Who is Responsible for My Happiness?


you-are-responsible-for-your-own-happiness

People living with perpetual problems and continually escalating distress in life are often left with empty feelings of hopelessness robbing them of the energy to achieve personal happiness.  Consequently, many people may be wondering,  ”How will I ever find happiness”? 

Understanding what really makes a person unhappy is probably not what people want to talk about when there life is filled with hoplessness and despair. Indeed, for most of us  the underlying factors linked to unhappiness are the matters of  real concern, contributing to the level of dissatisfaction felt about the way life experience appears to be at the moment. Therefore, when  we are unhappy, the focus of our attention is not upon underlying causality, but upon the despair, hopelessness, and feeling of unhappiness that becomes our logical cognitive interpreter of events that we are immersed in at the moment.

Whoever came up with the idea that people should always be happy does a great disservice to people who are having real problems and presents an idealistic, distorted view of life.  For example, at the heart of some versions of the “happiness philosophy” a feeling of entitlement  is promoted, which asserts that persons deserve to always be happy.  Unfortunately when problems come, the immediate response is that “I don’t deserve this”, which leaves persons disillusioned and with an inability to cope effectively with circumstances leading to feelings of unhappiness.  In fact, one of the flawed thinking patterns concluding that a person always deserves to be happy comes from expectations that life satisfaction and a  problem-free life are synonymous. In other words, it is a life where happiness is the supreme goal of existence and resistance is not a component of happiness.  This is not a new idea, in fact, it is the philosophy of hedonism, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hedonism). 

If this is a true conclusion: all persons always deserve happiness and are entitled to happiness as the highest good; then happiness should always be a natural, logical consequence of life.  However when it is not achieved, a person may conclude that they must be the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances where the greatest good is not being achieved for them.  If that is the issue,  the absence of “happiness”, positive effect, as a normal experience of life leaves a person to grapple with being a victim. While others have the greatest good, they are not receiving what they are entitled to in life.  The problem with conclusions like this is that people are left with empty expectations, experience guilt about not being happy, and in many cases never learn to value life and experience happiness in spite of circumstances.  A fundamental problem with a happiness and underlying entitlement is that believing that everything should always take the least path of resistance or have the greatest benefit to me is an adolescent view of life that looks ahead to an unknown experience of life with a fixed deterministic expectation idea that the greatest good comes to me and just happens because I deserve happiness.

Obviously, that view of life sounds ridiculous and the answer answer perplexing at the same time when a person expects to always get what they want and be happy at all times.  Unfortunately, this occurs with some individuals because of a naive view of life of flawed understanding of happiness as a concept simply associates with well-being or lack of resistance in the circumstances of life. It seems at least reasonable to assume that it is an intelligent assumption to arrive at that something more than removal of conditions resistance must be met to create a feeling that some people describe as happiness.  A common explanation that the operations of happiness are described utilizes self- descriptions or language intertwined with how one feels about the circumstances in life.  For instance, some descriptions of happiness are interpreted to mean removing all anxiety or other life disturbances standing in the way of an optimum state of euphoria achieved through a pain-free existence.  Therefore, common views of happiness are built upon an idealism of reducing life expectation to a simple no-pain, resistance, or other difficulty formula holds, which leaves people with the lingering question, “When am I ever going be to be happy”?  Simply put this could be stated as when will life be free of pain, difficulty, and challenges that cause feelings of unhappiness?

So What is Happiness Anyway?

A dictionary definition associates happiness as an emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being.  Since the dictionary defines it in terms of emotion, many people may conclude that when there is the absence of life affirming emotions mentioned; then happiness is not experienced.  Apparently, one assumption presented reveals that happiness as an emotion is a form of logic draws conclusions, influencing cognition about the experiences of life.  This can be affirmed by the process that people go through in the emotions and somehow a meaning is assigned to events and people as the emotion of happiness is interpreted through the absence or presence of pain or difficulty.  As mentioned previously, if you study Philosophy or the field of Ethics, you will quickly identify this definition as consistent with ideas drawn from Hedonism, which describes the pleasure principle as the central motif of making life work in a way to reduce pain, discomfort, and difficulty for the “greatest good” as an outcome rationale for life.  Applying this philosophy of life affirms the idea that when people are happy, life is experienced with the least amount of difficulty, pain, or unpleasantness within life experience. Obviously, this sounds good in principle, but it is a very simplistic way to view a very complex subject that leaves the questions for people with less than positive life experience and who have a lack of hope that happiness can be realized.

We Usually Seek Success in Order to Find Happiness.

One of the fallacies in looking at happiness through circumstances is that it constructs happiness from feelings of success, performance, or positive outcome instead of an internal state or condition.  A problem with this conclusion is  that much of life is lived on a street with noisy neighbors, sick children, grass to mow, snow to shovel, and storms that come and go.  The result is that life is full of experiences that have an outcome that feels like success and many that feel like unhappiness.  A relevant example of the way well-being and satisfaction incorporates into a life filled with experience that evokes negative emotional responses is made by Dr. Marla Gottschalk who states:

How we “digest” our life experiences, both negative and positive, can be instrumental in influencing levels of happiness.  As Achor explains, reported happiness cannot always be fully explained by life events themselves –it is how we view those life events that prove to be pivotal.  Many of us have a tendency to become focused upon negative information and events (possibly an evolutionary necessity).  As a result, we may unrepresent our successes and fail to draw energy from them. On some level, we give up our power to be happy – by resting its fate entirely in the external world – when in fact, our “internal script” can be quite influential. Shorter-lived emotions can contribute to a broader “affect”, or tendency to feel either positive or negative. (What is happiness then?, Positive Psychology and Happiness at Work).

Unfortunately, the missing explanation from the dictionary definition is a comprehensive understanding of common happiness that everyone can have no matter what life brings that includes how we digest life experience.

 Happiness Precedes Success in the Way Thoughts are Constructed in the Mind

Does thinking right about life events precede happiness or do feeling happy come after right thinking about the events of life? If a person embraces Hedonistic Philosophy, the pursuit of pleasure creates a feeling of happiness, so absorbing life in entertainment, pleasure, and recreation are the implicit avenues to happiness.  However, another consideration is that happiness is a result of a way of thinking about life that uses organized, rational thinking processes that digests life experience into meaning that looks for the value of life experience in positive instead of negative ways.  Unfortunately, the notion that experiencing a particular, or positive life outcome will create happiness is conceptually flawed because it relies solely on an emotional state of existence associated with an event not yet realized or experienced.  For instance, placing two individuals in an exact set of circumstances does not indicate that happiness will occur sequentially or is predictable in each person’s life.  In fact, the level of well-being felt will depend more on the way individuals think about events than the events alone.  Obviously, two people can have the same experience and value the experience in different ways; then experience different emotional outcomes.  On the other hand, another way to look at happiness is that happiness is consistent with thinking constructs, which introduces quantitative and qualitative factors of value in the way thoughts are organized and how meaning is attributed into the life that individuals experience.

Think About the Meaning of the Word, “Life”

Some people define having-experiencing life and happiness synonymously, but is it an accurate assumption? A simple definition of life is, “the animate existence or period of animate existence of an individual” (Dictionary.com). 

Therefore, for many people, life is just an existence or a human organic experience of conscious awareness with a sort of organic fatalism that reduces life to what we have in our genes and DNA.  However, life is much more than an organic existence of matter over a set period of time.  Life is an activity which describes a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived of as belonging to the soul” (Dictionary.com), as both quality of life and quantity of time in existence.  This view is amplified in the words of Jesus that says “I have come to give life; and life more abundant” (John 10:10 K.J.V ).  It is more than an existence, it is a quality and quantity of life that connects mere existence to meaning through spiritual life. 

Textual evidence from grammar interprets life as “zōḗlife (physical and spiritual).  … it always (only) comes from and is sustained by God’s self-existent life”.  In addition, life is modified in the use of an adjective abundant … “perissós (an adjective), properly all-around …  beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectation”, which describes a life lived with a view of life characterized by (well-being and satisfaction=happiness).  Another related word that adds meaning to the way Christians think about happiness spoken of in the Psalms is, “blessedness”, which describes a state of being in a Christian life that orders the thoughts around a spiritual view of life that is grounded in a reflective spiritual relationship with God.  Also, “blessedness” informs existence with an aptitude, a view toward life, informing the way behavior occurs in life. An important point to make is that in the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:1, ff.) happiness is not associated with the removal of pain or the absence of challenging experiences, but rather, with a changed perspective.  In fact, the idea is that optimum happiness results from life being viewed through certain definable attitudes understood about life from God’s perspective.

Thinking Patterns Discipline the Mind to Create Happiness and Pathways for Life

Later in the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote about the activity of the mind.  He said, “every thought should be brought into captive obedience to Christ.”  The message of I Corinthians resonates the principle that ineffective ways of thinking must be superseded with organizing the thoughts around a perspective of life dominated by a positive Christian mindset.  The idea is present in the text that suggests that vain ways of thinking result in spiritual captivity to false ideas about life.  So, when life does not experience the well-being that individuals feel entitled to experience through circumstances of life, what response should be given?  Peter said, “Gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13)Strengthen the mental outlook is the central message of Peter to those facing persecution.  Obviously, there is a mental motif prescribed: When life is falling apart and does not give you the measure of success that is expected, quit fighting–resisting the circumstances to find happiness.  The point is to reorganize thinking around hope that will create new pathways to hope and happiness.  The consistent and compelling message about happiness is not the absence of challenging, heart-wrenching events.  In contrast, the application is the message about the way thoughts are organized with a view toward life.  The application is about how inner strengths of character are identified through hope and how happiness develops a pathway to effective living.  As a result, happiness will not be achieved through technological development, possession of things, or vain expectation: it is achieved through inner development of the person.

Common ideas about happiness are found in a belief that if a person takes up a hobby like wood carving, playing golf, or other activities so that the unhappiness can be distracted denied, and delegitimized.  However, while distraction from pain or unhappiness may minimize the symptoms of unhappiness, it will not change a persons point of view about life.  The truth is that you can never remove unhappy events in life by replacing challenges with the innocuous placebo of pleasure.  One craving only leads to another, which leads to another reinforcing a life of pursuing pleasure to numb the pain felt about unhappiness in life circumstances.

What is the Road to Happiness?

The answer rests in altering ineffective thinking by cleaning up the clutter about how we organize thoughts about life.  Happiness does not guarantee that life will never face difficulty.  On the other hand, happiness changes how individuals think about difficulty and what they will do when challenging moments come.  The road to happiness cannot be separated from the inward journey of development, maturity of the mind, spirit, and soul-life. The spiritual life cannot be lived in a vacuum, isolated in a detached metaphysical experience of escape from the body, from pain, from difficulty, or performance of duty.  Happiness is the choices that are made about how we think, how we feel about the experience of life, and the way that we digest and process the events of life into a way of thinking, feeling, and choosing to organize our thoughts.  Choose to be happy…

References

hedonism. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 01, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hedonism

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2 thoughts on “Who is Responsible for My Happiness?”

  1. Great read and I’ve bookmarked the post for future reference. As an Archetypal Psychologist I accept that ‘the sun must set’ and do not seek to avoid the here and…don’t want to get stuck there; tho don’t want to get stuck in ‘all pleasure’ either. I enjoy being human, perhaps a static rock in the next one ~:-)

    1. Thanks Char, I so enjoy your comments and hope that my reflections are helpful to you and others. In what I have written I am very much stuck between my multidisciplinary education as a framework for forming the concept, but very practical when you get to it. It is on me. A lifelong friend was killed yesterday in a tragic diving accident and I thought of her as I wrote these thoughts. Happiness is a choice of how I organize my thoughts and my life. Cheers and be happy 🙂

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