A quick browse through the popular psychology shelves of any bookshop will pretty much guarantee finding several books with the word “happy” in the title. As someone very much involved in wellbeing in all its forms, I have several of them at home. However it does sometimes feel to me that as a society we have become rather obsessed with this idea of finding perpetual happiness. Quite honestly I am not sure whether that is a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being happy – after all, who would say no to feeling a little more happiness in life? It’s just that I’m not sure that our aim should be to feel happy all of the time. Surely by doing that we are both denying what it is to be human as well as setting ourselves up to fail.
Having worked with hundreds of clients over the years, I know beyond doubt that we are all capable of affecting our own situation in a positive way. However I am equally aware of the curved balls that life throws at us, often when we are least expecting them. Along with the things we can control and affect, there are also a plethora of things we have no control over. People become ill, businesses fail, relationships end… and it doesn’t always take much to go from feeling that life is ok to suddenly feeling as though you are in a hurricane which is not of your own making.
At times like these it is more about finding a way to cope than a relentless search for joy.
I have stopped trying to look for constant happiness, either in my own life or on behalf of anyone else. Instead, I have found it more useful to try and find a state where the base level is one of general contentment and where you have enough strength and resilience to at least tolerate the hard times. Of course both those things are more likely if we also have the occasional moment of unfettered joy. The moments which give us something to look forward to, which provide hope for a better tomorrow and which constitute the very best memories. But as a general aim I wonder whether, rather than striving for a state of “happiness” we might be better off searching for something approaching contentment. If we succeed at achieving a life which in the mains feels satisfying, that leaves both room for those special happy moments as well as protecting us from the really challenging times.
Society has already imposed so many standards by which we are expected to live that perhaps we just need to cut ourselves a little bit more slack on the happiness front. Given life’s challenges, a feeling of being fundamentally content and fulfilled with life is enough to allow you to weather the hard times just that little bit easier. You have not failed if you don’t feel happy seven days a week – it’s simply a reminder of what it really means to be human.