Saturday, September 4, 2010

One of the Big Questions - What is Happiness?

During the first half of my life, I spent a lot of time pondering the large questions, such as "Where did all this come from?" "Why am I here?" "What is the meaning of life?" and "What is happiness?"

As to the first question, I no longer expect an answer. I am content to simply gaze upon the universe in awe and to consider any new information that comes from those who make it their business to study the universe. 

As to the other questions, there are hundreds of answers to choose from, so each individual needs to decide for himself. And by now, I have.

My favorite book on happiness is by a colleague of mine, Marty Seligman, one of the wisest people I've ever met. A former president of the American Psychological Association, he's been called "the father of positive psychology." In his book, Authentic Happiness, he says, "Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting."

I'm sure that's true. But that's a little lofty for me. I like my answers to be something a little more down-to-earth.

An important insight for me is that Happiness isn't something I achieve. There's no journey that moves towards and finally arrives at a state of being called Happiness.

Instead, it's a feeling I sometimes have. At any given moment on any given day, I can feel happy. And I just love it when that happens. I'll take another portion of that, please.

Another important thing I've learned is that what makes me feel happy is when I get something I want or need. It's a feeling of satisfaction or fulfillment. The more good things that happen to me, the happier I feel.

Some other conclusions about happiness:

1. I can make things happen that please me or fulfill me. As the saying goes, "Good days don't just happen, you make them happen."

2. It's up to me to feel pleased or fulfilled. Something good might happen, but I might not appreciate how wonderful it is, which would prevent me from feeling elated about it. I might fail to notice it or I might perceive it as ordinary or negative. In other words, I need the right attitude. What I think about what is happening is crucial.

In my neighborhood in the Texas Hill Country, we have a family of roadrunners, some of the coolest birds in the world. If I see them cross the street, I could appreciate their uniqueness and beauty and it will help make my day. Or I could think ho-hum and just look away.

3. When I'm depressed, which is rare, it's hard to feel happy. When I've suffered a big loss or am dealing with a major crisis, it's as if the scales are tipped on the side of unhappiness. Of course, there's a difference between psychological depression, which passes when the loss or issues are worked out, and chronic depression, which is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters - brain chemicals. For people who suffer from chronic depression, drugs are their only hope. With the right cocktail and a positive attitude, they can make good days happen again.

4. What produces happiness is different with each person. What quacks my duck? Stuff like this...
  • SCUBA diving - being underwater with the fishies.
  • All forms of nature, including rain, clouds, the night sky, birds, etc. The whole bit.
  • Having success in my business.
  • Being with friends and family.
  • The Duke men's basketball winning a game on any given night.
  • Lying in my wife's arms.
  • Eating any food she has cooked for me.
  • Reading a good book and learning something new.
  • Watching a well-made movie that reveals something about life.
  • Being productive - getting a lot of things done in a day.
  • Health - no serious illness, ailment or injury. And the health of the people I care about.
  • A lack of financial problems.
  • Being at home with my wife, my cats and my stuff.
  • Having a good workout at my gym, especially if I get to swim laps.
And probably hundreds of other things. Things that tip the scales to the side of feeling glad, satisfied, and fulfilled.

The bottom line to this is that making a good day happen isn't always so easy. To tip those scales to the positive side, I have to work at it. But I think the door to feeling happy opens wide when I value the good things, when I show up for the miracle and appreciate that it's a miracle when it happens.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


shareandi said...

I love the expression, "show up for the miracle" since I believe the miracle is always there, and...

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