Are You Happy Yet?

This week something awesome happened, something that I had been wanting for a really long time, something I was sure would bring me a lot of happiness. With the typical dramatic irony of the universe, it happened during one of my rare anti-Pollyanna weeks when I was ruminating on the fact that maybe nothing good was ever going to happen. (Melodrama seems to go hand in hand with negativity.) I know that happiness comes from within yadda yadda yadda, and for the past six months I have been all about listening to my own instincts and learning not to expect happiness to arise from anywhere but my own mind.

However, it seemed logical that working to create my own bank of natural happiness would in turn produce more positive outcomes in my life which would create more happiness. It’s practically a foolproof scientific equation. The only problem is that life is not always logical or scientific. And if karma exists, sometimes it takes such a long time to come around, its almost impossible to say whether it is karmic reward/punishment or simply random chance. Either way, its always nice to recieve a positive in life and I certainly had one this week. The strange thing was, immediately following my spontaneous happy dance around the room, my next thought was: “Now if only this would happen, and that would change and the other thing would turn around, then I would be so happy that I would never ask for anything else ever again.” Hmmm.

It’s the old cliche: I would be truly happy if I got a promotion/lost weight/got married/owned my own home/bought that dress … Buddhists call it ‘Attachment’, the natural human tendency to “grasp at a particular thing, person or situation, believing that this ‘thing’ will make us happy- a belief system that is fundamentally flawed.”* Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert claims that in almost all cases, within three months of experiencing a dramatic event – good or bad – it will have no significant impact on our level of happiness. In fact, he cites a study which has found that one year on from their life-changing event, paraplegics and lottery winners are equally happy with their lives.** Impossible to believe, right?

All of this got me thinking about happiness in terms of the kindness project, since when I really think about it the idea of spreading kindness is ultimately to increase happiness. It’s easy to do things in an attempt to make other people’s day a little brighter – this week I bought a coffee for someone, donated warm winter clothes to the homeless, took a bunch of flowers to a friend who was feeling down, bought lunch for someone and donated to Beyond Blue , the national depression initiative. But ultimately I have no control over how any of these people react to or percieve these kindnesses (as was so evident with The Flower Incident). Maybe the kindness would not make it onto their happiness radar because they have convinced themselves that the only way they will ever be happy is if they have a new handbag or a wealthy partner or are five kilos lighter… It seems that it’s only human nature.

So what object, person or thing is your happiness dependent upon? And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?” Are you happy yet?

* ‘Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World’ by David Michie, 2004
** For more on this see Dan Gilbert’s TED talk ‘Why Are We Happy?’.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sascha Peldova-Mcclelland
    May 27, 2011 @ 21:26:08

    Really brilliant and well written post Catherine, and something I’ve also been reflecting on recently. A few days ago I realised that being negative about things was really pointless and miserable and doesn’t get you anywhere- so what other choice is there but to be happy? I decided that I would do my absolute utmost to be optimistic and positive from now on, which led to a self fulfilling prophecy of euphoria at this prospect . Even when I’m telling myself I’m failing, or am not good enough, just to be able to cut though it with a cheerful reminder that really it doesn’t matter, so who cares! Reading your insights really brought this home to me, so thank you!

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      May 30, 2011 @ 18:34:05

      Thanks Sascha. 🙂 I think it’s something everyone struggles with, even though logically we know negativity doesn’t help. But it is quite empowering to know that happiness and positivity is a choice, no matter what the circumstances.

      Reply

  2. Eric Winger
    May 28, 2011 @ 10:12:15

    I’ve been thinking about this, as well as your last post. You are right in that happiness has to come from the inside, but we can’t always control it.

    One of the things that helps me be a little happier is to know what kind of mood I am in at the start of the day.

    When I go running I don’t listen to music, I listen to my thoughts. If I’m crabby, I try to make sure that I’m a little more subdued throughout the day.

    By remaining more calm, others treat me better, making me more happy. My bad moods go away pretty quickly after that.

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      May 30, 2011 @ 18:36:12

      That’s a nice way of being kind to yourself, Eric. And also being realistic – we can’t be happy all the time, may aswell accept it and find creative ways to work with it!

      Reply

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