By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
We frequently talk on Lovefraud about finding healing and being “happy” again. We discuss the words “forgiveness” and other emotionally charged words that have individual meanings and try to come to some conclusion that we have a definition of these words for ourselves.
I got to thinking about the meaning of “happiness,” and how I will know when I have reached it. What is happiness to me? For me?
After my husband died, there was a period of time when in my profound sadness and grief, that I thought “happiness” could be found in finding another mate and husband. I went seeking that “happiness,” and instead of a life mate and loving relationship with a new man, I found a psychopath who was seeking a new “respectable wife” to cheat on. My feeling of “happiness” was very short lived when I realized he was still “carrying on” with his former mistresses, which essentially amounted to a harem of needy women hoping he would “choose me.”
I elected to get out of that relationship. I found a great deal of sadness in my life at that time, but the “happiness” I had sought was not in view. I later realized that it could not be provided to me by someone else, but was something I had to provide for myself.
Wanting to be happier
Recently I read a great article entitled, The dark side of happiness, by Gareth Cook. A couple of short paragraphs in particular of this long article stuck out:
It is not so unreasonable to want to be happier. Are we really just supposed to stand by and let life have its way with us?
Well, yes and no. One of the most powerful ways to boost happiness ironically is to learn acceptance. Instead of viewing negative emotions as a failure, learn to see them as a healthy, natural part of the human drama. Negative feelings are often there to tell us something, an invitation to reflect, to make a new plan, or examine an issue more slowly and carefully. This basic notion can play an important role not just in therapy, but also in a balanced and meaningful life.
Who among us doesn’t want to be “happier?” But what is going to “make me happy?” That is the big question.
I hear people say, “I will be so happy when I get out of college and can get a real job.” I’ve said such things myself. When I do, I remember my grandmother telling me, “Don’t wish you life away, child,” to remind me to savor the todays of my life, not live in the future when thus and such may happen to “make me happy.” I’ve found that when things happening are the things that “make me happy,” the feeling of “happiness” it engenders doesn’t last long, but is a fleeting joy.
Today I dropped a heavy glass lid out of the top of my cabinet when I was trying to rearrange it and broke a glass canister that sits on the counter and held my oatmeal as well as a glass of water I had sitting there ready to drink. It made quite a sound as it broke. My son helped me clean up the mess and he said, “Well at least it wasn’t your grandmother’s serving dish.” I laughed and said, “Honey, I broke those a long time ago, but it wouldn’t matter if it was my grandma’s serving dish, because things are not that important to me any more. I’m not going to be unhappy because something is lost or broken.” (Though I admit I recently got angry when I realized that a former friend had also stolen an emergency stove I had stored in my barn!)
Joy and happiness
I also look at the difference between Joy and Happiness. Joy to me is getting a new puppy or a new car, or making a great dish for my friends and me to enjoy. Joy seeing the pleasure in someone when I give him or her a gift. It isn’t “happiness,” but the accumulation of joy builds to create happiness.
What is the difference though in “happiness” and in “joy?” The definitions below may give us some guidance.
From the Free Dictionary
joy (joi) n.
1. a. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.
b. The expression or manifestation of such feeling.
2. A source or an object of pleasure or satisfaction: their only child, their pride and joy.
v.joyed, joy·ing, joys
To take great pleasure; rejoice.
1. To fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.
2. To enjoy.
According to Dictionary.com the definition of happiness is:
1. the quality or state of being happy.
2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
Don’t know about you, but I can’t say I totally agree with these definitions! Let’s see what others think. A definition of happiness, actually several definitions, are listed on the web site Happy Life.
What the sages say
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi
“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“Getting what you go after is success; but liking it while you are getting it is happiness.” Bertha Damon
“Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.” Leo Tolstoy
The “definition” of happiness in the dictionary is sort of a self-defining word, “happiness is being happy” and still leaves us wondering what it means. The above website’s quotes from several sages seem more to define what “happiness” is, though I think each of us can and should define what “happiness” is to us as individuals, how we can build that happiness with the smaller joys of life, while realizing that our feelings of sadness at times, or remorse, guilt, or even shame, are signs that we might need to reflect inwardly for guidance in our lives.
I personally agree with Eleanor Roosevelt’s definition: “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” To me, happiness is the culmination of the smaller joys of life, from the enjoyment of a well cooked meal, to sharing a laugh with a friend. The personal satisfaction I experience at the end of a day when I have done my best and lay my head down on my pillow in peace.