A topic that society appears fascinated with at the moment is happiness. What is it? Where can we get it? How can we keep it? Why is it so elusive?
Historically speaking, happiness used to be found in good deeds and the improvement of one’s moral character. However in the late 18th Century the roots of happiness changed from how should I live to, what do I really want? In essence we’ve moved around from what we should do in order to be good people towards how to fulfil our own individual needs. Our goal has shifted from being good to feeling good.
We want to feel good.
(Have you ever noticed how when you ask someone how they are, they generally say, ‘I am good?!?’ Interesting.)
I wonder perhaps if it is this shift that has sent us on endless pursuit of happiness, this elusive entity, that appears fleetingly, before disappearing once again. Is fluoxetine our answer to what makes us happy? Is yoga? Is a certain level of salary? A certain type of job? Is there a concrete answer to the question of what makes us happy, or is the question we are asking somewhat like asking what shape is yellow?
Research and news articles tell us how the rates of depression are rising with more people being depressed now than ever before and with one in ten people actually attempting to take their own life, it seems as we strive harder to understand what happiness is, we fall further away from it.
Could it be that this isn’t because the world has shifted so dramatically in its troubles from generations before us, but because our whole concept of what happiness is has adjusted so that we are all seeking something that doesn’t actually exist.
Quick fixes through medication, keeping busy, filling our lives with things so that we don’t have to think so that when we actually stop and do, we notice feelings that aren’t that ‘happy’ feeling.
When our goal becomes happiness, the idea arises in ourselves that we should avoid any emotion that isn’t happiness, in ourselves, our families and our workplaces. Emotional states that aren’t happiness become pathologies and something to fear.
A culture saturated in happiness makes it difficult for people to deal with sadness within themselves, and within others. But sadness still needs to have an outlet, otherwise it has nowhere to go except deep inside. It is said that a quarter of diagnoses of depression are mistaken, with sadness being pathologised by a presentation of symptoms arising from an emotion not being expressed.
This month we’ll dive into this topic further, exploring some of the unhelpful beliefs about happiness, how they can have us caught in a trap, and consider some different ways of approaching this concept of ‘happy.’