Happiness and Contentment

In a book I’m reading, a character described herself as happy but not contented or satisfied. Can you be happy if you’re not content? I thought happiness and contentment were pretty much the same though, though some people equate happiness with a more robust feeling than contentment, sort of like an inner effervescence that bubbles outwardly to affect those around them.

But then, what do I know. I say I’m happy, but what I really am is at peace, contented, grateful, accepting of my life. Anything more than that, at least to me, seems to be overkill. People make a lot of effort to be happy, though happiness was never my goal in life. I was more interested in reading, learning, trying to lead a meaningful life. I do enjoy the moments of effervescence, though there’s always a letdown afterward, but I don’t live for them.

Unless I’m wrong about what happiness is?

(A pause here while I look up “happiness” in an online dictionary.)

Well, that sure was productive! According to the definition I found, happiness is the state of being happy. Sheesh. So I looked up “happy.” “Happy” is defined as an enjoyable or satisfied state of being.

Now, of course, I’m more confused. Or maybe the author of that book was. Unless by “happy” the author meant being problem-free, able to get or to do whatever one wants? The character certainly had that, at least up to the point where she was killed, ostensibly for being too happy.

I don’t suppose it really matters what happiness is, how it is defined, if we pursue it or wait until it finds us. It’s something each of us knows we have.

Actually, no. That’s not true. Studies have shown that happiness is found mainly in retrospect. When someone is involved in a challenging situation that takes all their time and energy, they don’t realize until later they were happy. In fact, often while going through this “happy” situation, people think they are decidedly unhappy.

So what does it all mean? Who knows. I don’t, and that author sure didn’t. Maybe you do?

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

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There Are Worse Things Than Not Being Happy

The other day I saw a quote on Facebook: Just because I am laughing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy. Just because I’m smiling, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry. I just believe in not emphasizing the negative.

There are worse things than not being happy — living a lie, for example. According to a team of researchers led by Iris Mauss at the University of Denver, “Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms.”

In other words, living a lie and pretending to be happy is exhausting and stressful and can make you even more unhappy.

Other studies have shown that we are seldom happy in the present. We are happy in retrospect. Think of some of the happy times in your life. Back then, were you aware you were happy? Chances are, you were involved in living and didn’t bother to stop to think how you were feeling. Happiness is elusive. If we go chasing it, we don’t always find it. If we stop chasing it, happiness often finds us. And even if happiness doesn’t find us, being unhappy is not necessary emphasizing the negative.

When my life mate/soul mate died, I had no intention of sharing my unhappiness here on this blog. I’d intended to keep it private, but I became so frustrated with writers whose characters blithely went on with life despite devastating losses, that I figured someone ought to tell the truth about how it feels to lose the one person who connects you to life. Because of my grief writing, I gained support, friends, and a mission — to tell people that it is okay to grieve, that it is important to grieve, and that they will survive. If I had kept my grief to myself and pretended everything was okay in my life, I would have missed out on these positive results, and in the end, I would have been even more unhappy.

It has also been a blessing to be able to reach out to other bereft. Grief is so isolating that it brings comfort to know that others have felt this same sort of all-encompassing loss, and the only way to do that is to be vulnerable and show the hurt. This is not being negative. It is being realistic.

Being realistic sometimes seems pessimistic, sometimes optimistic, but it is neither. It’s seeing the truth of the matter. A pessimist magnifies the negative side of the truth, and the optimist magnifies the positive side, but neither are being realistic. Nor does being realistic adversely affect the outcome of a situation, because a realist knows that no matter how bleak the future looks, there is always a possibility that things will work out.

There is a chance that I will find happiness in the future or it will find me, and if not, well . . . at least I won’t have the stress of living a lie.