Archive for July 21st, 2008

Is Happiness Overrated?

Posted on July 21, 2008. Filed under: Health, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”-Abraham Lincoln 1

A lot of things have been rolling around in my mind lately, and it took an excellent post by my friend thebeadden to bring them to the forefront. Her post, and the wonderful comments to it, discuss whether we can be happy all the time, whether we even should be, and whether it’s something we can attain with work, effort, trying or any other method.

My first thought would be to define what we mean by happiness. Like virtually every word we use, “happiness” means something different to each of us. When we’re admonished to “be happy”2 many of us interpret that as “giddiness” which we associate with a sense of unrealistic expectations. As a bit of a curmudgeon, I can easily become annoyed with an overly giddy, bubbly personality. But, does that mean I’m not happy? I need to take a closer look.

To me, our world is full of way too many dichotomies: We must be happy OR sad; rich OR poor; healthy OR sick. I observe that the majority of us are somewhere along a continuum in these areas. I’m the first to say that without contrast, life would be dull indeed. Even if I could muster up the emotional fortitude, I would not want to go around “giddy” all the time. My friends would think I’d gone crazy(er), for one thing, but for another, I just don’t believe it would be satisfying to be in one emotional state continually.

Having said all that, however, I do believe there is a deep sense of overall contentment one can feel—and I do!—nearly all the time. Sure, life has its ups and downs. Do I get sad; depressed; reflective; angry? You bet I do! Do I let these things define me? Not at all, and there lies the difference between a generally happy person, and one who is not.

The tragedy I see for many is in not knowing how to be happier. For some of us, it is a learned skill. It has not come easy to me, and is still evolving. It involves more of letting go than acquiring.3 Blessed with a curious and seeking nature, I have found many tools along the way. I’ve outgrown some, discarded others, and held on to a mere handful which continue to be useful.

The results are these: I can wake up most mornings glad to be where I am. I look forward to each new day most of the time. In this state of being, I believe I can be of most use to the world. [more on that tomorrow!]

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For a different take on “happiness” from someone who disagrees with Mr. Lincoln and who includes genetic components, see this article.

2 If you wish to be admonished, please see a rather fascinating video of the song Don’t Worry, Be Happy

3 In case you don’t KNOW if you’re happy, here are two quizzes from Blogthings: How happy are you, really?

My results: You are very happy. You know how to find pleasure in the little things…And even when life isn’t so great, you have a good sense of perspective.

And this one:  What’s your happiness percentage?

My results:

You Are 72% Happy
You are a very happy person. Generally, you feel content and that all is right with the world.
Occasionally, you have a down day – but you have the ability to pick yourself right back up.
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