The Good Wife Works – On happiness and its enemies

Elizabeth Ellis Square


“Doing what you like is freedom, liking what you do is happiness.” (from a Selby Ave. storefront)


We have the keys to happiness within us: our brain. Sex and exercise, learning and curiosity are the keys. Curiosity and novelty alleviate boredom. These stimulate the brain’s reward centers. Consider those you know who aren’t getting any of the above.

The phenomenon of oxytocin and dopamine within the brain stimulate emotions. “Dopamine affects deeper-lying centers that control attentiveness and provide greater focus.” Stefan Klein wrote in The Science of Happiness, “Oxytocin decreases cognitive ability,” and “under the influence of dopamine” we are optimistic and “comfortable, relaxed,” ergo physiological balance is achieved. This is good; preferable, even.

When we are stroked, Klein wrote, we are “calmed by touch.” Think booty call. This “frenzy of enjoyment,” Klein wrote,” interrupts time… Our hormonal response to touch, to sex, and to proximity is so powerful that it can trump our better judgment.“ [Source Smart Sex: finding life-long love]. However, “Not everyone obtains the sexual activity and partner they want.”

Being inactive (e.g., unemployed) and feeling helpless are the largest enemies of happiness, Klein wrote. Cocaine, however, rewards with euphoria without the demands to learn. Spencer Haywood (b.1949) claims that cocaine was in common use by fellow players of the NBA LA Lakers and commonplace at Hollywood parties. The three enemies of cocaine, he said, are food, sex and sleep.

“Enjoying the present to the fullest,” Klein wrote, is comparable to the euphoria of illegal substances. These brain systems “run on fun.”

Of his Powell side of the family, Retired General Colin Powell (b. 1937) said, “My kids absorbed a love of life. They met funny, irreverent characters, people who laughed, deep from the belly, without restraint, people who played as hard as they worked. Let’s have a party. Let’s have a song. Let’s dance.

“When Blacks go off in a corner,” Powell wrote, “for their kind of music or dancing I’m tempted to say to my White friends, ‘Don’t panic, we’re just having fun.’” Similarly, Jim Brown wrote, “I didn’t mind living and socializing with black folks. Black society was fun. What I wanted was the choice.”

Being allowed your own choices is happiness. “To be happy,” wrote poet W. H. Auden, (1907-1973), “a man must feel firstly free and, secondly, important.”

“I enjoy the unselfconscious moments of a shared cultural intimacy whatever form they take, when no one else is watching, when no white people are around,” Professor Henry Louis L. Gates, Jr., (b.1950) wrote, i.e., when one’s guard is down.

“There is no place like a Negro barbershop for hearing what Negroes really think,” the esteemed Ralph Ellison (1913-1994) wrote in Shadow and Act “when no one but ourselves was supposed to be listening, when you were not being judged by the white world.”

Professor Susan Schneider wrote that, “None of us gets enough praise.” Stress lowers our feelings of good; the key then is good self-esteem, self-respect. “You like to be with people of your own kind, people you can relax with and let your hair down with, and never have to be on guard with,” Wimbledon champion Althea Gibson (1927-2003) wrote in I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. Poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980) said it well: “Man is neither gook ni***r monkey wop nor kike, but man permitted to be man.”


Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to