|Does this make you happy?
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Happiness is something I can’t seem to escape – the topic, I mean. Not the state of being.
It’s been given to me as a reason to marry someone: “He makes me so happy.”
And a reason to divorce someone: “I can’t spend my life being unhappy like this.”
And it keeps coming up in what I’m reading. Here are the same concepts, presented in very different voices:
“Maybe marriage isn’t meant to make you happy, it’s meant to make you holy.” – Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (See the Resources page of this blog for my thoughts on this book.)
“F*ck happy. The point of living isn’t to be in a perpetual state of fairy-tale ecstasy; it’s to find the meaning of life, the meaning of your life.” – Rachel Combe, writing for Elle Magazine (See this link to my comments on the article – includes a link to her article, ‘Til Whatever Do Us Part, the best thing I’ve read on marriage in a long time.)
It’s also on my mind because I’ve been reading Gretchen Reubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that I’ll undoubtedly blog about when I finish.
And again the topic arose today in a great article published on Psychology Today’s website, Is Happiness Even the Point, by Melissa Kirk.
Taking all this into account, I’m creating a theory of happiness. So far, it has four points:
1. Being happy is most definitely not the point.
Happiness isn’t the point of marriage. It’s not the point of parenthood. Or friendship. Or work. Or life. It’s a nice, hopefully frequent, side effect of those things. But expecting constant happiness usually leads to its opposite.
Quoting Melissa Kirk in the article mentioned above: “It made me wonder if our culture’s seeming obsession with the pursuit of happiness misses the point entirely. Not that we shouldn’t seek balance, but happiness? Why is happiness so important, and is it, in fact, even sustainable? And if we were happy all of the time, how would we learn to surf the waves of our emotions, and to gracefully dance with our shadows?”
2. High class problems are the source of most of my unhappiness.
Feeling stressed about your job? What school your kid will go to? Deciding which car will best replace your clunker? These are all genuine concerns, but they’re also the concerns of people with some wiggle room in life. High. Class. Problems. Keeping the stress in perspective is helpful for your happiness level. (Note to self: remember this.)
3. You can get desensitized to happiness.
Monday night I went out for dessert with some girlfriends and we split an incredible white chocolate bread pudding. When I took the first forkful, my toes curled with delight. I was still raving about it on the third bite. But somewhere around bite four or five, I forgot to pay attention to just how incredible it was until the last bite, which I remembered to savor.
We place higher value on things that are new or scarce. Remember the electricity of a first kiss? How’s that feel after being married 10 years?
Without attentiveness, our happiness fades over time, even if the circumstances haven’t changed.
4. Happiness didn’t make me who I am.
Kirk again: “The happy, peaceful time was a welcome respite from my normal worries and struggles, but if I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be learning the lessons I’m currently learning about how to stay balanced in those times when things aren’t going so well. Without the struggle, I learn nothing …”
So that’s my start on a theory of happiness. What am I missing?