November 23, 2013

What is Happiness?

 “…It’s not what you’ve accomplished in a day,
but how the day felt.”

After reading this piece on the predictions of happiness and well-being based on Harvard’s Grant Study, I have been thinking a lot about my own happiness and life.  What makes me happy?  What makes me sad?  What’s my life purpose and am I living it? 

The Grant Study tracked hundreds of men through their life, measuring various indicators of their physical and emotional health, resulting in trends indicating certain predictors of happiness, but also provided illuminations such as that “happiness is love” and also that “what is true in one stage of a man’s life is not true in another.”  In essence, there are universal indicators of happiness and wellness across a broad spectrum, but at the same time one man’s happiness is not necessarily another man’s happiness.   

Inspired by the study, I made a list of things that make me happy and unhappy.  In doing this, I learned that what makes me happy ranges from the superficial like trying new restaurants, cooking, listening to and discovering new music, and cleaning and organizing my house, to deeper pursuits like embarking on new experiences, traveling, writing/being creative, nature, being inspired, and cultivating meaningful relationships with people.  My list of things that make me unhappy was remarkably shorter but broader, and consisted of things like being misunderstood, being fearful, not living life to the fullest or pursuing my purpose, and "wasting time."  All things that are intrinsically linked, I think. 

We all want to be happy and we all deserve to be happy, but happiness all the time cannot be a life goal, necessarily.   And since the two emotions are opposite, happiness can only be fully understood and appreciated when one has endured the pain and suffering of sadness.   It is realizing your best intended purpose – which is directly correlated with a happier more meaningful life, with some moments of sadness sprinkled in – that is perhaps where the ultimate state of bliss can be found. 

The alternative to happiness or sadness is that place of numbness in between, which is in some ways the worst place to be since it implies that we’re living in a state of fear of pursuing our best life or because we feel we don’t deserve to pursue our best life, or maybe because we've made someone else’s version of a best life to be more important than our own.

Call me crazy, but I’d rather be sad than numb.  My own personal struggles have taught me that only until we open ourselves to sadness and allow it to wash over us can we see that something needs to be fixed, adjusted, or changed.  It is in this state that a more meaningful life can be born, leading to the cultivation of a deeper state of happiness. 

And that's what I have to say about that, for now anyway.

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