Happiness (February 2007)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 11:20

Psychologies Magazine February 2007


Feeling happy is wonderful. We can be busy doing something, often something quite mundane, and suddenly we feel happy. If we ask ourselves, 'Why do I feel happy right now?' the answer is that what we're doing gives us a sense of being part of everything that exists, and that our existence has significance. Ask a gardener or a bird watcher why they do what they do and they are likely to say that these activities give them a sense of general well being and brings them into harmony with nature.

It is pointless making happiness our goal in life. It's not a thing which we can achieve but an emotion which may or may not arise in a particular situation. All our emotions are our interpretations of our situation in terms of whether we see ourselves as a person as being safe (the positive emotions such as feeling happy, contented, satisfied) or whether we see ourselves as being in danger (the negative emotions such as feeling angry, anxious, afraid, guilty, envious). We feel safe when we see our situation as being much as we predicted it would be and one which confirms us as being valuable and significant: we feel in danger when we see our situation as being significantly different from what we expected and showing us that we are worthless and insignificant. Thus we can feel immensely happy just having a drink and a laugh with close friends while winning a competition for a prestigious job can leave us feeling miserable and anxious.

Emotions are by-products of what we do. We can say to ourselves that we want to be happy, and we can do all the things that we think will make us happy, but, if these things don't lead to us feeling secure and validated as a person, the feeling of happiness doesn't arise. We cannot will any emotion into being. We can act as if we are happy, as a great many people do, but pretending to be happy doesn't lead to being happy any more than pretending to be in love leads to being in love. Our emotions are our own personal truths concerning how secure or insecure in ourselves we feel. We can lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that we're happy, but lying to yourself always leads to disaster. Counting your blessings can make you aware of how fortunate you are, but, if you have lost something of enormous significance to you, then a multitude of blessings won't fill the hole you have inside you. Sooner or later your sadness will break through and overwhelm you. This can be devastating, especially if you believe that to be a worthwhile person you have to be happy all the time

We can construct a way of living whereby we are happy for much of the time, but we can't do this if we don't know what matters to us most. Everyone says they want to be happy, but for many people being happy isn't their top priority. You might prefer to be good than happy. Do you say to yourself, 'I'd love to go to that party but, if I don't visit my parents that weekend I'll be unbearably guilty'? You might prefer to be right than happy. Do you say to yourself, 'I know I'm right and I'll show other people that I am'? You might prefer to aim for things that other people seem to value rather than at the things that you value. Do you strive to impress people with your important job, or how attractive and popular you are, and then feel a failure because you aren't happy all the time?

 We all want to have good relationships with other people and to achieve, but for each of us one of those two is the more important to us. If relationships is your top priority (you're a People Person) then to be happy you must have a large number of satisfactory friendships always present in your life, and if achievement is your top priority (you're a What Have I Achieved Today Person) then to be happy you must be able to achieve many of your goals. Alas, relationships always involve loss, and striving for goals always involves failures, so it is foolish to think that you can be happy all the time.

 In life most things happen by chance. We can't be happy all the time. But in those moments when we feel secure and significant we know that supreme happiness - joy.