Posted on November 26th, 2012
I think it’s safe to say that everyone wants to be happy. If there is such a thing as a universal goal in the context of humanity, happiness must be it, right?
Keeping that in mind, it seems a bit sad that so many people still feel themselves to be in pursuit of happiness. Folks are always trying to figure out, whether deliberately or not, “how to be happy”, as though they aren’t there yet.
I came across an image today on Facebook that really got me thinking.
I like this list. I like the way it doesn’t claim to be the answer to happiness; I like the way it uses words like develop, practice, cultivate, learn – words that address the process, the fact that you can’t just flip a switch to change yourself.
I also agree with most of the points. I consider myself a very happy person, overall, and I think a lot of that is due to things like consciously appreciating what I have, tending towards optimism, and so on.
The thing to remember is, there are certain other factors that allow me to do that – and most of those factors have to do with luck.
I am lucky that my body’s chemicals are balanced, rather than working to sabotage my happiness, as is the case for so many people, and that my health has always been good.
I am lucky that I wasn’t the victim of neglect or abuse when I was too little to defend myself, because in that case I would most likely have issues that would obstruct my well-being.
I am lucky to live in a part of the world where my happiness is not being undermined by war, famine, or disease, and to have been born into a family where we have always had a stable home, lots of love, enough to eat, and good education.
I’d say the above list assumes that “happy people” have the basics covered. People who manage to be happy in spite of those things have, in my opinion, really accomplished something.
It occurs to me that happiness, like unhappiness, compounds itself. Being kind leads to better social relationships, which makes it easier to avoid over-thinking and social comparisons, which in turn facilitates commitment to one’s goals. Furthermore, in spite of the truism that riches and material goods don’t make people happy, IF you already have the fundamentals of happiness covered, I think it’s possible – and reasonable – to feel happy about excellence in more materialistic things (such as my smart phone, my smooth-edge can opener, and my super-comfy shoes). I think it’s valuable to relish stuff that’s good.
Perhaps the best thing about this compounding phenomenon is related to #6: if you’ve worked to hone your “happiness skills”, shall we say, it’s much more feasible to cope with adversity. I think that’s how Anne Frank was able to write beautiful words while hiding from the Nazis, and how the Gaza Doctor was inspired to a hopeful project by the deaths of his daughters. I know it’s how I was able to draw a certain kind of joy from my son’s memorial service.
I want to make sure I include a sort of inverse to that idea, something I’ve learned (with some difficulty): even when you’re a ridiculously fortunate person, with every reason to be happy, it’s okay to get down sometimes. When you’re having a crap time, for whatever reason, it does not help to say to yourself, “But look! You’re so lucky! No excuse to be sad!” Your reasons are your reasons. Even for happy people, feeling like shit occasionally is valid. I’ve been struggling with that for these last two months, but I’ve decided it’s my prerogative to get frustrated when my baby girl is crying instead of sleeping – even though she’s she’s my rainbow baby, and the most precious blessing I could ever have hoped for. It’s okay. I can be filled with gratitude AND want to tear my hair out once in a while. In fact, maybe I appreciate the ups more when there are downs for comparison.
There is one thing from the list of “things happy people do differently” that I immediately zeroed in on – the thing that I need to work on most: #8. These days, I do not put enough time or effort into having “flow experiences.” (I didn’t know that’s what they were called, but I’ll go with it.) Most of the things I do are concurrent in some way, and therefore not awesomely done: nursing A + catching up on email, racing dinky cars + making a to-do list, doing dishes + helping E make playdough shapes, etc. It makes me feel like everything I do is half-assed, which is, frankly, not a happy feeling.
Two things come to mind that can centre my focus completely: 1) studying the scrumptious contours of my children’s faces, and 2) blogging when those children are asleep. Maybe that’s why blogging is so therapeutic for me – letting my mind really chew on a single idea for a significant chunk of time is incredibly satisfying, probably because it’s a “flow experience.” Makes my brain happy.
And, of course, the times I’m able to let go and get completely absorbed in my children… well, there’s no question that those moments are well worth it.
This is happiness.
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