Happiness – The Search for a Quick Fix

What is Happiness

The Search for a Quick Fix

What is happiness? What is true happiness?  Our society is obsessed with questions about happiness – what it is and how to acquire it – such that we found ourselves on a ubiquitous search for a panacea – a quick fix that will sprinkle a happy potion over our collective senses and enable us to live happily ever  after.  Lest we should forget, we are bombarded with reminders to be happy on all occasions – happy birthday, happy anniversary, happy new year, happy Mother’s/Father’s Day, happy Easter, happy holidays – the list is endless. As if that isn’t enough – in the never-ending quest for a happy society – magazines offer an ongoing plethora of opinions and articles, such as: “Can Money Buy Happiness?” … “The Key to Happiness” … “How to be Happy All the Time”.. “The “Secret of Happiness” .. “How to Keep Your Man [Woman] Happy” or the ever popular “Happiness Quiz”.

If only it was that easy! Are we any happier today than we were 20, 30 or 40 years ago? I don’t believe so. In fact we are facing more stress than ever, due in part to the fact that computers have replaced people in the workplace, and in part to the social isolation that technology has left in its wake. We don’t even go out to buy these wonderful happy-everything greetings cards – we send e-cards! Worse still, we send out mass mailings at Christmas time, rather than take the time to send individual messages! Having lost so much of our connectedness, how can we be happy? Are there people who are happy – even in the face of hardship or stress? It is both undeniable and intriguing that there are people whose ‘default state’ seems to be one of exuberance and joyfulness … people who seem to be happy most of the time. But how?

The ‘Happy Gene’

In my opinion there is only one explanation: There are some who enter the world with the ‘happy gene’ clasped in the palm of their little hands … people who have an innate capacity to be happy … to be resilient … to always view the glass is half full. How do I know this? Because I happen to be one of those extremely fortunate people. This is not to say that I haven’t experienced struggle. Now in my mid 60s, I’ve faced a litany of adversities and losses – from immigration (three times) to divorce (o the tragic illness and death of my beloved four-year-old granddaughter. Add to that a couple of chronic conditions – Parkinson’s, Diabetes and Tourette’s – to name three out of an assortment with which I live. With each crisis I have grieved, and sometimes struggled through a period of depression. But time – and sometimes outside help – propelled me forward, enabling me to regain my equilibrium and feel happy again.

 What is Happiness

I am told that I am strong … that I have a good attitude … that I focus on the positive … that I have courage and resilience. But the truth is that joy and optimism come easily to me. I don’t work at being joyful – it just happens. So – whereas it would be nice to take credit for having a positive attitude, I don’t believe that is true. I believe that the ‘happy gene’ was handed to me on a silver platter. And when I struggle with the deficits imposed by my health issues, I give voice to my frustrations – with the occasional temper tantrum, for there is much that is no longer within my grasp. And then – like a wet dog shaking off the excess water after a swim – I shake off the self-pity and move on. I do not have time to waste – I have too much living to do.

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns. I am grateful that thorns have roses” – Alphonse Kerr

The Nature-Nurture Debate

The nature-nurture debate suggests that perhaps the state of happiness is about more than simply inheriting the happy gene … that happiness can be learned. If that is true, then perhaps – over the years as I faced various challenges – I developed and learned coping strategies. And if that is true, how and when did I do that? There are a couple of theories that might shed light on those questions: First – it is believed – and I agree – that positive people attract positive experiences, thus creating a snowball effect, as happy feelings are enhanced. Conversely, people who radiate negativity seem to attract one crisis after another.

 “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone” – lla Wheller Wilcox

Second – the Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (whose name I won’t even try to pronounce!)  has carried out studies to better understand happiness. He observed that the state of happiness occurs when people are completely immersed in an activity in which time loses all meaning – an activity that is at once challenging and rewarding. He calls this being ‘in flow’ (See  his lecture on ‘Ted Talks’  below)

Well – that is me when I write. It’s me when I do my woodcarving.  It’s me taking photographs and editing them. And it’s me when I listen to music.

This begs the question: What if I didn’t have an array of interests and hobbies that absorb my full attention? Would I still feel happy? I believe that the answer is yes. Because I feel happy – make that joyful – when I am surrounded by nature’s beauty … when I see mountains, oceans, animals or birds …when the sun is shining … when the grass is green, .. when the snow is fresh and white … when I enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of my home … when I discover something I didn’t know before. I believe that I am simply a card carrying, longstanding member of The Happy People Club. Do I sound like Pollyanna? Perhaps. But this Swedish proverb illustrates with absolute simplicity what happy people in the world know instinctively:

“Those who wish to sing, always find a song”

 What is Happiness

See  About Adele Gould

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  on “Ted Talks”

Posted on August 20, 2013 by Adele Gould
In: Reflections, Uncategorized
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