People ask me if the Happiness Project is making me happier. It is, but in some ways it also makes me unhappier: as I’ve tried to overcome certain faults, I realize that they’re much worse than I thought.
Gossip is a good example. My focus for the month of April was friends, and as part of my work for that month, I gave up gossip (mean-spirited talk) for good.
Because I don’t sit around trashing people or spreading rumors, I presumed I didn’t gossip much. Once I made an effort to stop, I realized to my chagrin that I do tend to make critical or unkind comments: “he looks like he’s gained a lot of weight,” “the food at the party wasn’t very good,” or “that was one of the less successful segues into a name-drop that I’ve witnessed in a long time.” And although I don’t repeat stories much, I do press people for the juicy details when they’re dishing to me.
Now, studies show that gossip (which is overwhelmingly critical) does play an important social role by reinforcing community values. Gossip unifies the people who play by the rules—and exposes the behavior of those who cheat on their spouses, spend too lavishly at children’s birthday parties, act arrogant, and the like.
But although critical gossip may serve an important social function, it’s certainly much kinder to resist. So far I’ve been fairly successful at stopping the gossip, and I feel much happier for it. One question is whether there’s a spousal privilege for gossip. Is it okay to indulge a bit with the Big Man? I’ve decided that it is, but I’m trying to cut down nevertheless. “Never to wrong others takes one a long way towards peace of mind.” Seneca.