Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 11, 2008

Happiness

Filed under: The Great Adventure! — Punchinello @ 11:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I was listening to Dennis Prager, to his “happiness hour,” and thinking that’s really a great idea. He’s apparently been doing it for over ten years, but in these up-and-down times, I think people really should know more about happiness. What is it, how does it work, and can we make ourselves happy?

For a long time when I was younger, I’d ask people if they’re happy and they’d tell me they were “content,” or “not unhappy.” That got me thinking about the meaning of happiness. A number of years later, I ran across Ayn Rand’s explanation of happiness and liked it. She proposed that happiness is a composite of several things in life.

The more I thought about it, I realized that happiness is a dynamic emotion. It’s moving, changing, and that’s how come people can’t reach a point where they say, “I’m happy,” and never worry about it again. Joy, on the other hand is static, meaning it happens in an enclosed moment of time. It’s also transient. Joy happens, you experience it as it is, then it stops.

Rand said that happiness was a positive value or judgment of how well you’re doing in your human relations, productive work, appreciation of art, sensuality, and recreation. I would add that we all of us also need to have a sense that we’re creating something — creative goals.

Taken together, somewhat like a graphic equalizer with six “bands” or “channels,” we can examine each of these areas in our lives. What goals do we have in each channel, and where do we stand in terms of moving toward or away from each goal. No movement at all feels like frustration. Having no goals also means having no happiness.

Prager makes a great point in saying that we also make a choice as to whether or not we want to be happy. Consider attempted murder or the trauma of a rape. Neither of those situations is “happy” in any way. They’re horrible situations, life-changing events, and will have a life-long impact. True. But we have a choice; we can spend the rest of our lives looking back on that event and being angry or afraid. Or; we can take the experience and integrate it, carrying on. How could we ever learn to be happy again if all we ever think about is the horror of the past?

There’s a choice there, and anyone who’s ever lost an arm or leg, been blinded, gone deaf, or had some other massive disaster take place knows that choice. Live or die, it’s as basic as that. Choose life, and look for joy or shut down and remember only pain, rage and emptiness.

The problem, in my view, is that people confuse happiness with joy. We tend to think that “if only this was true, then I’d be really happy.” Then we’re disappointed that we’re not always happy. Would you really and truly want to be always happy? Remember that movie, “Pleasantville?”

No, we need drama in our lives. We need the ups and downs, fear and resolution, and we need the worry and anxiety that things may not turn out the way we expect. Nobody would go to a movie or read a book that was always sugar sweet, had no problems, and where no ideals or life desires hung in the balance. Knowing that everything always will be perfect would be utterly boring, and we’d never evolve at all.

On the other hand, trying to be happy and freeze that moment is to say that we’ve attained our goals across all six “channels.” Then what? It wouldn’t take long before we were bored, disgruntled, frustrated, and searching for something new to do.

Joy: That’s what people want as a single moment in time. Life with many moments of simple joy is a wonderful thing. I remember when I first met my special lady in life. She already was totally broke, with a death sentence due to liver problems. I was on my way down, having been slammed over and over again with one after another major catastrophes in business and my personal life.

We had nothing, and I was visiting her place. She had no furniture beyond a hand-me-down couch, and a couple of pots and pans. She too had lost everything, not only with health but also personally and financially. All we could afford was a box-mix of stroganoff and a pound of ground beef.

So that’s what we had. We cooked it up, turned off the overhead light, kept one lamp on, and ate with plates in our laps. There wasn’t even a kitchen table. And we talked. We laughed and joked, talked about life, thought about what we could do to get out of this mess, and ate.

When we’d finished, we sat back, a bit stuffed, and looked at each other. “Wow! Does it get any better than this!” she said, and then we both burst out laughing. I’d been thinking exactly the same thing. Then we looked around, looked at what was going on in our lives, and laughed some more. And yet, it was true! At that moment, we both felt that life was excellent.

That was a moment of joy, and we’ve had lots of them. Catching a big fish, paying the rent, covering the electric bill, filling the gas tank, selling some item on eBay; all of those moments add up. Somehow, we don’t notice that we’re getting slammed still. Over and over, no matter what could go wrong it does go wrong.

It’s our choice, our character, our sense of humor, and our fundamental desire to “do something.” Both of us hold that life is organized. We may have no clue how it’s organized, but it is organized. That gives us hope that something will happen, nearly overnight, that will yet again change everything.

Our choice is to believe that what comes around the corner in time will be marvelous. Of course we could believe it’ll be catastrophic, but why? How does that make life more fun, more enjoyable, more interesting, or more fulfilling? Since “anything could happen,” why not choose to believe that what happens will be better?

Right now, economic turmoil and stock-market losses have made many people’s lives terrifying. The housing collapse, mortgage foreclosures, job losses, and credit abyss add to the mix. People want more than anything for things to “be the way they were.” They say they’re afraid, unhappy, terrified, and some are even committing suicide.

One solution is to look at what is, not what could have been. Think and imagine what might be, not what should have happened. Look at the six great arenas of life, and see what sort of goals you could put together. Who cares if they seem impossible; without goals you have no life anyway. Seemingly unreachable goals are better than no goals.

Then think about this: Are you healthy? Have you been told you have 6 months to live? Are you in constant pain?

We can’t do anything much about the things that happen to us. But we can definitely do something about how we’ll react and respond to those circumstances. Look backward and wish, and you’ll be unhappy and depressed. Look forward and dream, and you’ll find that here and there, everywhere, there are moments of real joy.

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