Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy?

Recent posts (like Noemi's) have led me to ponder the concept of happiness. What does it mean to be happy? Am I actually happy? Is happiness even a worthy goal?

I know what happiness is NOT---its not the inevitable result of achieving your most wanted life goals. It doesn't require that everything  be perfect. Its not even the absence of sadness or negative feelings. I think happiness can co-exist with sadness. It can remain despite things going wrong, even big things. You don't have to have "arrived" before you are happy, it can be part of the journey.

So yes, I am happy. More or less. Most of the time. I feel sad sometimes, angry, lonely, but fundamentally I am grateful for my life and the opportunities I have to be useful and do something meaningful---even if in a very small-scale way. I could be better at appreciating things in the day to day, but I'm optimistic that I can learn that. No, things are far from perfect.  I'm working on making some things better, and accepting other things the way they are and I'm trying to learn which things go in which category.

Focusing too much on happiness can be detrimental. Beating yourself up & feeling guilty for not feeling "happy enough" is...well its ridiculous, and defeating, and sort of the opposite of the point, right? Accepting that positive and negative feelings are a universal and healthy part of the human experience (even if there isn't always a great "reason" for those feelings) takes a lot of pressure off.

Spending energy you barely have and adding more things to your plate because some "expert" claims it'll make you happier could have the exact opposite effect. Sure, meditate/volunteer/do yoga/journal for a week or two to see if it helps you---these things really do work for lots of people. But if carving out the time and energy to do that is stressing you out, because you really are stretched too thin at this season in life---cut yourself some slack and take a nap instead.

On the other hand, doing what you need to do to relieve stress and feel better can have positive outcomes beyond your own mood. You probably will be more focused at work & act nicer to your kids and spouse. Its certainly good for your blood pressure. A happier/calmer attitude can be contagious---as is a stressed out & negative mood. For me the essentials in this category are: sleep, exercise, and time to myself.  Specifically: lots of sleep, a moderate amount of exercise, and (at least) a minimal amount of time to myself every weekend/holiday (i.e. no time in my office at work) day.

How do you define happiness? Are you happy? What do you think about the "happiness" as a life goal?

13 comments:

  1. Not a wasted word has been getting me pondering on happiness as well (so much so that I've got a post in the drafts called, "Books on how to happy with some commentary"). I very much agree with you on the "expert" stuff that can make people feel worse (while also agreeing that sometimes trying stuff results in a good find), and I'm also not entirely sure that happiness should always be the point (though hedonism has definitely been "in" for a while).

    Anyway, I don't tend to define happiness, though I think of it as "utility" something that is equally ineffable. I am generally pretty happy and when I'm not it's usually a sign that I need something (sleep, vit D, beef, sunlight, etc.) but occasionally it's because something bad has happened. There are a lot of worthy life goals that mean you're probably going to be happy less often, but perhaps you'll accomplish more than you would having chosen some other life goals.

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  2. For me, overthinking anything leads to reduced happiness. I am happiest when I am very busy and focused outward, on specific projects (as opposed inward, mulling things over and over).

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    1. This is so true, but how to stop overthinking? I can't seem to manage it.

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    2. What happens with me is that I get caught up in my head, mulling things over and over and over... Obsessing, basically. And then eventually I get exhausted by it, really sick and tired of it. I guess becoming bored with myself and exhausted after letting myself wallow in it, unabashedly, eventually helps me to snap out of it. Eventually...

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  3. I don't think I'm looking for happiness, so much as a more positive outlook. I know that I won't always be happy, cycling through good and bad moods has always been the way I work, but I have wondered if I could cultivate a kind of emotional resilience, so that I am better able to cope with, or simply weather, the down times. It's not that I feel I should be happier, or feel happiness more of the time, it's that I feel like my foundational gratitude gets buried under a layer of negativity that just doesn't seem to need to be there, but had been built up over the years by a great many things. I don't know. I don't think happiness is my goal, just positivity and resilience.

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    1. Positivity and resilience...yes those are my goals, too. I think outlook/attitude is a BIG part of feeling "happy" or content with your life, but not 100%---sometimes things actually do suck and you can change them (not directed at you specifically AT ALL, just the idea floating around that changing your attitude can fix everything)

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  4. I can honestly say that I am truly happy. And that happiness is the result of simply stepping off of the hedonic treadmill, embracing a more simple life, and placing a very high priority on friends and family. That's not to say I don't have bad days. I have terrible days, just like everyone else (I'm very busy and tired, and I'm perimenopausal- of course I have bad days!!!). Those days just seem less catastrophic than they once were though, and I think that is the result of finally getting my priorities in the right place. But happiness, per se, was never the goal. I would say that acceptance of what 'is' and having the strength and resiliece to handle unpleasant surprises was the goal, and happiness just followed.

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    1. You really seem to have found a sense of purpose & motivation in your new goals and that seems to be a big component of feeling happy for a lot of people.

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  5. very thought-provoking post, and noemi's was, too.

    my happiness seems to come in waves -- almost like a very mild bipolar sort of pattern sometimes, really. (NOT giving myself the diagnosis, but i feel like i do have inexplicable periods where everything feels really GREAT and easy and okay, and down times where everything feels like a disaster. and rarely do the true circumstances matter.)

    I like what Catwoman says above about "acceptance of what is" and "resilience" being more appropriate goals.

    That said, I love reading happiness-project-esque tweaks, and DO feel that this area of reading/exploration has made me happier, overall, even if just a little bit. So, there's that.

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    1. OMG, funny you should say that, because i have been thinking the EXACT same thing about "very mild bipolar sort of patten". I get in these subtly manic periods where I am really excited & positive about everything and I also have more energy and need less sleep. Its pretty great, but then I go back to normal.

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    2. Yes. This. Exactly.

      However in addition to randomness, there is a situational element to it. For instance, when people are crappy, or I don't talk to any of my friends in a long time, that makes me more likely to be unhappy. Some of it does seem to be random though.

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    3. I agree, that I can usually point to something either positive or negative that coincided with the good or bad period, but there are definitely other times that similarly "good" or "bad" things happened that DID NOT set off that mood...

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  6. What a great post. You nailed it.

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