Friday, May 20

The Happiest Place on Earth

I’m blogging to you live from Disney World this week. Michael’s family has converged on central Florida in celebration of his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Between screaming my head off on the Space Mountain roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom, bouncing along on the Kilimanjaro Safari Tour at Animal Kingdom, and watching stunt drivers careen around a fictitious Parisian market square at Disney Studios, I’ve been contemplating Disney’s claim that this is “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

There are certainly signs of happiness all around: Disney employees greeting you with a smile and a wave; new brides strolling through the park wearing white sparkly Mickey Mouse ears attached to a veil; kids excitedly hugging Snow White, Donald Duck and Goofy; an audience of thousands staring up at the night sky in delight as fireworks light up Cinderella’s castle.

But there are also scenes of some very unhappy folks: over-stimulated and overtired toddlers melting down in every corner of the Magic Kingdom and frustrated parents shaking their heads, wagging their fingers and threatening to exit the park.

I think Disney might need to alter their slogan to: “The Happiest Place on Earth, Unless You’re a Toddler or the Parent of One, then it’s Happy for a Couple of Minutes, Maybe an Hour if You’re Lucky.”

And that’s the thing with happiness. You can feel it for a few moments in any given day, but making it last, well, that’s the real trick.

Achieving lasting happiness is not only good for us mentally, but it’s also good for our physical health. A recent study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being reviewed more than 160 studies on happiness and found that, “all else being equal, happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.”

For example, one study the authors reviewed followed 5,000 people for more than 40 years and found that the most pessimistic ones tended to die younger. Another study followed 180 Catholic nuns from early adulthood to old age and found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts of their young lives.

“Be an optimist.”

“Think positive.”

I hate it when perpetually perky people tell me to do this. But, according to the research, they’re on to something.

I could, if I chose to, dwell on the negative aspects of my week: feeling weak and nauseous after riding the Mission Space simulator at Epcot; the horribly over-priced and unappetizing food at the Coral Reef restaurant; or, here’s a good one, the total expense of taking three kids and two adults to Disney. (That’ll really depress you.)

But, to achieve lasting happiness, the research is telling me to, “think positive.”

So, I choose to remember the following instead: Amanda (my 13-year-old daughter) and I screaming like, well, like a couple of girls as we hurled down the tracks of the Expedition Everest roller coaster; Grant (my 10-year-old son) snuggling in to my shoulder and telling me he didn’t have the words to express his appreciation for taking him to Disney World; Janelle (my 8-year-old daughter) excitedly pointing out all the beautiful figures and scenery on the “It’s a Small World” boat ride; and most of all, joining up with Michael’s parents, siblings and their families for fun-filled days at Animal Kingdom and Epcot.

I feel healthier already!

The crew at Epcot. Our young married couple are in the
center. Happy 50th Grandma and Grandpa!
Michael and Grant on the "Spin and Barf."
I mean, the Mad Tea Cup ride.
Amanda, Janelle and I before the craziness begins.

All of us doing "jazz hands" as we plunge
50 feet down the slope of Splash Mountain.

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