At first, sleeping bags and IQs might not seem like they've much in common. But, they do, especially if you're into being happy. Take for instance the woman who, alone in a blizzard, lips palish purple and breath fading, hummed a song absurd to her: Shiny happy people holding hands.
As if I'm kidding (but I'm not), the woman’s name is Happy, though she’s not very happy, is she now. Not when about to perish like that one popsicle left in an emptied freezer, after the tenants have moved out.
To be fair, though, ponder Happy’s predicament and, in a way, she is any one of us. And, she is a character in the t.v. show Scorpion, which follows a small group of geniuses, hired by the government to solve the unsolvable. As it goes, most people think Scorpion is about uber-brilliant IQs. But, it’s less about that and more about the brilliance of uber-honest relating. (Yes, with other humans.)
In the blizzard episode, Happy gets cut off from her team in an Antarctic white out. Love-stricken, Toby Curtis –a genius psychiatrist with an itch for gambling– cries out for Happy. Never mind she shuns him, and everyone else. He’s betting on an ember of love. In finding her, Toby disrobes his thick parka protection to slip into Happy’s literal (and emotional) sleeping bag.
No, not for a steamy sex scene. Maybe, for a how-dare-you protest. But, actually not that either. Happy is in a subzero-induced coma. With all resources gone, only Toby’s naked warmth can keep Happy’s heart from halting altogether.
Only, that’s not going to be easy. Happy’s got a story. She learned at a young age to insulate herself in self-reliance. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father did what most of us fear we might do: he drank himself into numbness. Happy iced over in foster homes.
At this point, who wouldn’t get it? Happy –a mechanical genius– prefers hauling ass on the t.v. show with haute gear-couture, and does so alone. Wrenches and blow torches can’t abandon her; people can. I get that.
You Don’t Say.
Here’s the thing though: Our noggins don’t record memories accurately; they’re not DVRs. Instead, our brains take only random snippets. The rest we make up, and believe.
I know, kind of chintzy for a brain. But, then again, it's how a lifetime of You can be stored in only three pounds between your ears.
Sillier yet, not only do we fabricate our life storylines, but wow, do we stick to them like Flick’s tongue stuck to the flagpole in A Christmas Story. In psychobabble terms, we’re really good at selective attention and rationalizing, even if it hurts.
And, if this weren't enough, the details that the brain leaves in are not nearly as troubling as the details it leaves out.
Back on the set of Scorpion and back from the Antarctic, Happy sits like a still-life next to her father, a gentle car-mechanic. She says she can’t get that song out of her head, the one that helped her not give up hope in the blizzard.
Her father hesitates, afraid to say something tender. Then, sliding an old tape into his VCR, he shares how he used to hold Happy in his lap, as a little tyke, and play the tape.
In the grainy video, two lovers sway in a subdued waltz. “Yellow? Pink?” A crib coming into the frame, noses nuzzle. A swirl, and the woman’s frock reveals a pregnant belly ~ bearing Happy, and the song playing is Shiny Happy People.
The tape ends. Happy barely whispers, “I’ve never been as open and carefree as you two in that video.”
After a fragile pause, she adds, “I want to be, but I don’t think I…”
Her voice slips away. She has told herself her life story so often, all those reasons to self-protect, that it’s become her glacial reality, with no other options.
Softly, her father replies, “Deep down, it’s in you. You just have to find out what makes you happy, Happy.”
Seeking The Secret To Happiness
Since before snow was invented, great thinkers and scientists have tried to pin down the secret to what makes us happy. Yet, despite Socrates or, okay, Deepak Chopra, we’re no closer.
Harvard neuroscientist Daniel Gilbert keeps trying to explain it to us: Just why it is that “we see things that aren’t really there and we remember things that didn’t really happen.” He says that it “got us out of trees and into dress slacks.”
But, mostly now, it just makes us depressed or anxious as we get stuck on what could have been and what might happen. Geniuses or not, we still miscalculate what will make us happy.
Sulk. I got into psychology so that I could fit answers into four or five pie charts and, definitely, one dance mat showing me precisely where to put my feet.
Not to blow-off Gilbert’s brain lessons, but a bunch of Nobel-prize guys make me fancy that we can all still pull this off.
Quite simply, they say that before money, before brains, before control, before status, before a bag of Doritos, the number-one key to happiness is warm companionship.
Not So Naked In The North Pole
Which brings me back to being happy in a blizzard. We're not getting naked at the South Pole –noble as that image is– but that sleeping-bag thing? Metaphorically, I mean. To bet on a soft spot for one another, so we can unzip lonely layers? Melt away some of our fears frozen in our storylines? So that “shiny happy people” might actually be a real thing? That’s big.
Because, in the end, no matter how smart we are or want to be, what matters most is how bravely we warm up to each other. At least, that is, according to the smartest.