We seem to live in a culture which seems determined to find out what happiness is and why we don’t have it. It is clearly because we have our basic necessities taken care of and live without fear of imminent death on a daily basis. For most of human history our ancestors had no need to ponder the meaning of happiness– just staying alive from one day to the next was enough of a challenge. Who had time to worry about being happy?
There has been much written in pop culture and pop psychology about the desirability of being happy. True so-called happy people seem to live longer, healthier lives. But it seems that to a considerable extent we all have a genetic predisposition for a certain degree of it. And certainly there are those life experiences which impact our perception of our own state of happiness. Yet happiness is more than an emotion such as joy. It is more likely a state of contentment and, as such, is a state of mind.
And yet we all know that life is filled with trials and tribulations. Adversity and negativity should not be regarded as failure in anyway. Accepting that anger, sadness, disappointment and frustration are normal reactions to living is key. Learning to tolerate them, learning from them and moving on is a valuable skill. Sadness when appropriate is just that– appropriate.
When sadness, frustration and anger outlive their usefulness ( motivating us to fix what is broken) but become a chronic state of mind it is time to seek a change. That is when we need to realize that we have the ability to change the way we think about our lives and the situations in which we find ourself. We can be active participants in creating our mind set and not merely passive recipients. It is our ultimate statement of free will.
The Serenity Prayer speaks volumes when it reminds us to accept what we cannot change after we have tried our best to change what we can. This acceptance is akin to the Buddhist notion of nonattachment. It is not the same as not caring or not feeling. But it is a position of wisdom.
Yet happiness can not be found sitting on a beach, by isolating ourself from negativity and by avoiding life’s challenges. We need to continuously challenge ourselves in many ways. Curiosity, learning, meeting new people, having new experiences and overcoming adversity all give us a sense of growth and achievement.
We don’t find happiness by seeking it directly– it is a pleasant byproduct of living life to its fullest and accepting the bad with the good.