There are many myths that surround happiness. While trying to find happiness seems like a normal pursuit, modern psychology isn’t so sure. According to the prevailing theory, we have accidental bouts of happiness that come and go beyond our control. Further complicating the search for happiness is that there are many myths surrounding it.
One thing that positive psychology as shown us is that happiness is an emotion, and when it comes to any emotion we can’t “get” or “have” them. Instead we are them, or we are being them.
In the previous post I addressed one of the biggest myths that which was mistaking pleasure for happiness and started examining the different myths that surround our pursuit of happiness.
One or the hotly debated question questions around happiness is whether or not you could or should even try to be happy all the time. Some psychologist believe that the best a person can do is to achieve a state of general contentment, not a sustained state of happiness.
I believe that there’s a difference between contentment, flourishing, happiness, and unbridled positivity. Another myth and impossible task for those trying to be happy.
Beware the Insanely Happy
If you’ve ever met anyone who is happy all the time regardless of circumstances or situation, chances are you’ve met a holy person, or more likely, someone who’s insane. These “insanely” happy people are some of the most dysfunctional people that you will ever meet. Suppressing negative emotion is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, it leads to deeper and longer lasting negative emotions and greater emotional dysfunction.
The nature of life is that –it happens. We make mistake, people cross us; very simply put, things go wrong and when they inevitably do, negative emotions are going to arise. Negative emotions are necessary to maintaining a healthy and happy life. Think of them as a pressure release valve.
There are a few tricks to the healthy expression of negative emotions, the first of which is to release them, and not suppress them. The second trick, to be implemented as quickly as possible, is to express them in a healthy and socially acceptable manner, that’s in alignment with your values.
For example one of my most important values is non-violence, so when I get angry with someone, I make it a point not to bash them over the head. That doesn’t mean that, under certain circumstance, I’m not going to wing something across the room in uncontrolled frustration (I’m not sure about the social acceptability of that).
The point is people that attempt the “always be positive” philosophy should be avoided with the same vigor as those who subscribe to the life is a “big pile of crap and then you die” ideology.
One of the reasons for the rise in popularity of obsessive pursuit of happiness comes from the way we’re marketed to. One of the natural “side-affects” of the self-help industry is that because the focus is on helping you feel better about yourself; there’s an implication something wrong with you in the first place.
The other possibility is that we are just lazy, we want something for nothing, and that it should be easy. The truth is that it’s simple but it isn’t easy.
What is Happiness and Where does it come from?
First of all Happiness is subjective, that is personal.
For most of us, finishing a triathlon would make us happier than eating a chocolate cake (even if there’s no way in heck that we’d ever be able to finish a mile around the track never mind a triathlon) or raising a child would make us happier than winning at “World of Warcraft.” Building your own small business with family or friends will make us happier than buying a new iPad.
Yes as I noted, all of three of these circumstances will make us happier and yet all of these activities can at times be exceedingly unpleasant and each require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they’re some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve been through the experiences we look back and get misty-eyed.
It’s these types of activities that add meaning to our lives and connect us to who we truly are-our authentic selves.
It’s not in the finding that brings us happiness; it’s the seeking which fulfills us. The transitory pain and pleasure or the momentary fluctuations of positive and negative emotions are washed over by the larger tide of contentment.
This is the subjectivity of happiness, and why some are happy in war and others are sad at weddings or why some people get excited by their jobs and others hate to party; because they are not in alignment with their personal values.
This is why you can never become happy trying, you have to let go of trying and allow yourself to be happy; and by “letting yourself go,” I mean being true to your deepest personal values.
When you are “trying” the implication is that you are not already being your authentic-self, you are not aligned with the qualities of who you wish to be. After all, if you were already being your authentic-self, then you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.
Just as laughter will burst forth spontaneously when something happen you believe is funny, so too, conditioned happiness rises and falls with situations and circumstances, but the happiness that is unconditioned is in you, it is you; happiness happens when you choose it!
Conditioned happiness is so fleeting that it always feels as if “real happiness” is just around the corner waiting for you to show up. This is why billionaires are no different than the rest of us when it comes to happiness, because no matter where they are in life, there is always that one more thing they need to do to find real lasting happiness.
This desire, this pursuit of our true-selves, the energy that drives us, it is the evolutionary impulse of the universe, called by the ancients “divine discontent.”
It is why we first dream of being a musician and then when we arrive as a musician, we dream of writing a symphony or a film score and then it’s writing a screenplay. What matters to us most isn’t that we achieve success one on level or another, but that we’re consistently moving towards them. The success and failures will come and go, and we’ll continue following our authentic-selves as we move through our lives.
How to we arrive at real happiness? It seems the best advice is also the simplest: Imagine who you want to be and then move in that direction. Dream big and then act. Do something, anything. The simplest act at all will change how you feel and serve to inspire you further.
Dream but let go of the imaginary result; it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off your butt. It’s not important if they come true or not or whether you succeed or not, because there is only “Do. Or do not. There is no try!” when you stop trying to be happy the natural, inevitable result is happiness.