“In 2012 of the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 20 March as the International Day of Happiness stating the relevance of happiness and well-being as a goal and aspiration in the lives of people around the world”.
Happiness is a brand that marketers have had a field day with over the past few years, and I listen to many podcasts, watch many a documentary and read a stack of books that often touch on similar themes. How to be happier. It is something that I have wrestled with for a number of years and chased a number of rainbows in the quest for this omnipresent state, that others seemed to have sussed and yet to me, remained frequently elusive. As a result, I am cautious in my use of the word day to day.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines is as “The state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in, or contentment with, one's circumstances” nice - and I think my beef with the whole thing is that it seems to have become another badge that one must acquire and wear ALL THE TIME. And it’s just not realistic to believe that happiness is a state that we should be in permanently; it puts me in mind of “my best life” (I have a whole blog plan dedicated to that little gem). Happiness is an emotional state and as with all emotions it sits on a spectrum, I always picture waves, sound waves across the page that roll up and down and repeat. So sometimes I’m happy, top of the curve and other times I’m sad, bored, frustrated – lower in the curve- you get the gist. I heard a quote, and I can’t remember who said it… that grief is the price for love, and I feel similarly towards happiness; to feel the full range, to experience those euphoric moments, we will need to ride the wave into other feelings and emotions, perhaps ones that are not so thrilling or comfortable.
I’ve encountered so many people who are endlessly striving for this elusive happiness badge and when asked what happiness is to them, they can often struggle to define it, what specifically they are seeking. Is it some literal representation of the rainbow unicorn images that every card and gift shop is plastered with? And just for the record I have many a T-Shirt, jumper and card with aforementioned rainbow/positive slogan/unicorn – I love the positivity, and I try to keep some realism. I may wear a jumper that shouts “I’m Happy” and no doubt, at points in the day, it will accurately reflect my mental state, you may also see me having a strop in said jumper..
I’m curious what is going on for these folks on the happiness quest, where their head is. When I was on the “this way to happiness” path, I missed a lot. I can look back now and see that I wasn’t really present for much of the time. I shall resist my natural urge to bang on about mindfulness and being in the moment, but my point is that there is learning in taking a pause, checking your surroundings, getting your bearings and noting how am I, right now? Because I think I was happy countless times in that period, and I didn’t notice because I was on the happiness quest myself.
I read an interesting article in the Guardian (Jan 2021 Why it may be time to stop pursuing happiness), the link for which I will post at the bottom. There are aspects of this article that I don’t fully agree with – my experience with for example, visualisation, even with my hardwired scepticism. And my own daily gratitude practice, which the other half is now a willing participant, have been instrumental in my management of self. That said it comes with action – visualisation can unlock potential, but it requires momentum and action to move it to the next stage. Realism again plays a significant role because, as this article puts it: “…no matter how hard you try, feelings of frustration and unhappiness will appear from time to time. In reality, certain negative feelings can serve a useful purpose. When we feel sad, it’s often because we have learned something painful but important, while stress can motivate you to make some changes to your life. Simply recognising the purpose of these emotions, and accepting them as an inevitable part of life, may help you to cope better than constantly trying to make them disappear”.
So, what to do as we approach International day of happiness? Well perhaps it is a day when we can reflect on what happiness means to us, what form does it take, how do we experience it and when was the last time we noticed it? I also offer joy as another way, another word. Happiness, for me at least, has become a bit loaded. It has become easier for me to identify joy, perhaps because joy feels more comfortable and acceptable to express as moments, less pressure for it to be continuous, more short sharp bursts. Consider then how you experience joy, when have you experienced it? You may be surprised how often it can show up. And recognise there will be balance, for every joyous/happy time (and here I am raspberry ripple or dark chocolate), we will have those opposing times and emotions (anything with cookie dough in it YUK – insert your own repulsive frozen dessert) and there will be all the rest of the time where we just cruise along through vanilla – and there can be a lot of vanilla, and when I think about it, vanilla is pretty good on its own.
I shall leave you with the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
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Guardian Jan 21: