Written by Dr Linda Berman
It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.
(Image: Redbone Coonhound Rcaa Wikimedia Commons)
The Societal and Cultural Pressure to be Happy.
“Do you want to be happy, or do you want to appear happy? Never mind what the world tells you to do to be happy. Be truthful to yourself and discover what you really want.”
In his interesting book Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty To Be Happy, Pascal Bruckner describes the intense pressure towards an ideology of happiness that is currently pervasive in society.
Bruckner sees the injunction to “Be happy!” as a ‘burden’ that puts us into a quandary. He questions its meaning and what we do if we cannot be happy….
How are we supposed to stop worrying and be happy because we are told to? Such messages are meaningless and ineffectual.
Freud’s opinion was that the most common way of being was in a state of ‘ordinary unhappiness.’
…much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health, you will be better armed against that unhappiness.
Whilst this might sound pessimistic, it does provide a grounded view of life, and of psychotherapy.
People who come to therapy with expectations of emerging utterly happy might consider Freud’s wry comment.
Life has its sadnesses, its difficulties, which might be ever-present in our lives. What we might hope for is a disposition that enables us to make the best of what we have.
Some might think that happiness means always getting their needs met. Not so. People who are happy often have few needs, but they do appreciate what they have.
As Epictetus put it, if you expect the universe to deliver what you want, you are going to be disappointed, but if you embrace whatever the universe gives, then life will be a whole lot smoother. -The Conversation.
You might have happiness already, without realising. Nothing is absolute and expectations of perfection can only result in disappointment.
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
The quest for happiness might actually mean we become unhappy, constantly searching, always wanting more.
How we define happiness is important; if we see it as total and permanent, we are definitely barking up the wrong tree.
“The more grateful we feel, the happier we become. This is because gratitude helps us realize we are all connected. Nobody feels like an island when feeling grateful. Gratitude awakens us to the truth of our interdependent nature.”
“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
If we look around us and consider our blessings, generally we will find something to feel grateful for.
Embracing what we have, looking at our surroundings and appreciating the detail, gives us a feeling of gratitude that the world has so much beauty.
Gestalt Therapy, with its focus on the here and now, helps us to become acutely aware of ourselves and of our environment.
It encourages us to be sensitive to every sound, smell, taste, touch and feeling, helping us notice aspects we might otherwise miss- the whisper of trees in the wind, soft birdsong, a distant dog barking…. Listen……….
This world around us is a part of our total experience and awareness is seen as healing (Perls).
Happiness is…..Caring for Others.
When we are not focussing on ourselves, or on some happiness quest, we may discover that making others feel better makes us feel good too.
In the service of others, we may glimpse that elusive ‘butterfly’ mentioned in Part 1 of this post.
Turning outwards, forgetting oneself and one’s preoccupations and giving of ourselves to others, may bring supreme satisfaction.
Whether it is at work, volunteering, or in life generally, helping one another has been shown to make people happy.
Research conducted over many years indicates there is a strong link between happiness and relationships. Connection with family and friends, closeness, physically and emotionally, can all contribute to happiness.
There is also evidence that older people tend to be able to let go of past problems better than younger people and focus on their happiness now.
“To Love and To Work”
“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”
Freud’s words imply an important equilibrium between two central aspects of our life. Loving another person has its own rewards and being gainfully occupied and fulfilled again brings satisfaction.
Of course, there are ‘shades of grey’ in both these areas; this is something to aim for.
People have different concepts of what happiness is. What is yours? Do leave your answers in the comments section below.
“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.”
“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”
Laughing, and making others laugh, creates a definite sense of well-being. Laughter connects people; it relaxes them and brings people closer to each other. It is catching!
So is laughter the best medicine? It certainly appears to have health benefits and to make people feel happier.
“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”
The Unexpected Nature of Happiness.
Happiness is real when it is unanticipated, unpredictable. The associated feelings are euphoric and exhilarating; we are transported.
Popular phrases indicate heights of feeling, towering above our usual grounded states. We are described as being on cloud nine, in seventh heaven, on a high, over the moon, flying high, jumping for joy, on top of the world.
Recognise this feeling? Generally, it is fairly brief, an intense whoosh of joy that arrives suddenly, filling us with elation.
“The greatest felicity is perhaps the one that is highly arbitrary, that is neither expected nor calculated, and that falls on us like a gift from heaven, suspends the flow of time, and leaves us disconcerted, ravished, stunned.”
“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.”