Friday, December 31, 2010

Happiness? What Does It Mean To You

From a Sunday Times section meant for children but applicable to adults as well:

"In recent years, a few books have been published on the subject of happiness – including arguments against simple pleasure and surface-level complacency. What does happiness mean to you?

In an essay in the Sunday Times Book Review, Amy Bloom considers the studies and books that have been published in recent years about the pursuit of happiness, as well as the cynicism about it. She then offers this list: the Fundamentally Sound, Sure-Fire Top Five Components of Happiness: (1) Be in possession of the basics — food, shelter, good health, safety. (2) Get enough sleep. (3) Have relationships that matter to you. (4) Take compassionate care of others and of yourself. (5) Have work or an interest that engages you.
I don’t see how even the most high-minded, cynical or curmudgeonly person could argue with that."

Child or adult one can't really argue about the components of happiness. I would venture to guess that one might add to it and maybe change the order but the five  components listed above couldn't be excluded. Having the components doesn't actually describe what happiness really is, i.e., the experience of being happy. Someone recently asked me if I was happy to which I responded "sure". After we separated I thought about it. Yes I was "happy" but what did that mean to me? Could it be that my definition of "being Happy" differed greatly from my friend's even if we both possessed the five components of happiness?

Many believe happiness is being in the state of some euphoria such as when the person you love finally says they love you also and you are walking on air. When you come down from that cloud and walk on the ground again does that mean you have stopped being happy just because the euphoria has left? The feeling of well being can have a bit of ennui attached to it but just because it may contain boredom doesn't necessarily exclude it from a state of being happy. Does it? Being content with one's lot in life is very good for some but not for others. To those that need vacations, or success after success being content with the five basic components of happiness listed above might lead to a state of unhappiness. Can we be happy with failure, disappointment, and never rising to the heights some seem to attain? Some might maintain it isn't the goal that makes one satisfied with one's lot in life but the experience of attempting rather than the need to achieve.

As far as I am concerned the way to true happiness is to "feel comfortable in one's own skin".  Life's goal should first be to find out who you really are and being comfortable with that knowledge. Shakespeare's, "To Thine own self be true then thou canst be false to any other." or something like that. This is the necessary ingredient. Not accepting one's self is the start of many bad things. However one can't be so self absorbed that every relationship relys only on what your desires may be. To explain further:

Our materialistic society measures success by what one owns or as in sports, how many wins can be acquired. Winning is the only way for in winning one acquires wealth and power. The pyramid gets very narrow at the top. There is room for only the few. What has happened to "...How you play the game is what counts."? What has happened to learning from our failures? What has happened to the reward of just trying?

To know, realize, and accept our shortcomings as well as our attributes leads to happiness. A Priest's homily once explained Christ's call to perfection, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."' as realizing that God's perfection is unattainable but our perfection is not. He went on with the allegory of a large pitcher of water filled to the brim, that is perfection of purpose for that pitcher. The glass, eight ounces, filled to the brim, is perfection for that glass. Both have reached perfection for which they were made but the glass can only provide eight ounces while the pitcher can provide much more.

Therefore to my friend who asked if I was happy I would expand on my answer of "Sure!" by saying I am content by being comfortable in my own skin with my talents and lack of talents, recognizing that there are many things I can't have or do' but I can try and find the things I can do. While attempting new ventures I sure as hell can love the people I meet and live with as well as all the wonders around me like the snows in winter, the budding trees in spring, the beautiful flowers of the summer and the blazing colors of the fall.

Be happy, Live well. Happy New Year! Happy New Day!
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