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More Happy Talk

category_bug_journal2.gif 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


Comments

Thank you too. It was wonderful to see how some of the ideas that you and I passed back and forth, were so kindly held by others and prompted them to make even more interesting comments. It is your readers and commentors that make your blog unique. That is, on top of the wonderful posts you write!

My extremely brainy and educated partner teaches ethics to college students. Yes, in addition to being something we suspect politicians of not possessing, "ethics" is an academic discipline.

And in the western tradition, the father of ethics is Aristotle. He taught that the aim of human existence was happiness -- eudaimonia. We achieve this happiness when we experience a conjunction of right circumstances (we have enough money; we are not slaves, etc.) and through acquiring the habit of good character, moral excellence. This is associated with maturing, sometimes aging.

As I read over Ronni's summary, I couldn't help thinking that collectively we'd replicated much of Aristotle's understanding of the human condition. This says to me that we are either descendants of his culture -- or that he understood our species very deeply a long time ago.

No thing can make me happy and no one can make me angry, unless I am already happy or angry and the thing focusses my happiness (e.g. a baby's smile or a song) or my anger ( posturing politician).
All of our significant emotions arise from inside of us (Facebook and Twitter notwithstanding)
I learned a long time ago, that as much as I tried I could never make others happy unless they wanted to be.

The search for happiness, like the search for god begins and ends inside of us.

Sometimes I suspect I'm much happier than I think I am. My thoughts sometimes tend to run along grim, critical channels, and then I'll run into a stranger and break into a big smile and a warm conversation. That happy eruption comes from some true place within me, I think.

Funny: One of the things I miss, being older, is PMS. I used to enjoy moments of transcendent joy just before I got my period.

Happiness? There's no App for that!

I was heavily influenced in college years ago by the psychology of Abraham Maslow, whose "peak experiences" and the human need for"self-actualization" seem to borrow a little from Aristotle and also require that more basic needs must be met before the individual can pursue the higher needs.

Note that the word "pursue" is an active verb. Happiness is not something that just happens to people. One must DO something in order to be happy. The trick of course is to find what it is that one must do. Sometimes that takes a lifetime.

What we do have some active control over is how we view the world (both at large and what constitutes our lives up close). I believe an optimistic outlook is crucial to happiness and that while some people are, by nature, more optimistic than others, optimism can be learned.

In other words looking for something positive even in the direst of circumstances. I'm not sure how people grow as human beings without this. Modern writers who have addressed this are Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmehalyi (yes that is really his name!)

Ronni
I was just over to my profile page on Vote IQ and found a request by "Jim" there. If the following link works and takes you to my page as I believe it should, then please read and consider Jim's request. It may be more trouble than it's worth to you. I don't know why he can't follow your blog the same way the rest of us do.
http://www.voteiq.com/citizen/profile/C.A.BowlesSr.

Writing anything that no one reads and comments on does little for a writer's happiness or lack thereof.

Ronni, I seriously doubt that the many readers of your posts who express respect for you by commenting favorably on your opinions and those who show they care about you by offering support through trying times in your life do not make you happy.

If you were not getting those warm fuzzys (which you deserve, incidentally) you would have dropped this blog project long ago. Negative comments would have made you unhappy, and you would have stopped the bleeding even sooner.

People can't make themselves happy merely by sitting in solitary confinement and saying they are.

Gabby Geezer...

As I indicated in my post, your idea of happiness is valid for you. I happen to disagree - for me - so don't assume, and please respect my (and those of anyone who posts to this blog) convictions. It is impossible for you to know what would cause me to quit or continue this blog, and what my social needs are.

However, you have given me an idea for a future blog post.

Happiness in this moment would include my being able to pronounce "Csikszentmehalyi". Thanks for your continuing inspiration, Ronni.

Cile, I found typing it hard enough! I have no idea how to pronounce it!

That was great and both of your posts apropos for now when we need to recognize happiness in our lives when it's there and especially not wallow in what we cannot change.

The idea of happiness is always relative. When I was younger, I expected too much.

Age has taught me how to change the context of a situation which in the past may have caused me a great deal of angst.

Now my knowledge that I can choose to dial up the joy in my heart is my happiness.

Paula

What a nice way to put it. And thanks for stopping by.

Quite often when I comment I write the first thing that pops into my head. A discussion on a seious topic reguires more thought.

I wrote that happiness has never been defined but that I would know it when I felt it. Today's blog caused me to delve deeper into the subject. I do believe that semantics plays a great part in the definition of happiness. If you are not unhappy does that automatically mean that you are happy? Or is there something in between that I label contentment. My life is satisfactory, I can pay my bills, I have a comfortable and pleansant home and life is good. Does that mean I am happy and not just contented? Or are the sudden bursts of elation when I receive good news, or hear from one of my children, or see a beautiful sunset the emotion we call happiness? That has always been my definition of happiness. Something beyond a feelng of all's right with the world.

I suppose it comes down to asking, What would make you happy? If I have all that I desire then I assume I am happy.

I'm a fan of the poet Jane Kenyon, who suffered from severe bouts of depression during her life. I love these first lines of her poem titled Happiness.

"There's just no accounting for happiness/or the way it turns up like a prodigal/who comes back to the dust at your feet/having squandered a fortune far away."

Have been enjoying this conversation. I've given up the pursuit of happiness and now I just enjoy it when it arrives, which seems to be much more often than when I was younger.

Ronni

Ouch! Thanks for the civil discourse.

Living with a clinically depressed partner for many years, I have learned to remove myself from his dark days and find a place of contentment. I have observed and lived with, perhaps the ultimate opposite of whatever happy means.....contentment is my word.

As often happens, reading Ronni's blog inspires me to write in my own. I think I'm the only person reading my blog, but here's the link if you want to read my thoughts:
http://thedasslerdiaries.blogspot.com/2010/11/are-you-happy.html

Seems to me that trying to define happiness is like trying to catch the wind.

But it's such fun trying.

I am relieved, content, and HAPPY to be retired!

@ Peg & Cile: I attended a wonderful workshop with Mihaly Csikszentmehalyi about 12 years ago and the first thing he did, after he was introduced, was to tell us all how to pronounce his name: "Chick sent me high" - an unforgettable mnemonic, I thought!

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