True (?) Happiness

For some reason, lately I’ve been doing a lot of self-help related reading. I read through the Living Oprah blog, and have been reading a couple books about handling confrontation, worry, etc.. As I’ve been reading, I have started to wonder if this kind of thing really helps. Does the advice really make us better, more well-rounded people? Or does it just make us question the way we do things and make us feel worse about ourselves?

In the same theme, have you noticed that there is a very concentrated focus in our society on finding “true” happiness, finding “our calling”, living our best life, etc.? What does that even mean?

I like my life. I have hobbies I enjoy (knitting, reading, writing, cooking). I love my house, and spending time at home. I have a great husband who I get to share my life with. But, sometimes I catch myself wondering if it’s all enough. Could I be happier? Should I be doing more to have a better, more fulfilling life? Should I be traveling the world out of a backpack, going white-water rafting, practicing yoga, meditating, making hand-crafted greeting cards, or donating all my time to a worthy charity?

Is it me, or does all this pressure just make us feel worse about our lives? At what point do we just enjoy what we have instead of trying to make ourselves, or our lives, better (and “better” according to who?)? Do we really need a push to find true happiness, or is all this stuff just a bunch of crap creating more stress in our lives?

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Comments on: "True (?) Happiness" (14)

  1. I also ask some of these questions sometimes. Since the questions on the post resonated with me now, I am going to write what I feel and hope it doesn't sound too corny! On thinking, it seems that 'happiness' seems to be a bad direct goal to have. As happiness is something that comes. Comes when we don't have internal conflict (i.e, “I want that but I am doing this”). I'd say there are two kinds of internal conflicts: (i) The ones that are easy to spot and nominally easy to fix…health (eg., “I want to be fit but I am eating this bucket full of ice cream”), performance at work (eg., “I know I should work better but I am just lazy now”)…In these cases, we more or less know what needs to be done. (ii) The ones, I am told (and I have some feel for it), that are due to doing things without awareness. Living a thought dominated life rather than thought being just a tool.
    The above two categories are also not mutually exclusive, as '(ii)' pervades all aspects of life including those involving '(i)'.
    I see that I have both kinds of conflicts. I am dealing with '(i)' and will simultaneously experiment with '(ii)'.

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  2. Bunch of crap 😉

    I think some of us are overthinking and maybe even creating the “problem”. (note> I am really talking about myself here… and not bashing out). Go looking for that perfect bliss and wonderful life and everything else. I think there is something with “just being a bit content”. Not to mention the similarity with “live the life, don't just plan it” ^^

    By the way, I've just finished an interesting book that you might like as a side to the Self help books; “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” by Barbara Ehrenreich . (She wrote Nickeld and dimed about living on minimum wage.) I might not agree on all she writes, but the book is full with references and if nothing else, she brings back an intersting notion about today vs about 100 yrs ago… Calvinism/life is punishment vs “positive thinking”

    Not to mention a little piece of “if you're not happy, you have to work on yourself since it is all possible if you just want it bad enough” 😉

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  3. the last paragraph might not make much sense unless you've read the book or read about “positive thinking” and the “self realisation help books” where you can visualise almost everything…

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  4. You hit the nail in the last paragraph, I think. I think happiness comes with contentment in the now, as things are. I looked out the window the other day and it just hit me, that even though I'm in the middle of mega stress editing my stupid thesis, I'm really happy. Nice feeling, sometimes I just tend to forget it.

    As for doing a lot of things – there is plenty of time to do stuff when the chance shows up at some point. No need for stress. And if there is something you really really want to do, you automatically will, because then you prioritize it. (Lol btw: if making handcrafted greeting cards makes you happy, that's all well and good, but GAH! is my reaction! :D)

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  5. its all crap, unless you're not happy. Do you wake up, hating your job, wishing you made other choices? Or do are satisified? you seem satisfied. unfortunately, many are not.

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  6. You make some great points, Alyssa. I think it's nearly all crap… but I'm the kind of person who likes to look at the good in any situation and not focus on what's lacking… it just depends on what kind of attitude you have about things, I think. Like I often say to my husband: “reframe, dear” – that is, look at it from a different point of view, and you might feel differently. Unless, of course, you are truly unhappy or in an objectively bad situation…

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  7. So soo true! It seems never enough, you must constantly “work” on yourself and improve, and then there are books saying “be happy with what you have”… And what you want changes too over time, right?
    One of very few things I learned in high school that stuck with me: you can't say you have a happy/good life until the moment you die (this was from a Roman philosopher or so). Then you can say “well, there were some bumps on the road, but on the whole I had a good life” (Or not but let's pretend we all will have a more or less happy life!).
    I don't know how this will help but I usually just try to do things on a greater scheme, will I look back happy on this day on my deathbed? It helps me a lot on those days that I want to stay in bed forever and only eat chocolate. I do get out, take a shower and go for a walk or cook a nice meal.
    And I guess not thinking about it so much helps too… One of my friends got only more depressed by reading such books because she felt she could never reach those simple ideals. Now she is happy 🙂

    Good luck! Don't worry!

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  8. Oh great post! I have been struggling with this a lot lately. I think I am actually very content with both my profession life and y personal life at the moment but I have this nagging feeling that I need to my doing something or taking on more to make my life happier or more fulfilling or something. But then when I stop and actually think about it, I don't think I am unhappy as is, I think its the inner perfectionist/over-achiever that is telling me I need to do more.

    I think that our childhood and young adult lives are full of tangible milestones (finish highschool, go to university, get your degree, etc.) that when I don't have this next obvious milestone in front of me, I feel like I am somehow failing at life. I am not sure if I want to get to the point where i can just “be” or if that will mean I've given up on challenging myself.

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  9. Venkat – interesting! I never thought of inner conflict being of two different categories, but you're right. There are things we can change, and things we probably can't (especially if we're not aware of them!).

    Chall – I think looking for the “perfect” life is a bunch of crap too. Life will never be perfect. There will always be something that is causing us sadness or stress or whatever. Thank you for the book recommendation – I'll have to take a look for it!

    Theresa – I love those moments when you catch yourself thinking “I'm happy”. Thankfully I've been having a lot more of those moments than in the past few years. Oh, and those things I listed aren't things I actually want to do – just some examples of what “happy” people do 🙂

    Ella – I like that! Sometimes it really does help to reframe your state of mind.

    Nina – I've used that technique on “bigger” things (i.e., choosing to only work 9-5, M-F, in graduate school because I didn't want to look back on my mid-late 20s and only see myself working). But, I never thought about using it for the “smaller” things too. Great idea!

    Liz – that's a great point. I think one of the reasons I stayed in grad school was so that I had a few more milestones to fulfill! Now it just seems like there's nothing to “shoot” for, and it's harder to measure how I'm doing. I guess I need to re-evaluate how I can…well…evaluate myself!

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  10. Alyssa, great post and great comments!

    I always say I want to be like my husband, who takes everything in stride, seems very relaxed, and says he is very content and happy with his life. I love our life and I think I am happy too, but I don't know about content — the inner overachiever is always wondering if I should move to a better university, have more kids, be more famous, get out more, have more friends, do more fun stuff…

    I think that indeed excessive self-reflection (I am one of the worst offenders) does not help with feeling content. But as I grow older, I do find it easier to appreciate what I have and no longer yearn for the things I don't…

    I love the saying “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

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  11. It would be very interesting to see how our world would change if instead of all the focus on “personal fulfillment” we looked at how we could make other people happy. If you've ever seen someone thwarted in their pursuit of personal bliss, you'll have experienced the fact that the focused pursuit of personal happiness usually involves making everyone around them miserable.

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  12. GMP – it is interesting that we, in general, are more accepting of things as we get older. It's a nice feeling, actually!

    Wool Free – great point! I mean, I usually feel quite happy with myself when I help someone out, or go out of my way to make them happy (as long as they appreciate it!).

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  13. This post got me thinking back to my undergrad degree all those years ago.

    As a Psychology major, I always found that happiness is too lofty a construct to measure consistently across the population. It means too many different things to people, and they all have a set of different goals to define it.

    That said, I find that the majority (but not all!) of self-help books are designed more as a ploy on the author's part to play on someone's particular weakness (whether they feel depressed, anxious, self-conscious, overweight, abnormal in any way, shape, or form) combined with their “credentials” to sell more books. They try to sell happiness in a generic “one-size-fits-all” kind of way which never truly solves the problems (unless in fluke circumstances), but will provide enough of a band-aid that the unsuspecting patron of advice will purchase more in the attempt to help themselves. The other issue? It gives you symptoms to find related to the general issue … almost like a self-help hypochondriac which further perpetuates the madness.

    General books always have their purpose and place, don't get me wrong. They definitely serve a purpose as a way to get general information out to the public about certain conditions, but they are no match against professional help that is tailored to a particular set of circumstances at a critical point in someone's life.

    My personal rule of thumb is more or less that if I feel happy with my circumstances, I am happy. If I am not, I will be motivated to change something about it and will do the necessary research into what will make me happy (be it via a general book, journal articles, or a professional).

    Just my two pennies. 🙂 Thanks for such a great post!

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  14. Anon – thank you for sharing your unique perspective on this topic. I agree that a lot of these self-help books give a one-size-fits-all method of “fixing” things. After reading a few, I also find they actually don't give real advice on how to deal with things – they say what to do (stop worrying, be better at confrontations, etc.) but not how. That's not helpful!

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