Often I have thought about the term happiness and what it actually means. How can we define happiness as such? Is our happiness dependent from external influences? Can we influence our happiness ourselves? Is money a set parameter when it comes to happiness?
I came to ask myself those questions over and over again, and when I stumbled upon Maijas blog I was inspired to actually try to sort my thoughts on here...
Since I was always a big fan of philosophy (I am even a subscriber of philosophy now magazine)I want to start with a definition which was given by some of the old masters. They involve "a mental and emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy"(Source).
Personally I would emphasize on the long term state of mind. I would go even further and say it is the state of mind every human being is here for*.
Having clarified this, I would actually call this to-be-achieved-state of mind a state where we all would feel the same (happy). Now, I would say, that x is the difference we are away from it, which is very different for each and everyone of us. For some of us this might be finding one's partner to spend the rest of their lives with, for others this means financial security, some strive for a blank mind, some are aiming for a specific academic degree. You name it.
Having roughly defined happiness I already feel better.
Now I am going to look at in how far I could work out whether happiness depends on external factors. Let's start with material things: A new pair of Christian Louboutin's can bring us (girls at least) a moment of immediate joy, yes. But, uhh, have you seen those babies, made by Jimmy Choo...? Aha, it comes back. We will not be tired of shoe hunting after we have scored a pair. Or two. (Am I right?)Let's assume I do not own a car, have to ride my bike everyday to the office and need public transport when I would want to visit a friend. I feel that I miss a car, since it would be so much easier to just hop in and drive wherever I need to go. I have been in this situation myself. When I got that car, I quickly got used to the situation and stopped my high appreciation for the car (though not completely) and the degree of shrinking x has now come to a standstill and does not make out that much.
Another external factors could be workplaces. Colleges, bosses, work environment, general atmosphere at work. This is indeed a factor which need some more attention: I spend most of my daytime at my work and therefore it certainly a factor facilitating happiness or the lack thereof. Where the people at my work and the atmosphere made by those there are certainly external factors, I would suggest that the content of my work is part of my personal perception and therefore an internal one. (you could argue that I also perceive other people and their behavior myself, but they have a free will)Furthermore, I have chosen for myself that I want to work there, so it is also up to me to change it. After a small consideration I would conclude that work places can be counted as both, internal and external.
Big parts of our lives are also relationships. Including other individuals with a free will. Others can hurt us by saying things, in the way they act or not act. Now it gets complicated. While we can chose our friends / partners with our free will, it cannot said for above mentioned work colleges, or, even more difficult - our families. The harmony here certainly has influences on my state of happiness (at least as long as I encounter it as important.). I was hoping 'complicated' stops a bit. Not so. How about taking diseases into external influencers of our happiness?! Do they really come from an outside sphere? (Maybe so with viruses / bacterias etc which we picked up on highway bathrooms)How about those cancers / rheumas and other things which seem to evolve from the inside? I am not completely decided which category this might count to. (I will leave it for now, and discuss it later in the conclusion.)
Oh. I forgot the habitus. Don't get me started on that one. Is it internal? External? Both? (My winner)
As I have indicated a few external factors which might be influencing our state of mind find it is time to look at the other side of the coin. Whether we can influence our state of happiness ourselves.
Yes we can! I'd say. Absolutely yes.
We had been given a thing called free will which enables us to do so. Even if it sounds weird we can make the decision to embrace certain situations and be happy. Simple.
I will explain. When I experience whatever kind of crappy situation, I can let it grow my x by feeling sad / angry / incomplete / disappointed (...) and therefore reduce my overall state of happiness (or the lack thereof).
However, I can also chose to distant myself of this situation (here I would like to point out that of course there are situations which need to be looked at from a different angle, such as losing a beloved one etc.)and step back, have a look at the bigger pictures, ask for help first before exploding (of which I am an expert)and decide it won't harm my state of mind. Because it does not help my happiness. At all. Better being happy and have a bad situation to deal with, but looking forward to the highlights which are still in the pipeline for me, than let that very event reduce my state of happiness and let it ruin my day / life / whatsoever since it won't change the bad situation itself. My choice.
Instead I could chose to combat upcoming anger etc with doing positive things, doing sports to release energy or call a friend for help.
Bad things happened - embrace them & try and remain happy - check. Next thing which is challenging us all the time are expectations. My own ones towards me. Towards others. And Others' expectations towards me. What are expectations? Very shortly, they are man made. Are they true therefore? Absolutely not. (OK, I am not talking about the mother who expects his little one to clean up its room). They are facilitating our way to deal with other people as we could probably not act without the whole bunch of information which is still missing and would result in an incomplete picture or the other picture. No intentions needed, it works automatically. Mostly.
I can anticipate expectations in two ways: First I can (because I have a free will) control my own. Towards myself, towards others. I can check them, question them, make new ones (if they are needed) or delete them (I know, adopting a new pattern and getting rid of an old pattern is indeed super difficult. But it is all learned behavior that's why we can also unlearn them ourselves). Second, we can evaluate others' expectations towards us. They are only human as well, no way that it those expectations are written in stone. We can decide they are correct and embrace them (and be happy) or we can decide they are redundant or wrong we can ignore them (otherwise it would cause a discrepancy resulting in discontent).
Last thing: Money. Does money serves us on our way to happiness? Yes, it does. If there is an absence of worry to enable is to do the things we like to do, which would in return cause satisfaction. Does more money make more happiness? I would answer with caution: Being too money focussed distracts us from other things bringing us joy and happiness. It certainly facilitates certain things we like to be doing (traveling, hobbies, etc) but the amount on our bank accounts does not represent how happy we are. Because, again, I can decide whether I want to be happy with what I have, yes or no. The decision is up to us. A romantic picnic is perfectly serving my happiness and almost cost nothing. A dinner in a michelin starred restaurant can cause happiness as well but is a little more costly. (I am aware of the fact that I do talk about the more short termed moments of joy).
In a nutshell, I believe that happiness is a state one can decide upon. At any time. I come to the conclusion that there are less external factors influencing my state of mind than there are internal. My free will always can interrupt my perception and thinking process. It might be difficult to practice happiness at once (I can know because I am trying to)but I am absolutely sure that it can be re-learned (because as a baby we were either hungry, asleep or satisfied -- apart from full nappies and bellyaches of course).
What I think is important here is to know, that every individual has another level of x and also another level of their 100 % happiness. For someone this might be enough food on the table, for someone else the fulfilling relationship, and again for another one it might be finding their dream job. It does not matter whether we are poor or millionaires, we all have our x which defines our missing part to the state of overall happiness. No matter in which level it is. Therefore it also does not make sense to compare ourselves with others, let it be friends, colleges or celebrities - their lives are not perfectly happy either!
I absolutely believe we are not at all dependent on external factors to make us happy, in the least, our happiness might be affected by them and it is up to us, to make decisions. I am totally aware of the fact that it would be NICE to be believe it would be different and that we would be completely controlled by what's happening outside, but that would be the too easy peasy way....**
OK, for those of you who read my 'essay' til the end, what are your thoughts on happiness? Would you agree that it is a choice to be happy? Why not?
What is your best weapon to combat negative feelings / thoughts in order to feel happy again?
Love to hear your thoughts!
*This might be a little delicate to say, as most probably there are a lot of different other opinions on that one out there as well. But hey, it is my blog and I can say what I like, right? ;)
**Disclaimer: This is not a research paper. I do not claim any scientific truth in these words since they purely originate from my mind during the last hour. Those thoughts were born out of curiosity about the topic and serve nothing but the purpose to clarify my own thoughts and for entertainment. I did not research anything of it; and the only external source which I used I have linked.