If I asked you whether you want to be happy, I would guess that you would say ‘yes’. I suppose that I would too, but I find myself thinking about this subject more and more. Why is this emotion so highly valued? Do we value it above other emotions? What price are we prepared to pay for happiness? If we are asked what we want most of all for our children, how many of us reply, “I want them to be happy”. But what about what they want? What if they don’t want to be happy, or don’t know how to be?
Don’t misunderstand me, I have no opposition to happiness. It’s just that it feels a little insubstantial to me. Not that it’s bad, just that it may not be enough. Most people would say that they would rather be happy than unhappy, but what feelings would you be prepared to lose to achieve happiness? If you had to choose between being happy or being fulfilled, or content or connected, would you? But of course, we don’t need to choose. We are more likely to feel happy if we also feel fulfilled or content or connected or many other states that we could achieve.
In fact, the more we think about happiness, the less happy we are likely to feel at that point. Thinking has a powerful ability to push happiness away. It is not exactly the enemy of happiness, but too much scrutiny does a disservice to that fragile feeling. How many times though, have you sat down to reflect at the end of a busy day, or week and realised that you were happy when you were doing whatever it was that kept you occupied. Often, we realised that we were happy when we were doing whatever we were doing and not thinking about our feelings, because we were preoccupied with doing stuff and…well, being happy.
When I talk about happiness being flimsy or insubstantial, it feels to me to be lacking as a goal. It is a pleasing feeling that doesn’t really do a lot. As a biproduct of getting on with life, it can be really quite pleasant. Certainly, better than being unhappy, or scared, or anxious. The list of emotions we would prefer to avoid goes on and on. I recall being told, many years ago, by a rather scary older woman who had been through the mill and was clearly getting tired of my naval gazing, “my dear (!), you will be as happy as you choose to be”. Ironically then, given that I have written a blog suggesting that we give some thought to happiness, perhaps the answer is, don’t overthink it!
As a final reflection, a nurse working in palliative care recorded what she perceived to be the top 5 regrets of the dying. They were:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expect of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
So what do I know?!