Rating Happiness

Another recurring topic in the show is the issue of happiness, which I have written about so much already. But, since S7E2 has Martin telling the therapist that he’d like Louisa to be happy but that he considers happiness overrated, I couldn’t ignore that once again happiness is being prioritized. (I can’t guarantee this will be the last time I write about this emotion either.)

When I first wrote about happiness on Oct. 15, 2013, I wasn’t sure how much this emotional state mattered to the show. Now I can’t help but think that it occupies a very important place philosophically and situationally. Since I don’t want to repeat myself and you all can look back on the previous posts, I will just give you a rundown of what I have written so far about happiness.

The Oct., 2013 post discussed Aristotelian notions of eudaemonia and how psychologist C. D. Ryff has modified them. I then applied Ryff’s six factor structure to Martin and Louisa and what might make them happy. (Oddly enough, I recommended an intermediary and suggested they do some simple activities together, and in S7 they seem to be doing all of those things.)

The next time I wrote about happiness was on Oct. 14, 2014, when I looked at how important it is to most people to be happy and tried to determine what may provide a sense of happiness to Martin based on what we’ve seen on the show. I wondered if Martin’s daily routine, while fairly rigid, might also be a source of happiness for him and provide him with a sense of well-being. Despite any objection he may claim at times, he also appears to exhibit some real happiness whenever Louisa responds positively to his overtures.

I wrote again about happiness on March 31, 2015 when I looked at marital happiness. The post delineated John Gottman’s Four Horsemen concept, or the four major negative communication styles that can lead to significant problems in a marriage. Gottman also offers some ways to reverse the damage negative communication can have. The suggestions for improving communication led me to suggest that a little more affection between Martin and Louisa and some sign that they appreciate each other could go a long way to bringing them happiness in their marriage. If S7E2 is an indication of things to come, it is filled with moments where they are quite willing to thank each other. We can only hope for some affection! (Some trailers have shown them hugging and that’s a start.)

Next I wrote about happiness on July 28, 2015. (See, I really have taken this issue to heart!) This post had to do with how important many countries think happiness is to their citizens. The UK is one of those countries, and the Prime Minister started talking in 2010 about his interest in using the government to help with making British citizens happier. I also referred to the film “Inside Out” because it makes the point that without sadness, there can be no joy. Other articles I read around this time made similar points, i.e. that experiencing happiness is conjoined with the fear that it may end. In addition, most studies on happiness emphasize the importance of self-governance and the conviction that people who feel in control of their own destiny usually feel more fulfilled. Also, well-being can be measured subjectively and objectively.

The July post was quite long and eventually got to talking about Martin Seligman and his Positive Psychology ideas. Seligman is convinced that happiness is an essential facet of living a quality life, and that applies to all cultures. He has come up with exercises to increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms, and they have lasting results. The application of these exercises demonstrates that people have some control over their level of happiness.

Now Santa has referenced another article about happiness and it offers a nice overview of the research in this area as well as some interesting views about the subject that have not been mentioned enough in the previous posts. For me the section about “What Research Says Happiness is Not” is of great value.

Happiness is not:

  • Having all your personal needs met
  • Always feeling satisfied with life
  • Feeling pleasure all the time
  • Never feeling negative emotions

The article goes on to say, “An especially important part of the happiness equation is the negative feelings you may be feeling right now. As nice as it might seem, happiness is not the absence of negative feelings. As Dr. Vanessa Buote, a postdoctoral fellow in social psychology, explains, real happiness is about taking the good with the bad:

One of the misconceptions about happiness is that happiness is being cheerful, joyous, and content all the time; always having a smile on your face. It’s not—being happy and leading rich lives is about taking the good with the bad, and learning how to reframe the bad.

You can experience negative feelings and overall happiness with your life at the exact same time. In fact, learning how to do that is essential to being a happier person.

Furthermore, “Lahnna I. Catalino, Ph.D., at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests that overly pursuing happiness can actually backfire on you…Remember,  [due to genetics] you have a limit that you can’t control. Don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re just being yourself. Instead of trying to force yourself to be happy, Catalino advises you simply reflect on the moments and activities that give you joy. So stop trying so hard.”

 After reading this, we can put ME’s position that happiness is overrated in perspective. I would guess that he has concluded that Louisa needs to be happy but that he does not, and that he assumes he will never reach a state of happiness so why even try. However, as we have seen throughout the show, he can achieve happiness at times; he just can’t stop having negative feelings. Presumably he beats himself up about it and feels defeated when he continues to struggle and cannot fit the model of happiness he’s formed from watching others. As the quote above states, ME needs to learn how to reframe the bad, and we have to hope therapy gives him some help with that.

Originally posted 2015-09-19 16:46:15.

14 thoughts on “Rating Happiness

  1. Laura H

    I truly appreciate your summary of your past posts about happiness. And my guess is that it will come up again, as you said. I especially like the reminder of what you said in the October 2014 post about Martin…his likely satisfaction with his work that might be categorized as happiness for him and his pleasure of positive reactions to him by Louisa. Maybe his interaction with James could be a third area of his life that could be characterized as happiness for him. In S7, a bit of the tipping of the scale from his work being his main concentration to a desire for it to be Louisa seems in the offing when their talk of who should move into the awful flat is interrupted…yet again their communication is interrupted…by Al’s request for medical help for the lady guest in the restaurant…which Martin terms “ridiculous” that they have to break off their discussion. Seems always before that Martin somewhat indulges in medical interruptions, but this time he’d rather be with Louisa. As you prescribed, sharing time (and an intermediary) is very much where the new series is going. Way to predict! Even though they can’t seem to have enough uninterrupted time together, two things are happening to contribute to sharing…Martin is volunteering to participate in looking at the flat and Louisa is agreeing to let him…both new to their interactions. Whether sharing is happiness is debatable, but I sure would like to survey the two of them as to what it felt like, even granting that the occasion was not a happy one or the flat anything either wanted to live in…still, as your later post pointed out in citing experts researching happiness, one can have happy moments during negative experiences, and especially if those situations are recontexualized.
    I’m blurry when it comes to Louisa’s happiness…as you said, more affection and expressing gratitude for the other could go a long way to help the marriage, though some gratitude is happening in series 7. Past scenes have indicated Louisa needs compliments from Martin and maybe romantic gifts.,.not yams for iron deficiency or second-hand flowers:) Her gifts to him in S7E2 might show him by example that she gives gifts and would like gifts…she also compliments the house as looking tidy. The “sharing” alluded to earlier is also something she needs, in light of goofs he made in the past about not sharing the date of the Christening, the color of paint in London or the filling out the form for the baby’s name. employing Mike as child minder. Still, I’m still fuzzy as to whether these things are personal needs?

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    As to your last point…I think Martin’s insensitivity to Louisa’s need to be included in decisions and consulted is both something that he has trouble realizing because of his personal traits, and something that is a major stumbling block for Louisa. All the times you list really piss her off because he hasn’t thought to let her weigh in. But for him the way he handled it makes sense because he made the logical choice. That is where they have this clash of the rational v. the emotional on the surface (although, as our discussion of this opposition concluded, it is really two different emotional reactions).

    Your sense that Martin is beginning to show signs of being irritated by the constant interruptions of his conversations with Louisa makes me think that is another way the writers are starting to show changes in Martin. He still runs to help, and the event at the restaurant really is serious, but he has always dropped whatever he’s doing to take care of a patient and that puts Louisa in second place. She understands he is the only doctor in town and patient care is paramount to him, but it has to be extremely frustrating to be interrupted by patients all the time.

    BTW, very few doctors get as many interruptions as he does or immediately run to where they’re called. It’s also true that he doesn’t get interrupted at times when you might expect him to, e.g. at the concert, when he’s talking to Ruth, or at night. They use those intrusions mostly for when he’s talking to Louisa. So a change in his response is welcome and it looks like the two of them will be finding more opportunities to do things together. Thanks for bringing that up.

  3. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Oh, I should have said something about the gifts you mention. I really like those examples because you remind us that he has given her some very questionable gifts too. I’m not saying that she’s getting him back or anything, but we forgot about those and never mentioned them as offensive. We looked at his insensitivity as simply Martin, but treat her gift as horrible. The point you make reaffirms to me that the gift is supposed to be funny, like his gifts were to her, and that Louisa catches too much grief from us. I know things are different now because they are married and their relationship has matured past the courtship phase, but she brought him a gift. It was definitely something he wouldn’t be thrilled with, but I don’t think we’re supposed to attribute it with too much meaning. Like Louisa’s reaction when he gave her flowers that a patient had brought, all we should expect is some gratitude followed by some disappointment, and concluding with a shrug of the shoulders and willingness to move on. The only thing of notice in that exchange is that he makes a special point of thanking her for the sausage when he has to leave. (I’m beginning to think we need to take an inventory of all the male genitalia scenes in this show!)

  4. Santa Traugott

    Yes, I suspect that was the point of that gift exchange, since I think MC’s sense of humor runs that way (think egglant and tomato combination).

    Still, at the least it looked like something she picked up at the last minute at the airport. I think it was a bit “tit for tat” for the inappropriate gifts he’s given her in the past, and we’re supposed to see it as something a little careless and thoughtless, for which he nevertheless mustered up enough grace to apologize. (Personally, I think it was passive-aggressive and an invitation for a fight, but we’ll have to agree to disagree here.)

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m glad we can still joke amongst ourselves. I don’t think we’ll ever know what they had in mind with that scene.

  6. Linda D.

    At the very least, the Chorizo was a thoughtless gift. Maybe she grabbed it thinking she should bring something when she had not previously considered it? He would be hard to buy for wouldn’t he?
    I think he really wants to engage her in conversation and resents interruptions because of that. I do wonder where his “funk” went while she was away. Did his talk with Ruth have that much impact? It makes one wonder what his depression was about if it changes significantly in 3 weeks. I guess they just chose to let that ride.

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Their medical accuracy is taking a backseat this series, right? He has made a remarkable recovery from deep depression and extreme psychological stress due to his blood phobia. Maybe the AVM surgery is supposed to have utterly upended those states and put him back on better footing. Whether that’s realistic doesn’t seem to matter. Willing suspension of disbelief at work!!

  8. Santa Traugott

    I’m actually not questioning his recovery from his depressive state. I think the combination of Louisa’s accident and the realization that he was about to lose his wife shook him deeply, and he was ready for the conversation with Ruth, and he had a very important insight and I think emotional breakthrough. We’re meant to see him changing from that point on. When we see him E1, he’s very sad, but no longer shut down.

  9. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Your view makes a lot of sense, although I never realized there could be such a quick turnaround even after an emotional breakthrough. So what you’re basically saying is that Ruth confronted him with the challenge of changing so that he can keep Louisa in his life, and that is so important to him that he shook off his major depression through dedicating himself to putting his marriage on better footing. Can that happen? I’m glad to know it can!

  10. Santa Traugott

    If he were in a biologically based depression, like a the depressive pole of bipolar disorder, no single event or insight could shake him out of it. Strong meds, a very careful way of life, and time, are all needed.

    But as we said, there are a lot of etiologies of a depressive episode. And this may have been more of a breakdown than a major depressive episode. So to that extent, I think he could pull himself together and “snap out of it.” (IBut advising someone to “snap out of it” is terrible advice to give to someone who is very depressed! AR didn’t do that of course.)

  11. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Ahh! I guess we have to reassess his depression as a result of how much improvement he’s made in 3 weeks. Or we have to chalk this up to another example of improbable, but not something to worry about.

  12. DM

    Hello Karen and all! I’m “happy” to catch up with your blog once again and to see Doc Martin pick up again at S7! It’s great to see that Martin has finished with, what is known as his, “black work” at the end of S6 and that the subtle outward effects are starting to bubble up to the surface from his development within.

    As you have noted, Martin still (as of S7E2) regards happiness as “overrated”. But the development we are now witnessing does show encouraging signs of overcoming his conative deficits that have for so long prevented him from comprehending the very concept of happiness. Examples would be: 1) he can actually tell Louisa what he wants and what he doesn’t want regarding separate living conditions (wow!), 2) Ruth actually poses this explicit question to Martin who can actually answer definitely, if still rather obscurely, “what it is he wants” (big wow!), and 3) when all of Martin’s various arguments fail to persuade Ruth to give up the big new job in London, he can at least tell her at the train station what it is that he wants thereby letting Ruth make her own choice culminating in, “Let’s go home,” (bigger wow! and perhaps foreshadows Martin and Louisa’s individual choices of the same), 4) he can now speak of a conscious volitional desire and striving, of wanting Louisa to be happy (biggest wow!).

    These examples are manifestations of what we viewers can already perceive about this Martin: his passivity is disintegrating. This Martin has recovered the ability to want (a recovery from long before he descended into the blackness that manifested as depression in S6). He may be cognitively aware of how much further his development has to go, and how much work must be done to save his marriage, and how he must still convince Louisa of his commitment- but he is no longer helpless to do anything about it, nor is it futile for him to try.

    You’ve cited the work of Martin E. P. Seligman’s on the subject of happiness and his contributions to Positive Psychology, a subject that was informed by his earlier research with dogs and learned helplessness. His experiments were about more than the effects of individuals’ lack of control or how greater control helps individuals avoid suffering (an aspect of greater happiness you’ve already discussed). Indeed what Seligman’s experiments showed was that when control was subsequently restored to individuals, so conditioned without it, that those individuals were no longer motivated to do anything about their continuing suffering despite the physical means to do so. Restoring control does not restore motivation (i.e. conation) and does not restore happiness nor its possibility.

    The following New York Times article touches on these connections and also summarizes much of what you’ve already presented on the subject of happiness (which I don’t believe you’ve cited elsewhere?): A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness

    This in turn relates to Attachment Theory and the work of Bowlby, Ainsworth, Klein, and Winnicott which Martin corroborates as applicable to himself in S7. In short, an inherently helpless infant instinctively makes every effort to interact with it’s mother or motherer. An infant smiles as the means of gaining just enough control over a threatening world, to garner a smile back from its mother and with it the care it needs- and will need for a very long time to come. These earliest interactions yield basic exercises of control that the infant can develop to transcend true helplessness to develop into control and mastery of the world as it grows and experiences the world and its many domains and relationships.

    I’m looking forward to more of your intricate analyses to come! Keep up the great work!

  13. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    It’s so nice to hear from you again DM! You always make such well-conceived comments and I learn a lot from what you write. I think your view that Martin is shown as having reached a point where he can identify what he wants and actually express it is really important. I also like your mention of Ruth’s response to Martin of “Let’s go home.” I’ve been noting many occasions when the writers have used wording that to me indicates the show heading in a direction of having this couple reconcile, and that is one example of this. I can add Louisa saying “Of course you should be here,” and her saying about couple’s counseling that it will possibly bring about a new beginning, and so many others. My view is that the writing has often given us hints of the direction of an episode or the show, which was one reason I was not surprised when Martin and Louisa called off the marriage in S3. The entire episode was filled with anti-marriage comments by all sorts of characters.

    I also appreciate your reference to the NYTimes article, which I had not read before (and should have). One of Seligman’s remarks relates well to the idea that sadness must accompany happiness for us to recognize what happiness is for us. He states: “If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago,” he says. “We have children to pursue other elements of well-being. We want meaning in life. We want relationships.” In some ways, the development of this couple having a son adds that meaning to their life. For Martin having a son causes him to look outside himself for meaning, and he can apply his knowledge and interest in sustaining others to his own offspring. So far S7 hasn’t included many occasions of Martin with his son (we see him feeding James once), but in S6 we saw a lot of interaction and care of James by Martin. Perhaps that was there to show us how much having James added to his personal life. He is a good father despite having emotional problems.

    I suppose what I took away about Seligman’s view of control is that we have some control over how to achieve happiness and that means that when we’re feeling down, we can find a way to overcome it through certain exercises. I don’t know if assigning hugging and making compliments are the kinds of exercises prescribed by Seligman, but it at least gets this couple back to touching and looking at the good in each other. They were drawn to each other by something, and they remain attracted to each other. The hugging and compliments should lead to them rediscovering what those things were.

    As an adjunct to the above, Seligman’s remark about therapy comes into play. He says he tries not to judge and that “one’s job as a therapist is not to change what people value, but given what they value, to make them better at it.” Therapists must all subscribe to this to a great extent. (Hopefully Ruth finds a way too, although her patients may have values she can’t support.) Therapists are facilitators, right?

    Thanks for coming back. Please stay with us for a while!

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