Thursday, June 10, 2010

Elusive states

I have been thinking about happiness lately. What is it? Do you know? Is it constant elation? Absence of misery? The feeling that you have everything you need?

I have been happily (or unhappily?) musing, in part, because of some of the blogs I frequent where happiness is a struggle. It is also on my mind because my mother recently accused (if that is the right word) me of being unhappy. I told her she was projecting, which I am convinced is true, regardless of my own state. Yet, I weighed it in my mind: Am I unhappy?

Talking with my husband once about depression, I mentioned that I did not think I was depressed, at least not in the clinical sense. He kind of cocked his head and looked at me skeptically. I insisted that I was not prone to depressive states, and he pointed out that some of my morose periods are quite lengthy and pronounced.

Some of my periods of distress are hormone driven, a fact which irks me a little because it makes emotions seem illusory, which, of course, they are.

Generally speaking, I am not unhappy. I am fully content, in many ways, with my life. I have done things that as a child I would never have dreamed possible. I have a great husband, perhaps one of the safest men I have ever met. I have fabulous kids. I have had the satisfaction of fulfilling major life goals. I have it good, seriously, I am very fortunate. In fact, I feel guilty when I do feel unhappy.

There are things I am unhappy about, some chronic, some acute. I won’t list them here, some are perhaps too silly and some are perhaps too heavy to share.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that I grew up immersed in pain and worry and my relationship models are marked by emotional turmoil. I can, of course, see the larger picture of human suffering: what I have experienced is much less than some and some degree more than others. Yet, it is difficult for me to reconcile what I know is negative about the world with what I know is positive. Perhaps there are certain kinds of childhoods that are just not conducive to adult-state happiness.

I like to consider myself at least mildly entertaining, though my humor is sarcastic in nature, from birth. But I am not at all what you would ever call a jovial person, I am not happy-go-lucky. I am pensive, intense, and opinionated in a way that can come across as critical. To make matters more complicated, I can be very hard to read, so even when I am in a state of bliss, it is very internal.

So, although I am not unhappy, I don’t think I would call myself happy either. Can that be? Is happy the true opposite of unhappy? Or are they two totally different scales? Am I neurotic?

Your musings?


mosey said...

My friend, you have basically just written my own blog post for me. It's something that I think about frequently, but especially lately when I've had physical discomforts that contribute to the downside. I think I remember us talking once about how we have to take control of our own happiness and I believe this to be true. But it doesn't mean it's any easier to accomplish. I'm reading "The Happiness Project" right now just for insights into how someone else, similar to me, brought joy back into her daily life.

Like you, I'm endlessly grateful for what I have and get frustrated with what I see as my own failing to reach out and grasp the happiness that is. right. there. in. front. of. me.

To answer your question, I don't think that happiness is the opposite of unhappiness - in a weird way I believe they can coexist. And also, you and I had very different upbringings yet our day-to-day experiences as adults are very similar.

So it brings me back around to choice, and I'm assuming that it is my work as an adult to make that choice happen on a daily basis.

Kyle said...

I think that sometimes happiness is deceptive. Everyone strives to be happy. But that's just the thing -- when you're unhappy you're usually trying to get away from whatever is making you unhappy. You're moving forward. I see many people that are often stagnant when they're happy, myself included. Our society tells us that we shouldn't show many other emotions other than happiness, that happiness is the golden key. But if you're unhappy hopefully you're also in a state of motion.

The emotion that I recognize in myself on a more regular basis than any other emotion is fear. Sometimes I hate it, but I really do try to let that push me.

Danielle said...

Happiness is when you feel at least 70% good about 100% of things in your life...
Anything below 70% and it's time to reconsider your approach.

sarabeck said...

I understand what you are saying. I used to take meds for depression and anxiety but stopped a few years ago because I didn't think the problem was that bad. Yet, I still do go through periods of melocholy (as reflected in my blog) but I don't think it affects how I live my life. I think it makes life more interesting.

Maggie May said...

I am so appreciative of this post. Your thoughts are so articulate, honest and intelligent. So reflective. To me happiness, more and more, is being truly grateful for what I have, no matter my transitory state of emotion. The top layer can be pissed off or sad, but underneath if I can feel the steady heartbeat thumping of the wonderful and important things in my life, then I count myself happy. Joy on the other hand is that quick and uprising emotion that does not last, but is wonderful.

Marmo said...

La felicidad es un punto en el lejano horizonte. Un punto que toda nuestra vida tal vez tratemos de alcanzar, pero al que nunca realmente lograremos llegar. Cada cosa que experimentamos e interpretamos como felicidad momentánea, es en realidad un pequeño paso que damos en dirección a ese punto, pero eventualmente la ansiedad, la incertidumbre y los malos momentos nos alcanzan. Y esto no es necesariamente algo malo. Lo que podemos (y debemos) disfrutar son los momentos de nuestra vida en que nos sentimos más cerca de ser felices, y de la misma manera, entender que aquellos momentos que nos parecen más amargos y tristes, también eventualmente quedarán en el camino, y aún más, nos ayudarán a crecer, fortalecernos y valorar de mejor forma los momentos buenos.
Si realmente alcanzáramos el horizonte, si realmente llegáramos a ser completamente felices, la vida carecería de sentido. Como Mosey, felicidad e infelicidad coexisten, porque son dos partes de lo mismo, nuestra percepción de la realidad, en la misma forma que no podemos entender el calor sin entender el frío.
Perdona que haya escrito esto en español, pero si lo hacía en inglés no estaba seguro de poder expresar lo que pienso al respecto. Este es un tema que pasa por mi mente a menudo.

teamawesomesquared said...

As food for thought, and perhaps to play a little devil's advocate, have you read any about the hedonic treadmill? You can check it out here:

What do you think?

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Words are sometimes tricky. I think words like happy and unhappy are defined differently by so many that it is difficult to discuss them without agreeing on definitions first. I know my life is good. I imagine there are many more people worse off than I am than people better off. I don't always feel like smiling and dancing around and I don't always feel like crying. Sometimes smiling and dancing make me feel better and sometimes crying or wallowing in a little melancholy make me feel better. Did I just say anything at all? : )