The word happy is an adjective, it modifies a noun. We are the nouns to be modified. By definition, happy is an elevated state of human experience. What state of being are we trying to move from to be happy? I think that we believe our default setting should be happy. That’s why we get frustrated so easily with our lives. We aren’t constantly delighted like we feel we should be.
Maintaining happy is akin to running on a treadmill. When running, your heart rate will rise to a certain level above its resting rate. Once that elevated state is reached and maintained for a period of time you will see the benefits. You can’t operate forever at that elevated state. If you didn’t stop and let your heart rate come back down to normal, your body would shut down. The more conditioned you become; the harder the elevated state is to come by. This is the irony and thing that sends many would be health nuts back to the buffet. Happiness as an elevated state is no different. Once reached, it takes effort to maintain and it cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Most people have had to chase a piece of paper in the wind. It isn’t as if it would do you the common courtesy of staying put so you can stop, bend over and pick it up. The second you stop it will take off. When you right yourself for another pass it is likely to move away even farther. Once a certain distance is reached the battle is lost. This defeat is a lonely place where one must sit with the shame of being a litterbug.
Runaway paper must be beaten at its own game. That game is called deception. I have learned that the best method for me is to fake the bend over and grab it move while simultaneously over shooting it and nabbing it with my foot. A word of warning though: the closer one comes to getting a toe on it the more elusive the paper becomes. As if it isn’t difficult enough to catch, it seems as if that piece of paper’s survival instinct increases proportionately to the number of people watching the chase. Under the scrutiny of a crowd of on lookers the pursuer must be confident and sure footed and get it on the first try or all might be lost.
I think that our pursuit of happy and continual missing of the mark is similar to chasing that paper. We are liable to chase it back and forth, unable to anticipate where it will be next. We can take blind stabs towards it with limited success. We get close here and there but it’s fleeting. We ultimately end up looking foolish and have nothing to show for the effort.
I think if you took a poll asking for the opposite of unhappy the majority of people would say, happy. I disagree. I tend to think that the opposite of unhappy is satisfied. We don’t really need the elevated state as much as we want less friction and difficulty. We don’t need that high level payoff as much as we need things not to suck.
Based on my eloquent semantic arguments in the last few paragraphs, one might ask, “Is this merely a semantic argument?” Maybe. To me satisfaction alludes to personal ownership of ones feelings and perceptions of a situation. It also requires personal responsibility for finding it. Happy, on the other hand feels a little more like something outside of us has some responsibility to make us feel that way.
There is a lot of research and scholarship related to happiness. It seems as though there is some pretty compelling evidence to suggest that when people try to be happy, they wind up unhappy. They tend to make a constant mental comparison to the current situation and past experiences of happiness. The problem comes if the current situation doesn’t measure up to the internal idea of happiness. This constant comparison reinforces the fact that the individual is not happy. That constant affirmation of can result in a downward spiral.
The second thing counselor is taught is to help people look at things differently. We call it reframing. I hope that I can do that for you if you suffer with being unhappy. The first thing that we are taught is that there is no magic wand that we can wave to fix people. They have to fix themselves. That being said, my challenge to you if you are unhappy is to look at your life differently. Reframe it. Start today. If you find my argument to be horses#*t, at the very least will you try to feel better? Those old doctor scales they used to have where you would move the little thing to the right or left to find your exact weight is a good visual metaphor. One far end is unhappy, the other far end is happy. That leaves a whole bunch of satisfied in the middle. What would it take to tap that little weight away from unhappy a couple of notches towards satisfied?