Should we even seek happiness?

Q. ‘Who wants to be a grinning idiot with no real substance?’
Being happy is not about being a grinning idiot. Happy people still suffer; they still feel all the dark emotions – hurt, anger, fear, sadness . . . They just aren’t shattered by them. And when you are not shattered by your emotions, you can grow.

Q. ‘Isn’t suffering supposed to make us happy, in some bizarre way?’
Many people have suffered and become twisted and bitter. It’s not the suffering which helps us grow, it’s how we deal with our suffering.

Q. ‘If I become happy I will become content and lose my passion and motivation. My chance to excel in life will dissipate like smoke in the wind.’
On the contrary, with a strong core happiness you won’t have a chance to live a bland, passionless existence. Instead, you will be taking risks and extending your boundaries, because you will know that whatever happens, you will handle it. With a strong core happiness you will be more productive. Happiness is not about contentment. Contentment is for cows.

Q. ‘There is a German proverb: ‘Happiness is a butterfly. Chase it and it eludes you. Sit down quietly and it will alight on your shoulder.’
That proverb is right in one way: if we try to be happy we will fail. However, I’m not suggesting that we try to be happy. I am suggesting we build ourselves a resilient person. As a result, we will become happy.

Q. ‘Why shouldn’t we try to be happy?’
What does it mean to ‘try to be happy’? To ignore our dark feelings and pretend they aren’t there? To replace our dark feelings with ‘happy thoughts’, and a happy disposition? No. We can’t simply flick a switch and be happy.
  Instead of trying to manufacture an emotion we don’t have – happiness – we need to deal with the dark emotions we do have. Those dark emotions are there for a reason, and when we get good at responding to them we gain the feeling that we can handle life. That’s when core happiness comes. If a well-meaning person tells you, ‘try to be happy’, dismiss the advice.
Q. ‘Can we can aim to be happy?’
We can aim to engage in behaviours that will satisfy our innate needs. By doing so, we will become resilient and add to our core happiness.

Q. Even if we can seek happiness, should we? The book, ‘Against Happiness’ by Eric G. Wilson. Eric points out that unhappiness has prompted wonderful art and stirring music. Eric fears that we might become bland without these ‘agitations of the soul’. Doesn’t he have a point? Don’t we need the agitations of the soul to create things like music or poetry?’
A happy person will still have the agitations of the soul. There will always be something inside each and every one of us that niggles. Being happy will not kill that; instead it will give you the freedom and confidence to express those agitations. A musician might in dark times compose music so beautiful it feeds the listener’s soul, but that does not mean the musician can’t enjoy the better times. When we have a strong core happiness we can deal with the dark times, and what better way to deal with them than to express them in music, or in poetry, or in what drives you?

Q. Isn’t searching for happiness twee? Surely we have more important things to focus on? Such as living life?
I’m not suggesting the aim of life is to be happy and that we should focus on that. Life is to be lived; happiness is merely the lubricant to make it worth living.

Q. What if our happiness is in our genes? Wouldn’t that mean happiness is out of our hands?
Your genes play only a part. Someone born with ‘glum’ genes can still become happier if they cease undermining their core happiness and become resilient. So can a cheery person.
  I’m not suggesting we can raise our level of core happiness above our natural level, but we can make sure it’s at the level it should be.

In summary: being happy is not about becoming a grinning idiot. It’s not about contentment, or suffering, or not suffering. It’s not about keeping yourself well back from the abyss. It’s about approaching the abyss, and peering deep down into it, so that although our very soul may shiver we will know, on a deep and fundamental level, that we will not succumb. It’s that confidence, that knowledge that we can handle what happens in life, that allows our anxiety to evaporate, and core happiness to rise in its place.

‘Only through recognising my happiness did I really appreciate it.’
Gretchen Rubin.

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2 Responses to Should we even seek happiness?

  1. Yusuf Muraben says:

    Two links

    A long running Harvard study on happiness:

    Daniel Kahneman – the riddle of experience v memory

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Thank you for the links!
      Yes, in one of my pages I state that connection is important, and briefly explain why we evolved to need it. However, I disagree with the idea that close relationships are necessary for that connection. Yes, the study found a correlation between close relationships and healthy ageing; however, it is feasible that the people who were able to have strong, close relationships also had a strong emotional intelligence, because a person would need emotional intelligence if they are to have long-term happy relationships. And, if they have a strong emotional intelligence they are likely to make other wise decisions in their life, such as in their diet, career and exercise regime. Having a strong emotional intelligence would help them to become healthy octogenarians. Having poor emotional health would lead a person to undermining their physical and mental health. So, I suspect close relationships correlate well with healthy ageing, but don’t cause them. I am more inclined to the idea that we do need connection, as the article suggests, but we don’t need close relationships to get that connection. I claim we can also satisfy our need for connection in the way we relate with the people we meet in day-to-day life. I claim that close relationships are the five-star way to get the connection we need, but they are not the only way. I write about this in one of the myths I examine.
      With regards to the interesting talk by Daniel, thank you for that too. He makes some interesting points. As it happens, I do not focus on our experiencing self or our remembering self, or on life satisfaction; rather, I focus on how we feel about life when nothing in particular is happening. No experiences, no memories, no reflection . . . I call it ‘core happiness’.

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