My advice for the pursuit of happiness:
You aren't going to listen, are you? It is your RIGHT to pursue happiness. You have it all planned out. As soon as you finish your degree, get that job, can afford the house with the picket fence, can afford more drugs, get the big screen tv, have your hands on that new computer, get to be live in person at The Game, find your true love, are an astronaut landing on Mars, or (you fill in the blank), you will be entirely and utterly happy.
It is annoying and stupid to watch people fall for this.
My X would want something and would work on getting it. As soon as he'd get it, he'd say, "See, the new motorcycle has made me a better person." At least he was funny.
You continue to think that you can pursue happiness. Do you think you are going to catch it?
I think that the Declaration of Independence has done its citizens a great disservice by listing "the pursuit of happiness" as a right. Equally we could have a right of sadness and a right to mourn and a right to occasionally feel irritable.
The pharmaceutical companies are capitalizing on this. As a family doctor, I receive a "continuing medical education" pamphlet reassuring me that I can diagnose and treat bipolar disorder. It says that the psychiatrists had strictly defined bipolar disorder as occuring in 1% of the population. However, if broader criteria are used, 5-8% of people could have the diagnosis! Then it defines abnormal as having mood swings and feeling sad sometimes. It defines normal as happy. Reading the pamphlet, I think that really, by Astra-Zenica's definition, I don't know ANYONE that is normal, including myself. Also that you sure could put a lot of people on their drugs. The helpful questionaire for diagnosing bipolar disorder included by Astra-Zenica does not mention which set of criteria they use, though I strongly suspect that it is the one that generously defines 5-8 times as many people as "sick".
Advertising also is geared towards this. You deserve this so that you too can be happy. You will be happy if you have this car, this ticket to a sports game, this gigantic tv, this beer. You will be happy if your retirement is secure, if you donate to this non-profit, if you vote for this candidate. You deserve a break today and you really ought to treat yourself to this bubble bath and a kitchen make-over.
Do you know anyone who has caught happiness?
When are you most happy? And when are the people around you most happy?
People seem most happy and I am most happy when I am deeply engaged in what I am doing. Andy Makie, who quit his heart medicine 9 years ago and spent the money on harmonicas for kids, seems like one of the happiest people I know. It isn't because he is doing something noble; rather it is because he is doing something that he is deeply passionate about and that he loves. I can be happy knitting, at a conference about stress in hospitals, listening to a complex patient, watching my daughter do synchronized swimming. In fact, I am most happy when I am NOT pursuing happiness. I am in the present, in the moment and I'm not pursuing anything.
Rumi writes about emotion. He writes that we should welcome whatever the Beloved sends us equally. Welcome the feeling like the weather. Let it in. Dress for it. Be present and it will go.
I was raised in a stiff upper lip family. Anger and teasing and charm were acceptable. Fear and grief were not discussed. Whining was not acceptable. My daughter was 7 and whining once. I started to say "Go away until you are done whining," but I had been working very hard to learn to accept my fear and grief. I suddenly thought how hard it would be to be tired and acting out and then be sent away when you most need support. I went to my daughter and put my arms around her. "I love you all the time, even when you whine." To my surprise she instantly stopped whining and got dressed and ready to go.
When we are instructed not to feel an emotion as a child, it gets buried. Not in the yard, but in the psyche. As if we have a dark cellar, that gets more and more full. One way to cope is to project the emotions on someone else. They become the scapegoat for our dark hidden feelings; yet even when we make them leave, lose our temper, yell at them, cut them off, the cellar is no less full. After a while we become very afraid of those feelings.
I heard recently that some physicists have announced that the universe is 97% dark, a combination of dark energy and dark matter. What if we too are 97% dark? If we don't acknowledge our "unacceptable" or "unhappy" emotions, we become smaller and smaller. The things that we can't think about, the places in our memory and psyche that we can't go, the people that we can comfortably be around, shrink. Eventually we are small and frightened. Pretending to be happy and hoping the bubble bath will work.
I worked very hard to learn to not displace fear and grief with my default, anger. The first time that I felt fear as an adult, without covering with anger, I was very excited. "I was driving home from the airport in the rain and dark," I told my counselor. "There was construction and those concrete medians. They had multiple lines on the road and it was hard to see which were the correct ones. I realized that I was scared of the lines. I didn't feel angry, just scared." My counselor giggled at how delighted I sounded.
I had to learn to welcome certain emotions in. I would think, "I don't want to go to work today", then think, "I shouldn't feel that way," and then go back. "No, it is ok to feel what I feel." If I let the "shouldn't" run things than the emotion would sit there and bother me while I tried to contain it. If I let myself feel it, it dissipates like mist. I can't catch it, any more than I can catch happiness.
The result is that I watch my emotions but don't react nearly as much. Emotions are like the weather on the surface of the ocean. They change all the time. Sometimes rough, sometimes strong, sometimes soft and warm. But the ocean is still the ocean. I don't pursue happiness. And sometimes it comes to me and stops for tea.