Expectations of happiness
I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the BBC the other day for UN World Happiness Day. About 20 minutes before we were due to go on air my email “pinged”, the producer saying “just to let you know it’s actually less of an interview, more of a debate between you [an author of a book about happiness] and an American author of a book about why being sad is good”. Gah! Cue three minutes of frantic googling, in which I found out the author is, in fact, a professor at an American University and has indeed penned a book on the benefits of embracing a life of melancholia. “Yes, yes! No problem!” I squeaked and frantically started prepping.
It was a fascinating discussion. It didn’t perhaps flow as it should because I don’t actually believe that we should never be sad, which I think is what I was expected to argue. I believe that we have a range of four emotions (anger, sadness, fear, joy) that we are meant to feel, acknowledge, learn from, express. We are not meant to be happy all the time, just as much as it would be weird to live in brilliant sunshine 24/7. We need night and rain, cold and wind as much as sunshine to make our beautiful world.
For me, it isn’t about eliminating “non- happy” emotions. It’s about allowing them, recognising them, feeling them (that’s why they are called “feelings”). When we feel them, they move through us, we learn what we are meant to learn and we open up our capacity for genuine joy. When we bottle up fear, anger or sadness, it continues to live within us. If we do that for long enough it eventually forms a block to being able to experience real joy. If we ignore, deny and refuse to feel those true emotions we also become numb to feeling real joy, and life becomes one shade of “okay”. The lows are not as painful and low, but neither are the highs so high.
When we pretend that we are “fine” when we are not, we store up these emotions. And if that is our pattern over time, to continually pretend to ourselves that we are “fine” when we are not then our capacity for genuine happiness gets slowly whittled away. We start to live in a zone of “fine”, and happiness becomes accessed more usually through “faux happiness”. We grab hold of it through pinot grigio, or overeating, or over- exercising, or drugs or endless gossip. Faux happiness feels good at the time but wears off quickly and as soon as the bottles hit the recycling. Genuine joy and authentic happiness generate a glow that will live on long after the experience has faded, as it comes from deep in our soul.
So, I partly agreed with this professor I was brought on to argue with. Sadness is important, and allowing ourselves to acknowledge we feel sad because we have lost something is important. But once we have processed it, then we must strive to move towards authentic happiness. To choose to fill our mind with thoughts that move us towards happiness. More than a choice between happy and not happy, often it can be a choice between faux happiness and genuine, authentic happiness that radiates from within. And sometimes to reach that we have to acknowledge a bit of sadness is part of our path to genuine happiness.
Louise is a life coach, author and corporate escapee. Visit louisethompson.com for more.