frequent concert play. “MMMBop.” “Where’s the Love.” “Minute.” “With You In Your Dreams.” “TTA.” “If Only.” “Penny and Me.” “Great Divide.” “Go.” “Watch Over Me.” “TBS.” “GAL.” “Fired Up.” “GTGB.” But I’m not satisfied with scratching the surface when I know what’s there if you dig deep. I’d only recommend starting with Hanson 101 if you meant to start there and continue onward; it’s a 101 that begs a 102 (other album tracks), 201 (bonus tracks, live albums, common covers), 301 (soundtracks, non-fanclub EPs, bonus discs, rare covers), 401 (fanclub EPs and fanclub-exclusive releases), and 501 (Digital Pants and other oddities). If you’re only looking for a one-shot sampler, that’s another matter altogether.
They’re asking two different questions in their post. My personal top songs are not what I would use to try to introduce a new fan for numerous reasons. And furthermore, what format are these choices going to take? A setlist to perform live? A collection to release? Why only studio songs when they’ve given the fanclub so many excellent ones and released live versions of others that blew the studio version out of the water? The best I can do is to answer the question three ways: I’m going to give you my own personal top twenty-five, what I would actually play for someone who is interested in them but hasn’t heard much of their music, and what I chose out of the options available.

My own personal top twenty-five (arranged roughly chronologically because that’s how I think):

“Thinking of You,” Middle of Nowhere
“MMMBop,” Middle of Nowhere
“Man from Milwaukee,” Middle of Nowhere
“Madeline (live),” “I Will Come to You” single
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Lost Without Each Other,” Underneath
“Deeper (live)”, The Best of Hanson Live and Electric (Japan only)
“So Lovely,” Hanson.net Version 2.2
“Follow Your Lead,” Take the Walk EP
“Out of My Head,” Strong Enough to Break Demo CD
“Devil’s Nachos,” Hanson.net 2009
“World’s On Fire,” Stand Up Stand Up EP
“Waiting for This (acoustic),” Stand Up Stand Up EP
“Me Myself and I,” Shout It Out
“Sunny Day,” Facing the Blank Page
“All this Love Crap,” Digital Pants Volume One
“Already Home,” Anthem
“Cut Right Through Me,” Anthem
“For Your Love,” Anthem: Live in New York
“Best of Times,” The Sound of Light
“Get So Low,” Icon: The Paintings of Anthem bonus download
“White Collar Crime,” Music Made for Humans (With Robots Trained by Monkeys)
“Grace Unknown,” Inside the Box
“My Mind is Exploding,” Digital Pants Volume 2: Super Digital Pants
“Stop Me In My Tracks,” Loud EP

And the twenty-five I would play for someone who doesn’t know the band well:

“A Minute Without You,” Middle of Nowhere
“Yearbook,” Middle of Nowhere
“Madeline (live),” “I Will Come to You” single
“River,” MMMBop/3 Car Garage
“This Time Around,” This Time Around
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Wish That I Was There,” This Time Around
“Lonely Again,” This Time Around (Australia and Japan only)
“I Don’t Know,” “If Only” UK single
“Strong Enough to Break,” Underneath Acoustic
“Penny and Me,” Underneath
“I Almost Care,” Underneath (Japan only)
“Crazy Beautiful (Underneath Acoustic Live),” “Lost Without Each Other” CD single.
“Hand in Hand” + “In a Little While,” The Best of Hanson Live and Electric
“Deeper,” The Best of Hanson Live and Electric (Japan only)
“Great Divide,” The Walk
“Watch Over Me,” The Walk
“Got a Hold On Me (Acoustic),” The Walk (U.S. only)
“These Walls,” Shout It Out
“Already Home,” Anthem
“You Can’t Stop Us,” Anthem
“Change In My Life,” Anthem: Live in New York
“Get So Low,” Icon: The Paintings of Anthem bonus download
“Grace Unknown,” Inside the Box

Yes, I left out “MMMBop.” If it didn’t win someone over in the last nineteen years, it’s not going to now. If you just have to have it, throw the Live and Electric version in at number twenty-six. As much as I would have liked to enter that list as my answer verbatim, a lot of those songs weren’t options, so here is what I chose for Hnet.

“River,” MMMBop/3 Car Garage
“Thinking of You,” Middle of Nowhere
“Yearbook,” Middle of Nowhere
“A Minute Without You,” Middle of Nowhere
“You Never Know,” This Time Around
“This Time Around,” This Time Around
“Runaway Run,” This Time Around
“Wish That I Was There,” This Time Around
“Hand In Hand,” This Time Around
“Lonely Again,” This Time Around (Australia and Japan only)
“Strong Enough to Break,” Underneath
“Penny and Me,” Underneath
“Lost Without Each Other,” Underneath
“I Almost Care,” Underneath (Japan only)
“Great Divide,” The Walk
“Watch Over Me,” The Walk
“Got a Hold On Me,” The Walk (U.S. only)
“Waiting for This,” Shout It Out
“Carry You There,” Shout It Out
“These Walls,” Shout It Out
“Musical Ride,” Shout It Out
“You Can’t Stop Us,” Anthem
“Already Home,” Anthem
“For Your Love,” Anthem
“Cut Right Through Me,” Anthem

Did I screw this up? Oh, of course. Did you ever read High Fidelity? Do you remember when Rob got asked by that reporter to make a top five list and he made one, and then had to change it literally five times until she said he couldn’t change it again? This was a lot like that. I made my own favorites list and slept on it. I made my list I’d introduce someone with, and I slept on that, too. And then I tried shoehorning it into their options. Some of them were simple; given the option, I’d pick acoustic versions of “Strong Enough to Break” or “Got a Hold On Me,” but the album versions are fine. Conversely, even though I love the songs live, I decided the studio versions of “Deeper,” “Madeline,” and “Crazy Beautiful” don’t cut it and left them off. Later I’ll probably wish I’d left them in on principle that they can be good — better than some of the songs I went with in the end. But those songs I selected hold up for me whether they’re live or studio, and I’m not sick to death of hearing them the way I am certain other songs. Whether I could have chosen better or not, those will do.

Hanson Day 2015

I went out for a drive today with the windows down, the sunroof open, and a very special album on my stereo. Middle of Nowhere was released eighteen years ago today, and it remains one of my favorite not merely for the songs but for everything that came with it. It was a few weeks after the album’s release before I even heard “MMMBop” while flipping radio stations in my bedroom one long, boring night and hoping for something to catch me. “MMMBop” caught me. I was late to the party, but it was only just getting started. The governor of Oklahoma had declared May 6, 1997 to be Hanson Day, and we’ve celebrated every year since.
There was no “we” that May night; there was only me. A little over a year earlier, I’d moved away from most of my friends to a new town, and I never quite clicked with anyone there. “MMMBop” and later Middle of Nowhere clicked like none other. That music was exactly what I needed at the time — happy, relatable, and fun. Through the band’s chat room, forums, fan club, and concerts, I went on to make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Next weekend, I’m going to Tulsa to spend the weekend with some of them for the official fan club event.
Does any other band put on a weekend-long event in their hometown for their fan club? If so, I don’t know about it. Hanson go all out — pop-up store, art gallery, bowling tournament (spawned from, no joke, a shirt Zac wore in a photoshoot years ago), lectures, dinner, movie night, concert, even an afterparty. Every year, the event evolves a little, and I leave in awe, cheeks hurting from smiling so much and so long, wondering how they’re going to top it next time. Somehow, they always do. And somehow, every show, every event, something hooks me all over again just like I was hooked eighteen years ago by that song unlike any other on the radio.
Thanks for everything, Hanson — all the music, all the hooks, the friendships, concerts, events, and memories. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Story of Our Lives

Tonight, I spent some time trying to help a friend with her website layout, figuring out why the loading bar was showing up in the middle of her page instead of the bottom on mobile when apparently nobody else using the theme had this problem. Long story short, we finally copied some code out of the stylesheet into the custom.css to override whatever was wrong with it and magically the bar fell in line. This was the second time we fixed this problem. The first time, we fixed it and said fix evaporated in an update to what had seemed to be a perfectly functional theme.
Breaking what wasn’t broken while trying to fix it sometimes feels like the story of our lives. Back when I got the bright idea to update my phone’s perfectly functional operating system, I had problems then, too. Turned out, you need as much free space on your hard drive as the size of the backup to unpack the backup, but the error code (FU) didn’t bother mentioning that. I was actually without phone service for over a day while I combed Google search results for fixes that didn’t involve throwing the phone in the garbage and buying a new one or driving four hours one way to a company store to let them try to figure out the problem. Another friend wasn’t so lucky, and she did have to replace her phone when the update bricked hers. I haven’t updated my phone since — once I got the new operating system installed, mostly it’s worked. Don’t even ask me about the apps on it.
As I’m writing this, there’s a little banner at the top of the page reminding me that a newer version of my blog software is available and that I should update now. This one’s working fine, thanks. I think I’ll just keep it this way.

“Happy birthday”? Well. . .

Last week, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner for my birthday. Someone at the table behind me was also celebrating — shortly after we sat down, the servers gathered around to bring cake and clap and sing. (Restaurant birthday protocol is a hell surely created by extroverts.)  I cringed, and when the song was over I whispered to David, “Don’t even think about it.”  
Of course he knows better; he gives me a hard time about it, but he’s never actually brought down the embarrassment of having the whole restaurant looking our way — never mind wearing the sombrero or riding the shark or whatever strange tradition the place dumps on people in exchange for cake and attention.  
With other people, though, it takes some doing. I’ve not told or not reminded people it was my birthday, I’ve carefully timed bathroom visits to avoid surprises, I’ve refused to go to a sit-down restaurant, skipped ordering alcoholic drinks, and even just said, “Hey, don’t say anything, okay?” I must be doing something right, because I don’t remember the last time I ended up with a crowd of people looming over me making noise. Having dinner and dessert unharassed? That’s a happy birthday.

The Taming of the Internet

The internet is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, it was this crazy thing that existed only on computers, populated almost exclusively by Anonymous and pseudonymous. Now my cell phone has the internet, my television has the internet, and everyone and their cat (sometimes literally) has a Facebook page.
In my high-school computer classes, my teachers told us never to tell anyone on the big, bad internet our full name, and especially not where we lived. Admittedly, that went out the window approximately two months after I got a computer at home and ventured into a chat room, where I promptly made friends. Who knew there were other people out there who liked so many of the same bands I did? Who so often shared my viewpoints? But I was careful, and for a long time I didn’t use my last name anywhere, only telling it to friends after I’d been talking to them for awhile. At the time, it was just how things were on the internet; hardly anybody used their real name as a screen name back then. Everyone had a website and they were mostly as inconsequential as a high school diary. I used to stay up online until two, three, even six in the morning, talking to people over AOL or Yahoo or MSN Messengers while the lava lamps flowed and whichever music player I was using pumped out whatever music I couldn’t turn off for the moment, working on those inconsequential websites or reading friends’ sites or just browsing.
Bit by bit, internet friends and offline friends went from totally separate to there being almost no difference — most people have the internet now, and it’s just as easy to email someone in Australia as it is someone across town. I blame Facebook, which started out as a very limited, college-specific site where such a setup made sense, and then it spread like glitter and herpes to become as ubiquitous now as a phone book was two decades ago. But then we took it one step further; made-up screen names are falling out and screen names derived from your actual legal name are falling in, leaving you one quick Google search away from anyone who has ever known you in your entire life. You know what the nice thing was about moving away from the city where I grew up? I didn’t have to see any of the bullies I went to school with ever again. Why the hell would I want to throw that opportunity away? I still cringe at throwing caution to the wind, making my Facebook public, and setting my Twitter handle to @FirstnameLastname. I don’t want the people from my first grade class to be able to e-mail me or try to friend me on Facebook or at-reply me Twitter comments about the dumb things I’ve said or done. I don’t want every random person I talk to online to be able to search my name and find out where I live. I like a little compartmentalization, but the consensus is against me. I guess I’m going to have to learn how to get over that, sooner or later.
I was e-mailing a friend some time back about a website she was planning, and something she pointed out that stuck with me was how much everything’s changed — nobody goes on AIM, neither of us are even sure how to go about getting hosting for a website that isn’t a blog, and it’s just not as much fun as it used to be. I miss the fun. Maybe it can get that way again.