Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Essay On Happiness

How to be rich/How to happy/How to be a better person/How to live forever/How to be everything etc. 

Every company promises happiness nowadays: you will be happy if you buy this perfume, you will attract women and be happy if you buy this car, etc. It all resumes to being happy by doing what society and advertisers want you to do. This also applies in psychology and we can see how self help book writers make millions and people still remain unhappy. 

As a disclaimer I would like to add that I am not against positive thinking, I believe it really helps people remain sane and find life bearable. However, there’s something about the superficial positive thinking that really gets to me; another problem of mine is everybody’s concern with everybody’s state of mind. In our society not being positive all the time is seen as abnormal; I guess it’s safe to say that being negative or having a slightly negative view upon life is the absolute sin nowadays. There’s no wonder with all the self help books out there and everybody constantly trying to reach happiness all the time. This idea of happiness is almost forced on us by mass media. I’m starting to hate this whole happiness thing because it has been reduced to materialism and you can see this direction in all those books that promise you will become a millionaire. It seems that everybody with enough will power can become rich and successful. What about personality? What about opportunity? What about ability? What about intelligence? What about the fact that sometimes in life things can go wrong? What about PROBABILITY for a change? Apparently those are not factors that need to be taken into consideration; it all comes down to the fact that you don’t have enough will to become successful and rich. And this is what bothers me, this oversimplification of life, the fact that human beings are reduced to having will power or not, the fact that you are in that situation because you want to be. Of course,
I don’t deny the fact that some people make bad choices, but saying that everybody deserves what they have is not a correct statement from my point of view. Some people really have a disastrous life and it might not be their fault. But most of those gurus have no idea what they are talking about or they just write books for extremely simple human beings. Life is not a 4 step plan for success, people are not robots.

How choices are made

Many factors influence our ability to make choices. Of course, we like the idea that we contribute the most in deciding on certain things. But do we really? How about the pressure of society when making choices? How about the fact that many of us simply choose something that puts us in a positive light? Of course, one would argue that being seen as a better person through our choices makes us happy. The simple fact that we are approved by society makes us happy. But does it when our internal mechanism is different than what is generally preached? I believe that it is what makes most of us fall into depression when we look back at our lives and see that despite making good choices we are now unhappy.

People like power and control. We constantly try to use our power of choice even when there is no choice. An example would be death. People have so many coping mechanisms when it comes to death, it’s fascinating. We want to control death as we want to control everything in our lives. In Yalom’s book “Existential Psychotherapy” there are a few examples of how we try to control our lives. For example, there’s a case of a patient who refuses chemotherapy because he has extreme anxiety regarding the process which implies him being powerless. So he puts his life in danger just to have this illusion of control. And I agree with Nietzsche when he says that will is not known absolutely and it cannot be known. If we take into consideration the millions of factors that influence our decision we start understanding what Nietzsche wanted to point out. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes and even if our decision making is limited, you can still make decisions that will affect you. My interest is not to limit the responsibility of a person’s decision making but enhance the fact that people should be rational when trying to become something that simply isn’t for them.

Choice implies loss because when we make a choice we lose another opportunity and another path in life. Some people go so far as they stop living their life so that they can have some control on the bad choices they would make. But I think you agree with me when I say that is not a good idea also.
Our society constantly tells us that we can make a choice and be happy even if there’s nothing wrong with us.
Even if you are happy, they tell you different, they tell you that being what you are now is not enough and you need more. Of course, I’m not referring to progress, I’m only referring to the unimportant things compared to what life really means like having the newest LCD TV, or the latest Iphone. Don’t plan your life so that you become meaningless, unhappy and unsatisfied just because you pursue the wrong things. Be positive through your actions and achievements, but not in an artificial way. Don’t do things because they will make you successful, do things because you find pleasure in them. If you have a goal and the path to that goal is extremely unpleasant, you risk being unhappy for the most part of your life. So find out what you really like and be successful doing that. Being passionate and the commitment people get from pursuing their passion are overlooked. If we look at successful people we can see that besides a great deal of commitment and effort, they enjoy their work, they are passionate about it. That’s the key to success, not deluding yourself constantly that there is a force in the universe that gets activated whenever you engage in positive thinking. Of course, negative thinking is counterproductive but it can also help you want more.

But is positive thinking mandatory for achieving happiness?

We all want to be happy and it’s a natural thing, but when you focus a lot on positive thinking I guess you become too involved in that and forget to be happy. I believe is tiresome to be extremely aware, constantly preoccupied by your thoughts and trying to make them “happy thoughts”. Actually there is a study which shows that using positive statements can have a different effect than one would expect. 
People with very low self esteem might find them upsetting. Those who say “What harm can positive thinking do?” now know that it can be harmful in some situations.

Again, I’m not talking about people who are positive by nature, but those who force it on themselves and, more annoying, on others. Have you ever been around one of those? They constantly try to make everything so positive it becomes irrational. And that’s what I’m talking about, the harm created by this irrationality of exaggerated positive thinking.

But really now, how can people get happier?

How about loving ourselves for a change? Accepting that we have flaws, accepting that we will never be perfect and we cannot become perfect.
I believe the secret to happiness is not reaching extreme happiness. That will never happen, the secret to happiness is making sure that you are satisfied with your life. You have to be aware and know why you need improvement. So the first step is knowing why you need to change yourself, what harm not changing yourself can do to your life. But most people start pursuing happiness without knowing why their actions are not correct in the first place. This can make us pursue the wrong kind of happiness, a general meaning of happiness when in fact it all comes down to your idea of happiness. I’m going to use a cliché here: our idea of happiness is pretty biased, but looking down inside us is what matters. So reach out into yourself and decide what makes you truly happy.

Another problem is the fact that people want to be happy now and this is why there is a link between materialism and happiness. Of course the media will want you to become happy on their terms, because that is what keeps the money flowing. But intense happiness is just momentary.
Material things give us a sense of happiness now, but that type of happiness is very short and you will soon find yourself unhappy again. I believe that true happiness is when you look back and see (some might have a problem looking back at all) the small or big successes you had. So how about starting to do things that you enjoy and also make you feel better about yourself)?

People also constantly try to run away from things that harm them, from negative things, from depression, from negative events. As I said earlier, trying to avoid failure and harm can lead to avoiding experience of any kind. People are afraid to embrace sadness, forgetting that sadness is what makes happiness recognizable. Perhaps one of the things that make people unhappy is the fact that they constantly try to be happy and avoid any sadness, so when real happiness comes along, they don’t feel it anymore. So, when we numb ourselves to avoid pain, we also numb our ability to feel happiness.

So do you want to be happy?

Start doing things that make you happy and stop worrying about it. 


  1. This is a very well written entry, Annabelle.

    Undoubtedly, your mastery on the subject exceed by a long way the knowledge I have, or can wield, about this elusive little precious gem we call 'happiness'.

    Anyway, I want to share with you a perception I have when we, human beings, speak about this matter.

    We tend to mix, confuse, or identify happiness with contentment, which are not the same.

    From my viewpoint, and I am going to state an oxymoron here, we can be 'sadly happy' or 'happily sad'. How come?

    As I see happiness is a road, a lane we walk, while contentment is the measure of our satisfaction within a given moment. So we can be happy walking the base road of life and time and again reach places where our contentment varies, from nil to total, we can call these places platforms where the vehicle of our self stays for a while, not losing happiness but yes, in a myriad of different feelings: sadness, elation, strain, easiness, you name it. We can be contented (the word comes from a Latin root meaning 'to have inside') and happy, or restless and happy!

    I am not trying to make a statement full of truth, I am only telling you something that works for me. Which again points toward the wrong thinking (from my standpoint, of course) that happiness is subjective. In a way, it is just a movement of volition, something of voluntarism as seen from metaphysics, but not entirely so.

    Thank you for sharing with us, lay people, all your knowledge in Psychology ans Psychiatry, and giving me the opportunity to state a few ideas!

    ¬O. odliam.

  2. That is very true. Happiness is often confused with contentment and that's why most studies regarding "happiness" are pretty much biased.
    Thanks for your wonderful comment, is so nice to see people interested in my long entries.

  3. yes andreea you are right i like it