Here it is, what they don’t tell you about HAPPINESS:
(Drum roll please…)
Happiness is, for the most part, nothing but an abstract idea and intangible end goal.
Stop looking for it, stop chasing it, and stop worrying all the time and being so anxious about it.
Wait a minute, what are you talking about?
I know what some of you are probably thinking. What’s this dude talking about? He’s just some pessimistic asshole out to ruin everyone else’s joy in life.
Although I admit to being an asshole on a regular basis, albeit in a joking and sarcastic manner, this post is meant to be the exact opposite of pessimistic. My desire here is to challenge the generally accepted mentality surrounding happiness that many of us, myself included, have grown up with and actively accept as truth in our daily lives.
If you are anything like me you’ve grown up with parents, friends, family members, teachers, etc., who have told you to do what makes you happy in life. This in itself is not a bad thing; these people only want the best for you, whatever that may be. The problem is that, many times, we as human beings don’t know what will make us happy in life, much less on a day-to-day basis. So, for example, when my aunt Carol said to me the Christmas before I started college, “Don’t worry about all the little things like majors, and money, and careers. You just go and figure out what makes you happy,” I just about shat my metaphorical trousers.
Throughout my life, as a child and on into adolescence and early adulthood, I’ve struggled with feeling good about myself and remaining positive and happy about where my life was heading. In the beginning I wasn’t being negative and getting down on myself, I just remained neutral and observant in most aspects of life. This neutrality faded when I realized I was hearing about “being happy” every single day and, at some point, I finally stopped for a second and said, “Hey, this happiness thing everyone’s talking about, I definitely don’t have it.” From that point on I looked comparatively at myself and at the perception and image of happiness that the world– the media and other influences– had been feeding me. It was quite clear to me that I wasn’t smiling as much as other people seemed to be. I wasn’t nearly as excited as others were for the trials and tribulations of life. I instead felt myself wandering aimlessly through the days, wondering where I could find this hidden little gem called “happiness”.
What can the internet tell me about Happiness?
In search of a better understanding of happiness I did as any modern researcher would do and googled the definition to the word.
happiness (noun)- the state of being happy
Wow, I thought, that’s super helpful. Clearly I needed to do a little more research than this. From there I went on to instead get the definition of the word “happy”
happy (adjective)- feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
Well, I suppose that is slightly more helpful… While this second definition gave me a little bit more than the former, I still couldn’t very well discern any tangible idea of happiness. “Pleasure” and “contentment” are simply synonyms which are also hard to grasp.
What I really wanted was a scientific explanation for why we as human beings feel happy (my best guess would be something having to do with dopamine in the brain). In all my internet surfing I came upon a book about happiness, many religious websites claiming that religion is the path to happiness (which is true for some, but not all, people), and finally a multi-paragraph, heartfelt message from a well-known soda company ending with ” So don’t wait another moment. Open an ice cold Coca-Cola and choose happiness!“
So, if happiness is this pie in the sky that everyone is always talking about then why is it that I can find no concrete definition or explanation for it?
Happiness is not a permanent state of being
My theory, and I posit this in no definitive or scientific way whatsoever, is that the reason happiness is so damn elusive– and widely left unexplained to the general population– is because it is temporary; it can be here one second and gone the next. Countless times I have found myself being very happy about something, maybe I’ve found out that I got an A in every class this term and made the Dean’s List, and then minutes later the feeling is gone and I have come back down to neutrality.
Unfortunately, happiness is not a permanent status or label that, once earned, will remain with you for the rest of your life. Happiness is a feeling– a temporary state of being– that we all experience at different times through our day.
The idea that happiness is something to be achieved and captured at a certain point in life is ridiculous. It is ideas like this that, for many, many years, have kept me trapped in an endless, chaotic cycle of trying to get a hold of happiness and keep it forever, which I now understand is impossible.
(If someone out there has indeed created some magical net to capture and retain what I imagine as being a butterfly of happiness, please contact me as soon as possible.)
Happiness in retrospect
Most of us have heard the saying “Hindsight is always 20/20”. Well, it’s no different at all with happiness.
Many times we don’t realize our happiness until it is gone and we are looking at an event or period of our life in retrospect. Some examples of this from my life would be working at the Minnesota State Fair the summer before my senior year in high school, or way back to my childhood days of playing ghost in the graveyard with all the kids in my neighborhood. I look back and think of these as some of the best times of my life but back when they were my reality I certainly didn’t say to myself, “In the future I’m going to look back at this time of my life as one of joy and happiness.”
Furthermore, there are tons of quotes out there that support this idea of only realizing happiness once it is gone or has passed. My favorite of them all was said by Andy Bernard in the last season of The Office:
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
All I’m trying to say here is that “happiness” should not and cannot really be an ultimate goal because, even if we get it, we won’t have realized our success until it passes or we lose it.
The dark side to Happiness
Another problem with this socially accepted idea of happiness is that it creates a strict dichotomy between happiness and joy, and other emotions such as anger and sadness. The former is looked at as the right way of being while the latter is almost always looked down upon or dismissed as being invalid.
If no one has told you this yet, I will proudly be the first to tell you: IT IS OKAY TO BE SAD! IT IS OKAY TO BE ANGRY!
This dichotomy creates major issues for a lot of people. Folks with depression, for example, are invalidated daily for the way that they feel. Society expects them to march merrily along with everyone else and to stop talking about their problems. Many times if they do voice their feelings to others they are either not taken very seriously or are ignored until they can learn to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps”.
“According to depression statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 9 percent of adult Americans have feelings of hopelessness, despondency, and/or guilt that generate a diagnosis of depression,” (EverydayHealth). While 9 percent may not sound like a whole lot of people, that is approximately 28.7 million Americans as of 2014 who deal with depression, whether that be mild or major (Not to mention, that is not including teens and adolescents under the age of 18). That is an unfathomable amount of people forced to go through their lives looking for this thing called “happiness” that may be unattainable in the way we currently look at it. And even worse, because these people are looked down upon and hushed if they bring up their problems, many of them are not able to find support systems and other people who are going through the same issues.
A more pragmatic approach to “Happiness”
This next section is more about giving advice than anything else. I won’t attempt to offer a new definition for happiness, as it seems a long and useless venture. Instead I’ll posit some different ways of going about life and looking at happiness that are hopefully less problematic or harmful.
As with anything you read or hear, take what seems truthful or useful to you and leave anything else. These tips are just a few things I’ve picked up and learned while making my way through my own life.
- Happiness is much like love. You can’t really go out into the world looking for it; it just happens. If you try to unnaturally force it, for example with excessive drug or alcohol use, it could easily blow up in your face and leave you in a much worse place than where you started.
- Instead of finding what makes you happy in life, find things that get you excited and energized. One of the hardest things to do, many of us would agree, is to get out of bed in the morning. If you find yourself leaping out of bed right as the alarm clock buzzes because you’re just so amped to engage in a certain activity or hobby, bingo, you’ve found your golden ticket.
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. All of our brains work differently and all of us show emotion in a somewhat different manner. Just because you don’t act like so and so, who appears to be very happy and content in life, doesn’t mean that you are any worse off.
- If you are sad or angry, find ways to use that to your advantage. Any emotion can be used to create negative consequences– yes, even happiness. Whether you sing, paint, write (like me), work out, build things, I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS, find a way to channel your emotion to create life and meaning. Some of the most crucial and important things done in life are done through sadness and anger!
- Your emotions cannot control you, as much as it may seem they do. The human mind is a powerful thing, in my opinion the most powerful tool in all the world, and here’s something you should know: You have a mind that is all your own, and you have control over it. Sure, some things enter our reality that we might not be too fond of and we have no choice in the matter. What we do have a choice in, however, is how we react to the outside world and how we let the outside world shape our minds. We create our realities through our perceptions, which can be colored from our own palettes if we so choose.
- Stop chasing happiness; you will only find yourself running in circles.
- Stop worrying so much about happiness and other things that you can’t control (this is the hardest one for me to do). At a certain point, and it comes quickly for many of us, our worrying and anxiety is no longer preparing us for something. It starts to wear on us and break us down little by little. Do yourself a HUGE favor and let the weight of worry float away. Put your belief in something bigger, whatever that may be, and have faith that life is going to work out for you just the way its supposed to.