Is happiness the be all and end all?
I’m starting up a weekly blog all about ‘weekly reflections’, talking about subjects that inspire me, drive my thoughts and emotions, and hopefully give a place for others to reflect too.
This week’s reflection is on ‘Happiness’.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m happy. I feel content most days, but is that synonymous with happiness? And what is happiness anyway? Isn’t it different for everyone? Just as life is different for everyone?
Some people spend their whole lives travelling the globe, chasing the dream, exploring new lands and cultures, while others settle into their lives with a home, a family, and a stable career choice.
I’ve seen snippets of other people’s lives on social media and wonder if they’re happy. Friends who have their own homes, travel to new places, but perhaps not yet in the family way. I have friends who are growing their families, planning on buying new houses, and applying for new jobs. I myself have just got a new job, and perhaps a year or two down the line I will be, like many others, in my own home. A place to call my own and set-up however I like.
Right now, I’m with my family. I’m in a nice home, with playful and attentive dogs who add to the ambience of calm and contentment. I have a job, a roof over my head, and pursuits that I love – writing, reading, drawing. We have lived 18 months through a pandemic, and now I’m double vaccinated I feel safer, surer of the world around me, despite the news.
I would say I’m happy. But I’m only happy because I know what it took to get to this place. It took pain and hard work. It took months of uncertainty, of anxiety, of waiting and wondering and that deep trembling fear of the unknown and future scenarios.
I’ve just finished reading an article about Happiness in an old magazine I have on the shelf- I can’t remember the edition, but the magazine is called ‘Flow’. I’m going through my magazines this week, reading articles and cutting out recipes and interesting pages for future scrapbooking, and I came across this article by the journalist Otke Van Der Lelij. The article is called ‘A Different Kind of Happiness’, and I suppose at the heart of it is that happiness cannot exist without suffering.
Pleasure and pain go together. We only gain victory through hard work and struggle. Love is only found by being vulnerable. The expansion of a family means you are overwhelmed with joy at the newcomer, but also filled with the emotions of fear and uncertainty. Even the first day of a new school is filled with anxiety and apprehension, even as you know you’ll see friends, old and new, standing beside you in the journey.
A quote from the article struck me deep: “We should not be afraid of emotional pain. It makes us stronger and more resilient.”
I’ve been through my fair share of emotional torment, mainly fear. It has caused my body to turn on me, caused tension so bad in my body I found it difficult to walk, drive, pick up a pen, or even swallow at times. Each time my body has reacted to my anxieties, there has been a swathe of new consequences alongside the old ones. But I’ve kept going. Because, with time, I’ve always gotten better. Every day I’ve managed more, and I look back today as I write this knowing that there might be bad days again, but I’ll get through them. And the good days will come. They always do.
Yes, it’s easy to write that isn’t it? It’s not so easy to live through it and try to remember that the good days will come again. That all the bad stuff you’re going through will go away with time. It’s not that easy. You still have to pick yourself up every day and carry on, keep to the good habits, push yourself a little harder each time. Even if you’re terrified, as I was almost a year ago, to go outside your door for more than five minutes, I say don’t worry. These things will come in time. Maybe start small, just by sitting outside for five minutes to start with, or if you can do it, go for a five-ten minute walk around your neighbourhood. I remember when I was going through that rough period, my family would try and take me out for long walks with the dogs, and I’d manage ok for ten minutes, then get really anxious for the next half an hour, only feeling better when I could recognise the way home, and know I was almost there. These days, I have no problem. I went for a walk on Dartmoor for four hours last weekend, and I think back to that now, think back to how I was even six months ago, and it shows how time is a healer.
That makes me happy. Knowing how far I’ve come, how much I’ve achieved. And maybe that’s the essence of happiness – the feeling of achievement, the need for a purpose.
As Otke writes; ‘Happiness, in the sense of enjoying things as much as possible, gives little satisfaction in the long run.’. Research was done with a group of college students, where two groups were given the options – one, to focus on meaningful activities such as studying, cheering people up, focusing on their values and the like, and two, to pursue happiness in any form, from sleeping in, playing games, shopping, and eating sweets (note to the reader, I’ve done all four of those on the day I’m writing this, and it certainly gave me contentment…). After three months, the group who had focused on meaningful activities, hadn’t felt happy to start with but certainly felt more inspired and enriched in their lives. While the other group had been happy for a short time, but that time was short-lived.
I suppose, for me, the day spent sleeping in, food shopping, playing games, and eating sweets wasn’t all that great in the long term. But the fact was, I also spent part of the day doing all my cleaning, and eating sweets, playing games, and reading articles is definitely my chill time – perfect after a morning of busy work. So would that be classed as meaningful? I certainly feel better after all the cleaning is done, even if it’s not much fun while I’m doing it.
Ultimately, happiness is only part of life. We have to encounter sadness, fear, and uncertainty to relish in the moments of enjoyment, delight, and of course, happiness. We all have bad days. We even have bad moments throughout the day. We might be on top of the world in the morning, but by the evening feel like shit, and vice versa. Yes, there are people who deal with depression and anxiety every day – as I myself suffer from general anxiety disorder, and am on medication to help it. But what my bad days help to remind me is that without them, I can’t value the good days.
I think, as you get older, you learn to realise that these emotions are all tied up together. That without sadness you cannot have joy. And that reminds me of a great little film called ‘Inside Out’. I recommend it, if you haven’t watched it. It’s a Disney film of course, but a lovely way of showcasing emotions.
The article I was mentioning earlier is a really good read, but I’m tempted by the book suggestions at the end of them:
- ‘The Other Side of Happiness: Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living’ by Brock Bastian
- ‘ The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters’ by Emily Esfahani Smith
In conclusion to this little thought piece, think of that quote:
“Only in the darkest of nights can you see the stars.”
When you’re having a bad day, filled either with sadness, fear, or anger, think about why you’re feeling that emotion. Every feeling is steeped with reason, every emotion is a part of life. If you can delve deeper into the meaning behind your responses, then you can realise how your responses drive your life, past and present. It’s no easy fix, and I’m certainly no master. What helps me is writing, whether I post it or not. It gets the words out on paper, gives me a chance to delve deeper. But it’s ok if that’s not your forte. Maybe you prefer a paintbrush, or talking to a friend.
Just know that whatever you’re feeling will pass. Nothing exists forever, not even our emotions. Relish the days that you’re happy, and even when you feel sad, know that not every day is gloomy, just as not every day is filled with rain. Embrace every moment as part of being human, and hold onto the thought that there will be good days again.
Kate @ Kandid Chronicles x
Listening to ‘Dear Happy’ by Gabrielle Aplin