Quite some time ago I read a little book called Chicken Soup for the Soul. I have a memory of reading it while sitting in the bathroom at my parent's place as they like to keep those sorts of things there... but I could be wrong about that. The book had all kinds of quotes and anecdotes about all kinds of things but they shared a universal theme of being heartwarming stories of redemption, triumph, love and companionship. Awww. The theory is that these books make you feel good about the world and make you happy. I found the quotes interesting at times but I can't say that they made me feel happy. When I want to get a quick pick-me-up from reading something I go read Dan Savage's sex advice column instead.
You might wonder why reading about people embroiled in all kinds of terrible situations regarding love, sex and relationships would make me happy. Thing is, I am not entirely clear on how that works myself but I have some ideas. I think it is similar to the fact that a strong determining factor in people's happiness is their relative wealth to the people within their social circle. Absolute wealth is a factor to a point and is either a very small or nonfactor beyond basic necessities but *relative* wealth is important no matter how much you make. If your friends, family and the people on your street make 30% less than you it doesn't matter if your salary is 30k or 500k you tend to be happier. I think the same sort of thing applies here but on a different axis. By some determining factors including at least luck, brains, discipline and natural tendencies I am in a pretty good place in terms of relationship issues so if my theory holds water I should be happier when I can see that the people around me are worse off. That isn't necessarily going to work when I look at people who are single, for example, since there are definite benefits to being single even if you would like to be in a relationship. However, it would definitely work if I see people with bizarre sexual tendencies that land them in all kinds of trouble.
This, as it turns out, is the main fare in Savage's column. People who want to be dressed up like babies during foreplay, people who want their spouses to cheat on them for a turn on, people who are matched up with partners with drastically different libidos (normally the male wants sex 3 times a week and the female wants it once a year, but the reverse situation does exist) and all the even more exotic fetishes come out to play. Unsurprisingly when you look at the folks with really nonstandard preferences they have all kinds of problems with a world that doesn't understand or respect them and often rejects them quite violently. Their stories are often awful and heartwrenching and full of terribly evil acts and seeing all that really cheers me up. Sure, I might be really irritated with having to haul Elli all the way from school over my shoulder while she screams and tries to hit me... but at least it is a 4 year old trying to hit me and not an adult who professes to love me. I may be bitter that I can't go barefoot into the local grocery store but I am not stuck looking for a lover who is into transgendered women who have the physical characteristics of a man; which, as I understand it, isn't a rough road indeed. I read these stories of woe and misery and think
-Wow, my physical gender and my mental gender match! (I might be offending trans people with poor terminology... but you know what I mean.)
-I am attracted to people that make up a very large percentage of the population!
-All the things my partner wants of me sexually are at worst easy and at best quite a lot of fun!
-Nobody over the age of 4 has tried to hit me in quite some time!
Again, I have no problem with people that have these characteristics but we can all see where the easiest path lies; just like I have no problem with Russians but I am glad to be living in Canada instead of Russia.
I remember a Simpsons episode where Homer is sitting in Moe's bar recounting his story of becoming a team mascot for a baseball team which ends with him being utterly humiliated in front of an immense crowd. The barflies listening to him are all enthralled and utterly absorbed in his tale...
Homer: "Why do stories of degradation and humiliation make you more popular?"
Moe: "I don't know, they just do."
In some ways it is very Stoic to be thinking of how much worse life could be and using that recognition to be happy. I don't know that the ancient Stoics would have approved of reading sex advice columns as an aid to negative visualization but it sure seems to work.