As several people commented on Monday's post, In Pursuit of Happiness, the discussion was enlightening. Compared with many websites (including most major newspapers where trolls disrupt any coherence), TGB attracts thoughtful, engaged people and for that, I am grateful to you all. It makes me – ahem - happy.
Since Monday, I have spent a couple of hours in a cursory trip or two around the web to see what others say and apparently there is a large industry built around happiness and how to achieve it. Thousands of books. Tens of thousands of websites. Research studies. At least one happiness test. And god help me, happiness coaches. Most are eager to part us from our money which would enhance their happiness, I'm sure, if not their clients'.
One useful result I found is that according to several research scientists, people generally become happier as they get older, but we already knew that from Marcia Mayo on Monday. (You can read about some of these studies at the Washington Post.)
There were so many wise and thought-provoking responses on Monday that I'd like to continue today with a kind of summary and see where that gets us.
Semantics plays large part in our definitions of happiness. Comments mentioned contentment, pleasure, being at peace within, love, respect, purpose, being at one with the universe and gratitude, among some others. As Faye noted, this happiness stuff is both simple and complicated.
There are two comments I disagree with – which doesn't make them uninteresting.
Ian sees pleasure as transitory and happiness as “deeper.” For me, it's the other way around and that is definitely personal semantics. For today, let's go with “happiness” as a shorthand for what we're all trying to get at.
Gabby Geezer says that happiness “can only be bestowed from the outside” and that he is happy when respected by others.
If I had to depend on the respect of other people for my happiness, I surely would be miserable. I believe I am responsible for my contentment, happiness or lack of it. It comes from within me, in the choices I make and my responses to living. I am certain that even if there were no others in my life - if, for example, I lived as a hermit on a mountain top, I could be happy.
Helen made an important point – that without financial stability, happiness is not possible.
”It's easier to smile when the bills are paid; to laugh when there is food in the cupboard, to sleep peacefully in a warm/cool house.”
I know from my own experience that during periods of unemployment when more money was going out than in and debt grew alarmingly, unhappiness – and fear - filled my days. Nothing was enjoyable and sleep was my only respite.
Although Mage Bailey is content, she said a new orthopedist and new teeth would make her ecstatic. Yes, pain can definitely render moot the idea of happiness.
Rain, Peg, Cile, wisewomanweb and some others gave us some variations on a theme: that happiness is found in noticing and appreciating the small, unobserved moments; loving everyday things; reveling, for example, in a full moon; and that perhaps these are joyful because they are brief.
Gail asked specifically about my statement that I am able to differentiate between personal circumstance and events in the world at large that can detract from her happiness.
It is probably of no help at all, but I spent many years covering and writing about terrible events in the news and it would not be possible to get the job done if you are overwhelmed by the tragedy. You distance yourself. It's not dissimilar to my simultaneous feelings of pride and grief when my mother died.
And finally, because you may have missed it, I want to mention a summary Clarence left on that blog post yesterday.
“I may not be able to define happiness but I'm so thankful I can recognize it when it happens. In my mind, we pursue happiness until we pause for a time and allow it to catch up with us...”
Let me admit that I wrote that story on happiness because I was pressed for time and it seemed easy enough to do. After all your comments, I feel differently; it's complex and it's worthy of close attention because if we take the time to identify what give us pleasure – happiness, contentment, etc. - we are more likely to, in Clarence's words, “allow it to catch up with us.”
Thank you all for your terrific input.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: A Close Shave