The Matter Of Being Happy or Not Happy
Sometimes I feel embarrassed at not being sufficiently happy. The other day a friend sent me an article written by someone who described how he had attained happiness. He had some good ideas like keeping a gratitude journal every day. He spoke about how this had improved his mood. However, I also felt told off by his rather forceful style of writing, for not feeling happy enough and almost bullied into doing certain things to make me happy. There was no permission given for any states of sadness!
When I first began writing this blog, I felt self-conscious that people would think I was overly melancholic because of the topics I discuss. I am certainly not part of the ‘let’s be positive brigade’! However I have had many heartfelt responses from those who relate to what I write, so I feel bolder now, knowing that my words do resonate with some.
Glennon Doyle in her recently published memoir “Love Warrior” has this to say “Being human in a world with no tolerance for humanity felt like a setup, a game I couldn’t win. But instead of understanding that there might be something wrong with the world, I decided there was something wrong with me. I made a hypothesis about myself: I am damaged and broken. I should be shiny and happy and perfect, and since I’m not, I should never expose myself.”
A documentary is currently on in Australia called Man Up about Aussie blokes. Four to five men a day are killing themselves in Australia as well as a high rate of suicide by teenage boys. Steve Biddulph, an Australian author and psychologist, who has written about men and boys calls these shocking statistics “death from loneliness”. Quite simply, men and boys are killing themselves because they feel unable to talk to anyone about what is going on inside of them.
Martin Seligman is credited as the father of Positive Psychology and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. He concludes that the three dimensions of happiness can be cultivated. These are a Pleasant Life, the Good Life and the Meaningful Life. The Pleasant Life is about doing activities that produce good feelings such as socialising with friends, wining and dining etc. The Good Life is about ‘being in the zone’ with an interest that we are passionate about such as gardening, playing chess, music or as in my case, writing. The Meaningful Life is about being involved in something bigger than ourselves such as volunteer work, a career or a project that helps others in some way. He states that those that only live the Pleasant Life rate low on the happiness scale. Those that live the Good Life are higher on the scale, and those that live the Meaningful Life are the highest in the happiness stakes. Those that live both the Good Life and the Meaningful Life have the best chance of being happy. If you can cultivate all three according to Seligman and the evidence-based research by the Positive Psychology Institute, then you’re doing very well on the happiness scale.
In my clinical work as a psychotherapist, I work with many people who struggle with depression and anxiety. Sometimes they expect that once they are no longer clinically depressed, they will feel happy and enjoy contentment. Of course, it is a tremendous relief not to be struggling in the black hole of despairing depression, and there is some feeling of peace to that. However, it is also crucial to understand that ordinary, everyday life contains numerous difficulties that are not conducive to feelings of happiness. Good feelings that we call happiness come and they go. One of my favourite quotes describing this is by New Zealand author Owen Marshall in his book Diseases of the Strong
“When he was young he thought that eventually you reached some plateau of internal comfort in your life, with apprehension and confusion quite resolved, but he’d come to understand that all was a dancing flux of delight and agony, boredom and transformation and that you needed to hold hands with those close to you, or be quite swept away.”
I especially like his words about holding “…hands with those close to you or be quite swept away.”
I was out and about the other evening and sitting with a friend at a bar in the city. We had been to see the musical We Will Rock You. This was very conducive to ‘feel good’ feelings, with all of that wonderful Queen music!
I wrote the following poem.
Pondering on Being Happy or not Happy
The question of happiness?
This bothers me, always has.
My father said to me once,
I just want you to be happy
as if it was something easy to attain.
I was talking to my friend
over wine at a bar.
I said to her,
what would it be like to research this bar
overlooking the Yarra River
and ask people if they are happy.
We giggled at the thought.
They might look happy on the outside
but are they happy on the inside
and would they say if they weren’t?
I continue to wrestle with my dilemma.
Should I be feeling happier than I am?
Maybe it’s ok not to know
and just drink wine with my friend
at the bar overlooking the Yarra River
on a warm balmy evening in Melbourne.
And if necessary I will also hold her hand.