In a conversation recently about the concept of happiness, a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Big Chill came up. The character of Chloe, played by Meg Tilly was asked about Alex (the character who ended his life, with whom she had been in a relationshp) being happy with his life, prior to his death, and her response was. “I haven’t met that many happy people in my life. How do they act?” (Trivia question….whose body was used in the opening scene that was being prepared for the funeral? This well known actor’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.)
It got me to thinking about what ingredients go into being happy. Most of the time, I am aware of a variety of heightening emotional states, includling contentment, happiness, joy, bliss, ecstasy and euphoria. I ponder what brings them forth. Can they exist without a catalyst? Do they have to be connected to something external? I look at my life and see that I have much to be happy about. Many of the things that push my buttons are really ‘first world problems’ and inconveniences. I live in gratitude that I have shelter, clothing, food, a car, work that I love, beloved family and friends, money, marketable skills, spiritual connection and my health. AND there is an ‘and yet’. Can I have all of those things and still want more? In the act of ‘wanting,’ some spiritual teachers claim that it pushes away even more good. Is there a fine line between surrender/acceptance and desire that motivates me to take action steps to call into my life what I want?
What Makes People Feel Happy?
The Positive Psychology” movement focuses on people’s strengths and what they’ve got going for them, rather than giving an inordinate amount of attention on what they don’t like. One of its pioneers is University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD, author of the book, Authentic Happiness.
“Everyone has a “set point” for happiness, just as they do for weight,” according to Seligman. He contends that people are not likely to vary from that position. There are those, who believe that a happy state of mind can be achieved through mindful awareness and a sense of gratitude.
The 2011 film called Happy highlights the happiness experience. A documentary/travelogue, it takes viewers on a world wide whirlind tour into some the wealthiest and most poverty stricken places on the planet to study the phenomenon behind happiness.
An opening scene is of a rickshaw driver in Calcutta, India who explains that in the midst of the harsh conditions he faces on the job, his sense of happiness lies in knowing that when he returns home each night to his ramshackle dwelling, he is embraced by his family and neighbors who are his true source of wealth. He acknowleges that there are times when he has difficult passengers and that the weather (especially during monsoon season), takes its toll and yet he is able to smile and carry on … in a good way.
The country that tips the scale for happiness is Denmark, in which co-housing is a factor. Families of choice share space, childcare, cooking, cleaning, and care of elders and it enriches them immeasureably.
Okinawa wins the prize for longevity as many of its citizens see pass the ten decade mark. What accounts for that is multi-generational living, hands-on work creating and atmosphere of fitness, being in nature, an agrarian culture, respect for elders’ wisdom and a healthy vegetable based diet. One fun clip is of toddlers running a race into the waiting arms of grandparents and the caption reads “Future 100 year olds.”
In geographical proximity, but worlds away in terms of attitude is Japan where the phenomenon of karoshi which translates to ‘death by overwork’ has become a national crisis. Young people are literally dying due to elevated stress, as well we the drive to succeed in high pressure jobs.
What Ingredients Go Into A Recipe For Happiness?
- A sense of community and belonging
- Purpose and passion
- Kindness and making a difference in someone’s life
- Novelty (experiencing something new each day)
- Moving your body (dancing, walking, yoga, sports, fitness activities-I refer to my time at the gym as my ‘playouts’ which is more fun that calling them workouts)
- Humor and being able to laugh in the face of challenges
- An attitude of gratitude (this Philly girl calls it an ‘atty-tood of gratty-tood’)
- A connection with spirituality in whatever form that takes and a practice to go along with it.
- Being the king or queen of reframe as you can view any experience from a different perspective.
How Does Happiness Manifest Itself?
“I think there is happiness that comes from external events –sunrise, chocolate chip cookies, grandkids, friends—and that contentment is happiness INSIDE us. I find happiness by quietly humming or whistling in public and seeing people smile and sing along sometimes.”
“Life is not always perfect, but happiness is an attitude. How we respond makes a difference.”
“I am writing this about me. I found through my entire life, peace came with being with a partner. Honestly whenever I was single, something was missing. I was single many times and never felt peace. Call it a malfunction or whatever. So the longest I was single was always about three years. And the entire three years seeking and all that goes with that. I wonder, are we meant to be with a partner like it’s all a natural human desire ? I can say I don’t know any people truly happy being single. I am only speaking from my small circle of life. Now I am 64, and looks have nothing to do with meeting or being with someone. What works COMMUNICATION and that is what so many are looking for at this point in their life. I think many people are empty without a partner and I think it’s natural. Now saying that, I must say this is not across the board.”
“On my short journey, blazing continually too close to the sun… I have garnered one piece of knowledge.
Happiness is the journey. Not the destination. So should you seek it you will miss it in the passing.
One must enjoy the nuances of happiness which includes the downs and the twists and turns in the road.
Much like tapestry happiness is ever woven. It is always present and current nothing can take it from you but averting your eyes from its continual manifestation. It happens in life and in death, in the morning song of sparrow and in the closing eyes of the day. A journey. One which should you choose you can overlook each step upon the way racing to reach a destination that never comes to fruition. We travel nowhere in this life. We are already here.
Embrace every moment … Embrace every breath for in them the journey is fluid where happiness is its most present. Where it is undiscovered. Waiting for your curious eyes to spy it.”
“Happiness is usually a condition when we like something that happens. Equanimity, peace, and contentment are states of being. Happiness comes and goes. Being at peace is a choice we make.”