Jean –Jacques Rousseau wrote that “Every man wants to be happy, but in order to be so he first needs to understand what happiness is.”
Happiness. Just one word holds so much promise, yet also so much mystery – it’s elusive and intangible. Or is it?
I ponder these things as I am starting a group based around exploring and sharing our happiness – the premise being that each of us in the group will share what uplifts and inspires us but also what blocks our happiness.
This group is inspired by a wonderful book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen had everything she always thought that she needed to be happy – a job she loved, a lovely husband and two beautiful children. Yet, one day, she realised that although she wasn’t depressed, grieving or struggling to come to terms with any kind of trauma, she really wasn’t as happy as she thought she would have been given her circumstances.
Gretchen decided to take a year to look at how happy she was in each part of her life and whether different parts of her life were blocking her happiness. She called this her ‘Happiness Project’. Gretchen went about this methodically – devoting one month to a different area of her life; things such as clutter, her relationships, diet, spirituality and so on. Interestingly, she also spent this year researching into the nature of happiness and used that to inform her happiness project, writing a Happiness Manifesto for herself
I admire and respect Gretchen for writing such a book. However, I intend my happiness group to be much less methodical, to be co-created and evolve with the experiences and input from each person in the group. I am starting a reading list about books that have really inspired and uplifted us; this can be extended out to films and websites, even to happy or inspirational people. Are you interested in contributing to this?
So – what about you? How happy are you? And what – for you – is happiness? Is it a constant focus on the good things in life, or having lots of money? Is it being in a secure, stable, committed loving relationship? Is it being where you want to be professionally – being successful? Although of course, ‘success’ means wildly different things to different people.
Or, is it none of these these things, and something else that you can’t quite put your finger on? Or have you never felt truly happy? Is there something that needs to happen in your life before you can say that you will be happy?
In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the ‘arrival fallacy.’ This is the belief that it is only when X arrives in your life that you will be happy. X could be losing weight, meeting the partner of your dreams, owning your own home, or any number of things. I have heard it so many times in my therapy room, but yet for so many, although X provides a short lived high, this can soon disappear. This is because it’s not really about X. In fact, X is sometimes a way to block out what’s happening in our lives right now in pursuit of some future goal which will magically make everything better. X by itself rarely does.
And, if you do consider yourself to be happy, then how do you know when you are truly happy? What happens differently in your life? How do you behave differently?
I am fascinated by the emerging science of Positive Psychology and by the Law of Attraction – both important phenomena in the area of happiness. On the other hand, I believe that a Pollyanna approach to life where the pursuit of happiness is used to deny uncomfortable and undesirable feelings is the route to lots of things, but not what I call happiness. How can we live in a constant state of happiness? How can happiness exist if we have nothing to measure it against? Reading and pondering on profound and inspiring quotes brings me great pleasure, so, to put it another way: “If you never tasted a bad apple, you would not appreciate a good apple. You have to experience life to understand life.” [Leon Brown]
So – what is happiness for me? Happiness for me is not a constant, it comes and goes, depending on what is happening in my life, and that’s OK. (A younger me struggled with this concept so very much as I longed for the day when X would arrive and then things would be different!)
The core of my happiness in life is the freedom to truly be me, to be able to express who I am in my environment, interests, friendships etc, but also to be able to feel what is going on with me in a way that’s appropriate for me at that time.
It’s also about having gratitude for my life. Several years ago now, when my late husband was dying, we went for a short walk in the wind and drizzle. He turned to me and said words I shall never forget: “What will it be like to never feel the wind on my face again? What will it be like to not feel the rain, or see the trees, or a rainbow, or your beautiful face, or watch [our daughter] grow up?”
I couldn’t answer him. He was an Agnostic. I am not. Nor do I have the definitive answer to what happens when we die. But what I have is the opportunity every day, every single day of my life, to feel the wind and the drizzle on my face. To see the trees and enjoy the majesty of a rainbow; to watch our daughter’s life changing and developing, and experience a whole symphony of emotions (some very difficult) at the privilege of being so involved in her life. All of this has given me so much happiness in my life, as is writing a blog about happiness. Wonderful stuff.
What about you?
With much warmth,