Happiness: it’s a multi-billion pound industry and it’s held up as everything from the cure for cancer to the reason for being alive. We go on courses, read books, strive and fight and compete and struggle and no matter what we possess, whatever we win, no matter how far we come in life, if we don’t possess it, we see ourselves as failures. Happiness itself dominates the news, not because we all have it but because it’s seen as the opposite of what the media shoves down our gagging throats on a daily basis: we are all anxious, depressed, repressed victims and we need to do something about it for ourselves, so the news, social media and society tells us.
As a man in his forties, the thing most likely to kill me statistically is me.
We have to pursue happiness. Never mind that happiness sometimes takes the form of expensive pills with horrifying side effects or lengthy and expensive therapy sessions that explore everything from our relationship with our mothers to our relationship with food. Never mind that it’s constantly claimed that the causes of anxiety and depression are rooted firmly in our brains as though we’re all sick from some epidemic. Occasionally this is true, more often it’s caused by external factors that trigger a perfectly normal response – one of withdrawal, sadness, fear and resentment. Or worse, pure merciless numbing. Society’s fault? Partly. An illness to be blocked with pills or endless blame? Absolutely not.
As a man in his forties, the thing most likely to kill me statistically is me. I like statistics but they can be used to paint all kinds of pictures. Did you know for example that the average person has one breast and one testicle? Women are more likely to try to commit suicide but far far less likely to succeed. This could say a range of things depending on who you talk to and their political agenda but overall the picture is clear. People are hurting themselves because they’re not happy. So the response must be to make everyone happy right?
Society’s fault? Partly. An illness to be blocked with pills or endless blame? Absolutely not.
The truth is that most people throughout the history of the world have only ever known fleeting, momentary happiness. We depend on it as our human right all of the time. We can’t accept that the human body-mind has to be structured in a way that becomes acclimatised to some pleasant new situation and then eventually to let it become an expectation. When our expectations aren’t met, we give up, we blame the world, or our brains, we take drugs, we cut ourselves.
Yet when we come to measure happiness, we don’t even know what it is or where to find it. When we cant measure it somehow, we assume it isn’t there and off we go down the depression road once again. It’s not that the happiness isn’t there, we’re just trying to measure the wind by looking at it, not its effect on the trees.
Over the past few years there has been a great deal of work done on the idea of Subjective Well-Being. The sense of being ok that we can self-report. How healthy do we feel? How energetic? How are our close relationships; how accessible our support networks? Do we feel we have a purpose and a way of impacting on the world for the better? These are bends of the trees in the wind and they can be seen, they can be measured to the smallest angle.
We’re just trying to measure the wind by looking at it, not its effect on the trees.
Stop chasing happiness. You wont find what you’re looking for. Start accepting that feelings come and go and that’s ok. Sometimes feelings are negative and painful and that’s ok. Sometimes we hate the world and wish it would stop turning and that’s ok. On the other side of those temporary feelings is a complex and beautiful world waiting to be experienced. Start experiencing what’s ok about being you in the here and now; what sort of future you might have; how you might impact the world in a small or big way. Happiness cant be measured, wellness can be.
Keep coming back for more talk on Subjective Well-Being and get in touch directly if you need more right now. And be well x