The Surprising Truth about Happiness

How happy are you? Right now. This minute. Unqualified.happiness-baseline

That is exactly how happy you be one year after winning the lottery.

Or becoming a paraplegic.

Wait a minute–what?! How can that possibly be?

It can be because, contrary to what society tries to tell us, happiness is not about what we have or don’t have. It’s not about achieving our goals and accomplishing our dreams. It’s a state of mind.

Stop it. Right this minute. I can see the eye-roll. Hear me out.

Happiness-is-Inside-JobThere are two different kinds of happiness, what some would call “actual” happiness and synthetic happiness. Our culture is built around the idea of “actual” happiness which is what we feel when we get what we want. Synthetic happiness is what we make–it’s the ability to take what we get and choose to be happy. (See Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s Ted Talk on the subject here)

Synthetic happiness is an approach to living.

Have you ever wondered how one person can approach a tragedy, a heartbreak, an incredible loss and seem to become better, stronger, somehow more?  And how another who is confronted with the same loss, tragedy, or heartbreak becomes somehow less–angry, bitter, somehow diminished? Well, this is a piece of the puzzle, this is one of the key aspects of what counselors like to call “resilience.”

Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I lost a daughter to SMA. It was horrific. There are not sufficient words in our vocabulary to describe what a parent feels when they have to bury their child. It’s agonizing.

Of course I was angry! It wasn’t fair!

Of course I grieved! My heart was broken.

Of course I was bitter. Why me and not you? Why me and not someone else–anyone else?

I watched not only my daughter get buried, but many of my hopes and dreams. I watched my marriage become a sickly shadow of what it had been. If actual happiness was all there is, I should have been diminished: angry, bitter, and depressed.

happiness-is-a-way-of-travel-not-a-destinationBut on a basic level I understood synthetic happiness–the happiness we make when life doesn’t give us what we want. I didn’t have the words for it then, but I knew it instinctively. In the words of the old adage, I had the ability to take my lemons and make lemonade.

Synthetic happiness is our ability to make happiness in any situation, to find the bright side, to see the proverbial hope at the end of the tunnel. It is the ability to find something good, even if it’s tiny, in the most dismal of circumstances. Synthetic happiness is a choice.

I love this. We are exactly as happy as we choose to be. We are not at the whim of fate and circumstance. My happiness isn’t dependent on someone else or on what I have or don’t have. It’s dependent on my looking at the blessings in my life, what I have to be thankful for, and what has potential for good in the circumstances I can’t control.

My happiness is up to me.

And your happiness is up to you.

So, I ask you again, just how happy are you?

And what are you going to do about it?

 

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