Thursday, May 10, 2012

what exactly is "happiness"?

in a recent post i wrote about the roller-coaster ride of my emotions and how to find equilibrium.  i wondered whether happiness was something to even strive for, as an attainable goal. i have thought a lot about happiness since that post and have asked myself "am I happy?" more than once.  strangely the answer is: it depends... which makes me wonder what question I am really answering.  on the one hand I feel much more myself in the past year than i have in a long time.  on the other, most of the things that I want for my life are not in place right now.  so while I may feel on a day-to-day basis like an authentic version of me, my life from the outside looks like a bit of a mess (or at least, a work in progress).

i suppose i could say that i feel happy with who i am but not with the current state of my life.  but what does that even mean - can i be happy and dissatisfied at the same time?  i didnt think so until i ran across this beautiful song (Lament, by Audrey Assad)

the words in that song "i am a picture of contentment and i am dissatisfied" expressed exactly how i'd been feeling.  its hard to reconcile, but i think its part of the human condition.  we are never satisfied... always running.  we need something to strive for and we can never get enough of the good things we have, or feel...  or the feelings don't last.

so can we ever really say that we're happy?  and anyway... what exactly IS happiness?

I had to admit that I didnt quite know, or rather that my thoughts on happiness were  a bit muddled.  Is it a state of being?  is it an emotion?  does it apply to the current moment or the big picture?  hmmm... time to go to the dictionary...

Webster defines happiness as :
a) a state of well-being and contentment : JOY
b) a pleasurable or satisfying experience

aha! even webster cant choose a single definition -- that makes me feel better!   definition a) seems to apply to me in the broader sense, my feelings of authenticity and balance.   while definition b) is more about an in-the-moment feeling derived from an experience (which relates more to my previous post about feeling "up" and then "crashing").

i admit that i've had trouble reconciling my feelings of contentment with the fact that my life looks nothing like i want it to look.  but that's only when its viewed from the outside.  at closer scrutiny things are not so out of balance after all -- in the small, day-to-day living my life looks very much how i want it to look: i do meaningful work that makes a difference in people's lives; i have strong relationships and connections with lots of interesting, dynamic, inspiring, wonderful friends and colleagues; i am healthy enough to enjoy life and do what i want; i have goals and interests in abundance such that i am *never* bored; and i can carve out free time to relax and rejuvenate.  [ note the absence of any discussion of status or money... things which we all want and strive for but know won't really make us happy ]

a recent "happiness moment" on my walk home from work

i finally made the connection today when i read this blog post and then one of my grad school friends emailed me with a story similar to mine -- she's feeling very much her true self these days, figuring out what she wants for her life, staying connected to people and making time for what it important to her.  and not so coincidentally, she is one of the friends who joined me in a vision boarding session this past january... she said even though the board doesn't exactly match her life (or visa versa) its a representation of the authenticity she is living in now.  in the moment. day by day.

more to come on this topic .... i haven't even quoted the dalai lama yet ;-)

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