Happiness is a Funny Thing, Isn’t it?
Look back on the past week, and see if you can identify a moment in that week when you can say, “there, right there, I was truly and genuinely happy.”
Chances are, if you’ve had a decent week, you could probably find a handful of moments. Especially seeing as how we just had the epicness of the Winter Holiday Season.
But it’s also very possible that this exercise could prove difficult. We might have to really think hard, to try and recall, when was a moment where I was happy? Was I happy this week??
And even if we could come up with a list of, say, half a dozen moments of happiness, we still must then ask the question: okay, then what about the REST of the week? Why wasn’t I happy then?
Why does it seem like our moments of genuine happiness are the exception? They are those moments that stand-out, because they aren’t our norm?
Happiness is a funny thing.
We are Happy When we are Happy
Christine Carter, PhD, is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center. She says this about happiness:
Happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that values performance and achievement.
On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriages.
Happy people also tend to be healthier and live longer… it also turns out that uber-happy people tend to have more friends and be luckier in love.
What is generally agreed upon is this: happiness is preferred to unhappiness.
Happiness is a good thing. If given the choice, the average person would prefer to be happy. We are happy when we are happy.
What is generally not-agreed up on is this: what is it that makes a person happy?
Sure, there are general principles that most people would agree with. For instance, if you are a person of gratitude and appreciation, you’re generally more happy. If you’re content with what you have, you’re generally more happy. If you focus on the positives in life, you’re generally more happy. And so on…
But if it were that simple then bookshelves and online shopping carts wouldn’t be overflowing with self-help books on “How to Find Happiness.”
Happiness is a multi-billion dollar business, when you consider those who are trying to help others become happy and those who themselves are in the pursuit of happiness.
Happiness is a funny thing.
The Way of Love
De Mello was a Jesuit priest and a psychotherapist who wrote and spoke extensively on spirituality, and “The Way of Love” is a collection of some of his finall thoughts on the ultimate questions regarding love.
In one such chapter, De Mello contemplates this idea of happiness. He opens by saying:
Take a look at the world and see the unhappiness around you and in you. Do you know what causes this unhappiness? You will probably say loneliness or oppression or war or hatred or atheism. And you will be wrong. There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. Because of these false beliefs, you see the world and yourself in a distorted way.
A rather bold claim, isn’t it?
That there is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head.
In my more conservative-Christian days, I’d read a sentence like that and presume to know where De Mello was going. I’d assume (and nod my head in agreement) that he is about to suggest the importance of correct doctrine. That we are happy when we believe the right things about God and about Jesus. That we are happy when our doctrine is in good order, when we believe in the deity of Jesus, the literal resurrection, the doctrine of justification by faith, the return of Christ, heaven, hell, etc, etc, etc.
However, thankfully that is not the direction that De Mello goes. And honestly, some of the most unhappy people I know are the ones who are consumed with “getting it right.” With protecting and defending correct-doctrine. But anyways…
He goes on to say that when we look at ourselves and the world around us, and we see the overwhelming imbalance of unhappiness over happiness, then we should be suspicious of the programming and the beliefs that we all hold in common. And yet, the tricky thing is, we have also been programmed not to suspect or doubt these assumptions. Further, if we are unhappy, we’ve been trained to blame ourselves and not our programming, not the cultural and inherited ideas and beliefs.
I think it’s safe to say that, in reality, most people are so brainwashed that they don’t even realize how unhappy they are. “Like the man in a dream who has no idea he is dreaming,” says De Mello.
I’m reminded of The Matrix, and how humans are plugged in to the machine and programmed to assume that the world around them is real when of course it is not. And so it is with the false beliefs in our head, and how they make us unhappy, but how we are programmed not to question the beliefs in the first place.
As you kick off your new year I wonder if you’d pause today just long enough to ask yourself: what is just ONE potential false belief that has been programmed in to my brain, that is blocking me from being happy?
When I look like “this,” I will be happy.
When I am with “him/her,” I will be happy.
When I make just “X” amount more money, I will be happy.
When I acquire that house/car/shirt, I will be happy.
When I get a new job, I will be happy.
When I kick “this” habit, I will be happy.
When I get “him/her” out of my life, I will be happy.
When I have less debt/bills, I will be happy.
And so on.
My wife got us a piece of art a while back, and it hangs in our house. It says, “We tend to seek happiness, when happiness is a choice.”
It isn’t always easy. In fact most of the time it’s hard, and it takes work.
But you can do it. You can start choosing happiness. Like De Mello says,
“There is not a single moment in your life where you do not have everything you need to be happy.”
Happy New Years, everybody.