The pursuit of happiness
I reflect on and sit with the nature of happiness frequently and recently had the topic come up a few times …. I saw a movie about happiness, a TED talk video and also listened to the perspective of a friend on the topic…….all of which made me a bit more curious.
How do we each feel happiness? How do we express it and do we need to express it outwardly? Culture seems to affect the definition or packaging of happiness on some level but does it change the nature of it?
Can we become dependent on certain things in our life for our sense of happiness? Can happiness simply be a constant flow within us marked with highs and lows?
I know that in places like Bhutan they have found a way to assess ‘Gross National Happiness'(GNH) and focus there instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product'(GDP)…..
When I read about GNH this is what I find:
There is no exact quantitative definition of GNH, but elements that seem to contribute to GNH are subject to quantitative measurement. For example, low rates of infant mortality correlate positively with subjective expressions of well-being or happiness within a country.
GNH refers to the concept of a quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The two measures are both motivated by the notion that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption. It is not measured directly, but only the factors which are believed to lead to it.
A second-generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006. The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas including the nation’s mental and emotional health. GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:
Economic Wellness, Environmental Wellness, Physical Wellness, Mental Wellness, Workplace Wellness. Social Wellness, Political Wellness”
I found many other assessments, scales and behavioral models that have been developed in the past couple decades focusing on this perhaps immeasurable thing called ‘happiness’. And what strikes me most is that what we are talking about (and measuring) is incredibly and truly subjective.
Even the critics of measuring GNH state that because GNH depends on a series of subjective judgments about well-being, it is open to much interpretation (and manipulation) as far as results…..not to mention cross-cultural differences.
If you ‘google’ happiness…there are infinite sites containing explanations, thoughts and ideas on this highly sought after subjective sensation. I was amazed and I suppose not totally surprised.
I know that there are endless books written about how to ‘find’ happiness or attain happiness…..as it seems everyone is ‘looking’ for it….or more of it.
I am wondering if our perception of what happiness is has gotten a bit narrowed or confused……it seems that it has become more like something that can be packaged and defined, bought and sold…..or perhaps like the ever dangling carrot on a stick…..
In the Declaration of Independence I find the wording to be fascinating…….
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all ‘men’ are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Why is happiness not stated as being inherent but as something to be ‘pursued’?
Does this offer an indication that we cannot be complacent with our ‘happiness’ and that it is ever evolving, shape-shifting and needing caring attention? Or were the authors of this document going with the ‘grab the bull by the horns’ mentality of you have to ‘earn’ your happiness……nothing is free.
Or have people always been trying to attain a sense of happiness and that is why they are being reminded they have the right to pursue it?
Here are some definitions I found online……
Happiness is an adjective….so it describes……
1. State of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
2. Being especially well-adapted; felicitous: a happy turn of phrase.
3. Cheerful; willing:
4. Having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction .
5. Feeling pleasure or contentment.
When I read things like ‘contentment’, ‘pleasure’, ‘joy’, ‘satisfaction’……even ‘happiness’…….these are things I find to be very subjective and personal. We might find things in common for sure….but our experience of them cannot truly be compared.
I believe ‘happiness’ is in fact free and, most often, already inherent in our design. I think the confusion for most of us has been how we have come to define and idealize ‘happiness’ (it is almost seen as a ‘cure-all’…..and an ‘if only I had it’ reassurance). There seems to be a defined idea of how it should look and feel across the board….and I don’t think that is how it actually comes to exist for many of us….especially in our diverse biology and culture.
I know that I personally needed to rewire and reframe what ‘happiness’ was as the ‘pursuit’ of the ideal was making me miserable.
I needed to realize that ‘happiness’ was right now…this moment…even if I was agitated, frustrated or sad. That my happiness was not at the expense of the other emotions of living a human life and vice versa. That it never went away even when a different emotion was exerting itself within me. Even when I am feeling sadness or challenge, which ebb and flow in their same beautiful ways as happiness, it doesn’t defeat or replace my happiness. It is not ever a question of ‘either/or’ for me…..they coexist and are a part of this complex matrix of being alive and being human.
I learned that my happiness was part of each and every bit of all things I feel and was inseparable. And I could experience it in so many nuanced ways and express it outwardly in just as many different ways (from effusive joy to contemplative wonder….from ecstatic bouncy-ness to mundane contentment). It didn’t matter what it looked like on the outside…..only that I was able to bring awareness to the presence of it….that it was woven throughout my days.
Some random examples…..
Happiness is in the birth and the farewells of my goat friends, it is in the wonderment I feel when I sit with my black and white photography, it is when I prepare vegetables, it is watching dust specks in the sunlight, it is in how the Kung Fu master beetle walks on the wall, it is in the crying child at the grocery store, it is every random connective moment I share with a stranger, it is sitting on a back porch quietly with a friend, it is in my discerning opinions about the political system, it is the rabbit hole of humanity in which I dive, it is in making hot water in the morning, in the laughter and tears with my sweetie……all these every day moments are my happiness. And sometimes they become more gushing moments like when I am adventuring with Asa, surfing in the ocean, frolicking with Lark or having found myself with a magical group of playful people and we can bounce and pounce and sweat in a physical whirlwind……
but as much as I enjoy these ‘highlights’ (so to speak) they don’t take away from the happiness that breathes within me as a constant ebb and flow……the happiness and gratification that is being alive in this wondrous world……even when I might feel a discontent with my geography, daily presence of playmates etc……I am grateful that this happiness I feel is steady and reliable. It is my lighthouse in any storm, the pillar in my temple.
Happiness for me is a personal dance and intuition……a place of observing when my cells expand or contract. It is not a goal or focus….but a way of simply allowing……’being’. And it looks and feels (internally) so different for each and every one of us….it is brilliant like that. It is a personal, subjective and continuous unfolding that quite possibly might feel different than anything we have imagined.
In the same way I needed to reframe and open to Love and loving myself…..I discovered a constant friend when I allowed my experience of happiness to expand…..to let go of definitions and a desire for it to look a certain ‘way'(or for me to behave a certain ‘way’)…..the truth is that when I stop thinking how things ‘should’ be…..I realize I am living happiness every moment.
I will finish with this quote……not sure who wrote it…..
For me….. you can insert any quality in there…..’love’, ‘happiness’…….?……
“Love is there if you want it
you just have to see it’s wrapped in beauty
hidden away between the seconds of your life.
If you don’t stop for a minute, you might miss it’
Thanks for visiting……