From GetRealPhilippines: Is happiness overrated?

What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you happy?

I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that happiness was the correct emotion. Apparently one always needs to be “on the go”, thinking “positive” thoughts, and applying a carefree attitude towards the future. I know people like that. A lot of them are bums today.

happiness_overratedThe pursuit of “happiness” ironically is what creates a lot of angst. When you are actively pursuing happiness (perhaps following the advise of the happiness consultants who come up with all the happiness criteria we see being shared around), you are always measuring and evaluating how happy you are. That, in turn, is what further highlights the gap between what you define as what is to be happy and unhappy about in your own life — even where none such gap actually exists.

The thing with consultants and coaches is that they are good at reducing abstract notions into algorithmic or formulaic “frameworks” (which make it easier to package their advise into self-help books and training programs). Happiness is really a subjective state. But thanks to all of these “7-step” guides and bullet-pointed checklists that make our concept of happiness more akin to a one-point goal, many of us have lost the plot. Really, though, happiness is an emotional zone that we flit in and out of as we journey through life.

Happiness was, of course, always destined to be made out to be a be-all-end-all goal of life. That’s because happiness feels good. I’d take happiness over sadness anytime. The trouble started, however, when all stories fed to us as kids ended with the characters necessarily living “happily ever after”. Worse, these stories are very specific about what that term means. It means finding your prince charming or beautiful blonde princess and spending the rest of your days in a palace in the midst of an eternal spring.

In the film The Avengers, Dr. David Bruce Banner let on to his team the secret of how he is able to control the Hulk in him. “I’m always angry,” he says with a wink before joining the fight. There is something to learn from the point Dr. Banner makes. In his reality or circumstance, he needed to apply a unique solution that works for him. The key point here is that people are different and, as such, different emotional cocktails work for each of us.

In my personal case, I am happiest writing. But happy thoughts are not what fuel my writing. It is an old call to action issued by an esteemed former colleague that is a source of the messages in what I write. Let your annoyance be your writing mojo.

In that sense, perhaps we can go as far as exploring the possibility that happiness achieves nothing. To be happy means that there is nothing broken to fix. But, really, there is always room for improvement. Always a dark corner of the world to explore. Always a new idea to develop. Always a bugbear to relieve. Always an itch to scratch. There is a reason many of the greatest stories ever told are set in big noisy bustling cities like New York and London, even Manila. Because there is a lot in the hardship of living with lots of challenges and people in your face that builds character than in living on a beach.

I’d suggest that the better alternative goal to happiness is mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings and the people you interact with. Live through each day consciously rather than on autopilot. That way life does not simply pass us by and we find more of the nuggets of experiences that then become the stuff of journeys out of which a meaningful life is led.

If you need a “coach” to be happy or follow a 7-step “process” to find meaning in your life, chances are you never will be nor ever find it respectively.


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