I think there is a general misconception about the state of happiness.
Here in the US, written into one of our founding documents, we find the phrase : “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words have had a profound effect on the psyche of our country. While originally, as the phrasing implies, the word “happiness” meant more the pursuit of wealth and a good situation in life, it’s meaning has morphed as time has passed. Now that many of us take finding a decent situation for granted, the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” has become something less tangible, more of a state of mind than anything else. We should be joyful, we think, it’s our right to feel happy most of the time. We want to follow our bliss, find endless affirmations around us, employ positive thinking to attract what we want in life. After all, “happiness” is our right.
The thing is, life in the world isn’t a streamlined experience. If you expect conditions that are conducive to your happiness to be present all the time, you’re going to be let down. Crappy things can happen out of the blue, “ruining” what may have started out a good day/week/month/year, regardless of the positive thinking you’ve employed. Nature is not predictable, and rarely is thinking things will continue on as they are indefinitely a good long-term strategy. I don’t mean to sound bleak or like a downer. If you look at it scientifically, a static system is a dead system–we’re all meant to exist in a continual dance of finding equilibrium.
In less obvious ways, I think this “pursuit of happiness” can affect the way deal with our health, physical and emotional. Rather than a long hard slog to feeling mostly alright with a few crappy days every now and then, we want our pathological symptoms to go away, the sooner the better. We want to be cured from what ails us, to overcome our flaws and endlessly improve ourselves. Then, maybe, we can start getting down the the business of being happy.
But what if happy is learning to work with those symptoms, of accepting our limitations, and within those confines, appreciating, if not loving, our strengths? What if happiness is that moment we stop trying to be this glowing, radiant magazine cover version of ourselves and reinvest that energy inward to taking a good long look at ourselves and being ok with that, however messy?
I’ve lately started to re-work what I consider to be “happy”. Maybe this is odd, but personally, I’m not a big fan of feeing giddy happiness–it feels too fragile, like sumptuous dessert to be enjoyed only every so often. I much prefer to feel a calm sense of resiliency, the feeling that regardless of what happens, good or bad, I’ll be able to assimilate and adapt as needed. Happiness as an appreciation of inner strength. That way if today happens to be a cruddy day, or if illness befalls me, it becomes less of a catastrophe or set back than something that I can deal with, moment by moment, without feeling like I’ve been pulled away from my previously happy state.
This is a work in progress, an aspiration, but it feels useful. It gives the sense that, bar anything horrible, I’ll be ok, and that’s a good place to be. And the thing is, most of us are already there, if we just let ourselves appreciate that fact. We’ve got this.