We talk about happiness a lot. Everyone wants it even if we can’t quite define it. Each of us know when we feel happy and when we do not. Some say we talk about happiness way too much. The other day I received the following comment from Dr. Dana Lightman about the article “Happiness Takes Work: 5 Choices to Create Happiness”:
Too focused on happiness?
I enjoyed this post and want to underscore the importance of optimism with regard to happiness. I sometimes think we have become too focused on happiness in our current culture,and may have forgotten that to be human is to experience the full range of human emotions, including sadness, grief, frustration, irritation, anger, etc. The key is to not get stuck in these negative emotions, that can push us onto a downward spiral. The key variable for those who are able to experience and then move beyond negative emotions is optimism. An optimist knows there is light at the end of the tunnel. A non-optimist just sees the darkenss in the tunnel.
I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Lightman and would just like to add to her comment.
How much is too much?
There is, indeed, an inordinate focus on personal happiness these days and the question arises, “How much is too much?” How much does it take to counterbalance the constant onslaught of negativity that we get in the media, in the workplace, and perhaps even from friends and family? We are bombarded with negative at every turn. And we hear instantly of any tragedy any place in the world and we get constant updates on the number of men, women and children killed in war, in automobile crashes, in murders and other types of mayhem. The indiscretions of the rich and famous are in the media almost before they get home and by morning their pictures are all over the news and the tabloids—and we hear about it for days and weeks. We hear warnings of impending illnesses as soon as it is the “season” for them and then learn about how the prevention and treatment measures are as dangerous as the disease. Statistics about the rising divorce rate, the growth of gangs and the greed and graft of those in high places—not just in our own town and state but around the globe—are iterated and reiterated endlessly.
It’s like being on a treadmill. As you increase the speed you have to run faster to keep up. When the negativity becomes even greater, we have to balance it with more positive. And as unhappiness becomes more prevalent we have to offer more happiness.
Is going for personal happiness selfish?
We also have that old idea that going for personal happiness is selfish. What a concept. There’s a phrase that I love, — “You can’t give what you don’t have.” You can’t radiate happiness from a base of misery and grief.
But it’s important to ask, “What is happiness to me?”
It is difficult to define happiness because one size does not fit all. Books have been written about what happiness is and is not. Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, has this to say about it in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being:
The theory in Authentic Happiness is that happiness could be analyzed into three different elements that we choose for their own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. And each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness. The first is positive emotion; what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and the like. An entire life led successfully around this element, I call the “pleasant life.”
The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity…
There is yet a third element of happiness, which is meaning…Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life. The Meaningful Life consists in belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self, and humanity creates all the positive institutions to allow this: religion, political party, being Green, the Boy Scouts, or the family.
So what about YOUR happiness?
All that being said, what does happiness mean to you? Think about it carefully.
Here is my “take” on happiness:
Happiness is available to you and it doesn’t come from stuff or other people. It is a state of mind, a way of being and it’s an “inside job.” You develop it. You “work” for it. It is knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as Dr. Lightman says, that keeps you balanced while you’re navigating in darkness, pain, doubt, turmoil, and negativity. You will feel the pain, experience the doubt, know the turmoil and recognize the negativity but you’ll be like that children’s toy, the Weeble—it wobbles but it won’t fall down.
It is my intention to talk a lot more about happiness on this blog.
Have a happy day.
(Note: This article ran originally in October of 2010. It seems even more relevant today and I added to it a bit. I still believe we need to focus on happiness more as we are presented with more and more fear and negativity).