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!]

~  ^  ~  ^  ~  ^  ~  ^  ~  ^  ~  ^  ~

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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18 Responses to “Is Happiness Overrated?”

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You flattered me by posting this, Muse. Thank you.
I agree. I’m content. To me true happiness is like a rush, a moment that comes and goes. I do think it is over-rated and too many people think something is wrong with them if they feel less than happy.

I’m content with being content but love the rush I get from moments of happiness.

Having said that: The results of the quiz

I am 88% Happy.
It’s unlikely that you know anyone happier than you.
You know how to be happy, no matter what life throws at you.

The other:
You Are Very Happy:
Your life is totally together, and you enjoy every day.
And you don’t need a quiz to tell you that!
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.

LOL!

You Are 92% Happy
It’s unlikely that you know anyone happier than you.
You know how to be happy, no matter what life throws at you.

Do not know how the above happened…..I would call it a reality or perception of reality test more than a happinesss test… although CJ and I were talking about this the other day…happiness that is, so thanks Muse and the Beadden. I think happiness or contentment is really about being comfortable with who you are and for me not having unreal expectations of myself or others.

You Are Pretty Happy

You generally have a happy, fulfilling life.
But things could be a little better, and deep down, you know it.
Maybe you need more supportive friends or a more challenging career.
Something is preventing you from being totally happy. You just need to figure out what it is!

You Are 44% Happy

You’re definitely a happy person, even though you have your down moments.
You tend to get the most out of life, though there’s always some more happiness to be squeezed.

i’m not a very happy camper, huh? 🙂 to me, happiness is half you and half circumstances. you can choose to be as happy as you want to be, but only in the right circumstances. that is to say, although you ‘choose’ to be happy, your current situation influences to a large extent on how happy you’d be.

that doesn’t mean you have to be sad when the circumstances aren’t right. it just means that it has a bigger influence on your emotional being than your general disposition at the moment. i think that could explain how people manage to find happiness in the midst of war and tragedy in lives. eventually, self-love will make you want to be happy. of course, there are those who don’t know how to get out of the cycle of being sad, or don’t want to.

for me, before i set off to macau, i knew i was having a good life and one that i enjoy, which was why i worried if i will be homesick and couldn’t cope by myself here. i am coping, but only by looking forward to going back home. even though my usual life was boring and routine, i am on the whole happy with it. here in macau, i have many things to do and places to go, but i’m not happy deep down.

great article you linked to!

I’ve read that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness, as the word implies, depends much on happenstance. When bad things happen, we are sad. When good things happen, we are happy. Joy is more of a deep and abiding sense of contentment and appreciation that is not affected as much by our happenstance. So, I prefer to say I am a joyful person.

I love life. I love people. I love beauty. I love to laugh. And most of all, I love to make others laugh! 🙂

Lincoln comes pretty close to summing it up. We can make ourselves pretty unhappy by worrying unnecessarily about things over which we have no control or will turn out OK anyway whatever way we feel about them. Whether or not to worry is a decision we make, whether we realise it or not.

I guess my anti-depressants are working. I am 96% happy. If I had taken the test a year ago it would have been a different story. It probably would have come out as 0% happy. Now I wish my son would get help. He is so depressed. But I haven’t let it ruin my life like I used to. I had to “Let go or be dragged”.

Very nice quote from Lincoln that you posted!

To me happiness seems to be the temporary high of contentment. Almost like if something does make you happy, the feeling eventually slids back and you once again become content, assuming that you were content before.

I ended up being 44% Happy

‘You’re definitely a happy person, even though you have your down moments. You tend to get the most out of life, though there’s always some more happiness to be squeezed.’

No its not unless you are me of course 😉

Hey, BD, I appreciate the mental stimulation! 🙂 Oh, yeah, the highs are fun; I would not want to be without them. I think consumerism plays into that feeling of fear of unhappiness—but that’s my next post. 😀 And, see! These quiz results are always accurate! (hehe) You seem to me like a very happy person who is pursuing the life she wants. Yay!

I agree that test, in which you check off all the statements you agree with, is more of an overall-satisfaction-perception kind of thing, Magik. You do seem like a person who is comfortable with who she is, and you’ve had many life circumstances to measure against. The point you make about not having unreal expectations of yourself and others, I agree with, also. It’s great to want certain things, but I think we’re happier if we’re not so invested in a particular outcome that we can’t appreciate “what is”.

Hey, the tests (which do not lie!) say you are pretty happy, sulz! And considering you are not currently where you want to be, that’s pretty good. It’s interesting that you are looking at social issues and friendships right now, and got those quiz results. Really good point about “circumstances”. Before I settled here in southern Arizona, I moved around quite a lot. A family friend said to me: “Just moving from place to place doesn’t solve anything.” (Grrr.) 😉 My first thought was that I wasn’t trying to “solve” anything, I was exploring. I’m a sensitive soul, though, and I’m deeply affected by place and surroundings. It feels like home, here, and after 8 years I’ve given it a pretty good trial, I think. So, I agree circumstances can have a huge effect. Fortunate are we who can choose our circumstances. And even if you will be happier when you get back home, it’s valuable to look at your Macau experience to know better what you don’t want. Also, I’m glad you mentioned that you have many places to go and things to do there, but those are not necessarily the things that make you happy. I will talk about that in the next post. Thank you!!!

OK, so, TVB, “joy” is that deep sense of abiding overall contentment. I can get behind that. I like that you are a joyful person! And the underlying joy remains even if we’re having a “bad” day. Your blog certainly reflects everything in your last paragraph. I always at least smile, and most often laugh when I read your blog. 😀

Yes, Ian, it’s so true that when something seems untenable, if we just wait awhile and do nothing, or meditate or do something else then a lot of the time it either gets better on its own, or a solution comes to us that didn’t appear when we were trying or worrying. I’ve read that worry is rehearsing an unpleasant future (or something like that). Thank you for pointing out that worry is a choice! So many times I’ve had said to me: “When you do X, I worry.” My response (at least in my own mind—I’m not always snarky enough to say it) is “Well, don’t!” 😉 By the way, I don’t know why your comments keep going into moderation. Only your first one should have, unless you include lots of links (which you haven’t). I’m trying to figure it out; perhaps part of your username is included in my “automatic moderation” list, but I sure don’t see it. Anyway, please be assured that you are always welcome here!

Wow, 96% Joan? Where do I get a prescription like yours? 🙂 Just kidding, but I am going to mention chemical help in my next post as the topic came up in my life recently. Should be up a few hours from now. I’m sorry your son isn’t as happy as you are, but I believe you are wise to not take that upon yourself. To help, but not to enable, that’s the dance, is it not?

Thank you Shane! If you liked that, you might like this Lincoln quote as well: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” or this one: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” 🙂 So, happiness is the temporary high along the road of a contented life. I like that. If we are truly content, we can feel confident that we can look forward to many of those happiness highs. Your quiz results indicate you have a pretty balanced sort of happiness, with some room for expansion. Sounds (at least from reading your “about” page) close to where you see yourself in life at the moment. 😉

Oh, sure, kaylee! Like I’m going to take that from you! 😉 You deserve as much happiness as any of us, and I’m very glad to read you are happier than you were. It’s really helpful in healing, as you know, to keep up your attitude. You go, girl! 😀

You Are Pretty Happy
You generally have a happy, fulfilling life.
But things could be a little better, and deep down, you know it.
Maybe you need more supportive friends or a more challenging career.
Something is preventing you from being totally happy. You just need to figure out what it is!

You Are 64% 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.

Hmmmmmmmm. 😛

Magik Quilter, I like your idea of what it means to you. It took a whole post for me to get half of my idea out and you can sum it up in a sentence. Sheesh!

What great comments and insight on this subject from everyone here. Am I ever glad I found you guys and gals. 🙂

Well, Will, from what I’ve read you have a wonderful family, and have come so far in your life (all the way to Canada! 🙂 ) I guess you’re not always satisfied with how the world is doing the world’s business, but I’m glad you are there to report on it and help us make it better.

BD, the comments have been wonderful, I agree—as they were on your post. Yes, MQ is cool. She did sum that up nicely, didn’t she? 😀

[…] post is partly a continuation of the topic of yesterday’s, “Happiness“, along with some political and social implications of a “contented […]

Well I’m so cool I forgot to do the first test!!! Am off to read the Beads happiness post now!!!! and your new one Muse!!!

I’m happy in general. I have my ups and downs but overall I feel content, and that’s about as good as it gets. Stretching one’s life in some unconquerable attempt to become Perpetually Happy never worked for anyone, without the use of happy drugs, and then that’s temporary.

OK, cool one! Bead wrote a really good post, Magik. I think you’ll like it.

Great point about the unconquerable attempt. If we spend a lot of time and effort “trying” to be happy, we won’t be able to enjoy when we are. Thanks for visiting maleesha! 🙂

Footnote fever, I see. 🙂

My results:

You generally have a happy, fulfilling life.
But things could be a little better, and deep down, you know it.
Maybe you need more supportive friends or a more challenging career.
Something is preventing you from being totally happy. You just need to figure out what it is!

You Are 48% Happy! You’re definitely a happy person, even though you have your down moments.
You tend to get the most out of life, though there’s always some more happiness to be squeezed.

BObby: re: footnotes 🙂 Thought I’d try them out. Don’t know I’ll make a habit of it though!
So you’re a happy fellow (except for the career thing. Perhaps they are referring to having to study The Armada yet again. Be of good cheer; this too shall pass!) 😀


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