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The Many Ways To Be Happy (And Why They Don't Work)

Submitted by Joel on Sun, 07/29/2018 - 09:03

I belong to a cool Facebook group that discusses all sorts of topics. I like the group because it has rules about being nice to each other and forwarding discussion. It's a group that I really enjoy throwing in my thoughts, but someone posed a question that I thought would take a little more thought and articulation to get out everything I wanted to say. They asked about happiness and if anyone (specifically families) are actually happy. 

At first I was going to write a quick comment that I was happy, but then I thought about what they thought it meant to be happy, and it just devolved from there. Or evolved. 'Amassed' is probably the best word to use. It took a day or two to put my thoughts together (as best I could) and here is what I came up with...

Happiness is subjective

Well, that's not really groundbreaking, is it? I've always thought that happiness is about a personal perspective. I wouldn't say it's necessarily a CHOICE, but it's about how a person looks at the world. I like the part in The Matrix when The Oracle tells Neo "Temet nosce" or "Know thyself". Everyone looks at the world a little differently so what makes each person happy is going to be different. I think everyone should do some soul searching and figure out what works for them at this point in his or her life. I won't try and change your view of happiness, but I'd like to try and explain mine. But first, I'll tell you what it's NOT for me.

That ONE thing (City Slickers)
Curly tells Mitch that we all just have to find that one thing and the rest just doesn't really matter. 

This doesn't really fit for me. Bethany makes me happy, but I was happy before I was married. We don't have kids, yet, but I'm not the type of person that lives for just one thing, I guess. A recent Vlog post by one of my favorite YouTube personalities, Philip DeFranco, mentioned that most people balance between THREE things: Work, Family, and Friends. But this is really, in my mind, an extrapolation of the original idea, with three broad groups. Mitch found that his one thing was Family (in City Slickers), for instance. Curly found that his was Work. For me, though, I try to find happiness in all I do. So this really doesn't work for me. 

Someone To Die For (Romeo and Juliet)
Of course, everyone knows the dramatic ending to Romeo and Juliet's famous relationship. If they can't have each other, they would rather die! 

While I appreciate the romance of being willing to die for someone, having another person being the sole reason for living just isn't for me. Plus, while it's nice to have someone willing to die for me, I like the concept mentioned in one of my favorite songs, Cat and Mouse by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: "You must live for me, too..." But in order for our lives to be worth living together, we need to know what makes us happy.

Ignorance Is Bliss
In Woody Allen's movie Annie Hall, he finds a happy couple and asks their secret. One replies, "I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say." The other, "And I'm exactly the same way." 

I think there are times in all of our lives when this is what makes us happy. We just check out and let the world just wash away. In some ways, the world is such a dark place that we really have to stop thinking about it. I'm certain that I'm not the deepest person by far, but I like the idea from Sally Sparrow in that cool episode of Dr. Who "Blink". She said that sad is happy for deep people. 

My Version Of Happy
So am I happy when I'm sad? I guess I'd say that I'm ok being sad sometimes because it makes me appreciate the happy even more. I like sad movies and sad songs (they say so much!). But I guess I would say that my true source of happiness is the complex concept of 'freedom' and how I earned that freedom. I wouldn't say that it's my 'one thing', as it's so multi-faceted, but maybe I'm just splitting hairs. 

My life has changed dramatically twice over the last few years, but I would say I've been happy throughout all of it. I wasn't longing for those changes, but I appreciated them as they came. I got married a few years ago, and I'd say what makes us happy in each other is that we open each others' lives. We give each other more freedom in life. 

After being married for a while, we found ourselves in small-town Iowa with pretty good jobs. I was Director of Web Projects and Bethany was a chaplain, both jobs we enjoyed. I liked being able to travel and buy nice things. As the head of the department, I could set my hours and work from home if I wanted. Then we decided that we wanted more time together, so we quit our jobs and worked from home together. For me, I was happy in my job because of the freedom the salary gave us. But being at home with Bethany gave me more of the freedom that I like while sacrificing some of the security. 

Now we've made an even BIGGER change! We're currently in Cyprus, having sold off everything we own (cars, furniture, and hopefully soon the house). Talk about FREEDOM! But it's not all perfect, as we've given up some comfort to have this new life. Still, I appreciate the freedom that each path has given me. 

Earning My Freedom
I think another aspect of my happiness is how I gained this freedom. Much of it is privilege, but we did work and sacrifice for it, too. We both have investments in ourselves that gave us these opportunities. We have education and some money set aside. I think if we'd have been given our freedom, I don't know that we'd have been as happy. It's hard to know for sure, but I don't know that we'd appreciate it. 

I like working for something. And I like having something to work towards. I like having that distant goal to keep marching closer to. So maybe freedom isn't the ONE thing. I want to keep getting better and I want the freedom to pursue those ever-changing goals.

For me, this is my source of happiness. But they are for ME and might not work for you. Every person has to figure out what works for them, even if it's not that one thing, like Curly suggests. For some it WILL be that one thing. Or something easy. Sometimes it's just the ability to turn our brains off and set our minds free. But I do think it's all about perspective. Two people in very similar circumstances can be miserable or blissful. Sometimes happiness is just about appreciating what you have, even if you want more. Would you really be happy if your place in life was too easy?

So everybody has to find their own way to be happy. What's yours?