Friday, January 7, 2011

A Few More Thoughts about Happiness

I'm still trying to sort through and process my thoughts about happiness, thinking about how it's always seemed important that I be happy, upbeat, optimistic and cheerful. (Interesting that the operative word there is "be" not "feel.")

Where does the pressure to be happy come from? Probably in part from our society. We are so sensitive to depression that we jump on pills, cures, happy lights, vitamin D, anything to not feel down. Why our society is that way, I really don't know. My mom felt the pressure too and was always very critical of herself for any and all of her "negative thoughts and feelings."

Closer to home is the pressure I get from my husband, who doesn't like it when I'm not happy. First he tries to jolly me out of it, joking or offering absurd solutions. Then he might make a few reasonable suggestions, something to fix whatever is making me tired, sad, worried, pissy, etc. If I don't respond, don't follow his suggested cures, don't snap out of it, he starts to develop an irritation which can lead to resentment and sometimes nasty arguments between us.

Earlier this evening, sensing I was a bit down, he asked if I was excited about a quilting class I'm taking on Saturday. He wanted me to respond with an enthusiastic, "Yes!" Bless him, he just wants me to be happy; to fix it when I'm not.

What I want is to have it be OK with me and OK with him when I'm not happy. I want us both to acknowledge and accept that fear, boredom, weariness, sadness, worry and even anger (the one my husband dislikes the most) need not be ignored, cancelled (fixed) or covered over.

A critical part of me, reading what I just wrote, thinks I'm just asking for license to be crazy*, that I SHOULD ALWAYS at least TRY to be happy, to look at the positive side of everything, glass half full, find the silver lining. A more accepting part of me is saying I've been there, done that, at the expense of pretense and a fractured sense of being.

Sometimes, inspired by Mary Oliver's poem, The Wild Geese, I write the following in my journal: I do not have to be perfect, I do not have to be thin, I do not have to be happy, I do not have to be intelligent, I do not have to be good. It always calms me to write these words, takes the pressure off, makes it OK to be human, to have weaknesses.
*See? Here I am equating not happy with crazy!


  1. So thought provoking! My initial reaction is that we should be able to own our feelings, no matter what they are. Isn't that the healthy thing to do? If we are trying to be happy when we aren't, we are going to smother something that may come back up in ways we don't want. (Eating, for example!) As I read this I thought that I don't feel any pressure to be happy. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I do sense the societal pressure, but not as a burden on me. Yes, for a while I subscribed to some happiness daily blog thing and I have tried a gratitude journal. And, I know that I am probably "content" and not "happy." But I'm not sure what/if I should try to change that. Oh you always get me thinking!!

  2. There is no obligation to be happy, you can't command happiness. Happiness is a gift that comes and goes, and only stays for a limited period each time.

    Being in a good mood is something else. Normally, I think, this is much more controllable than the state of happiness. If you are in a not-so-good or even in a bad mood, that's alright, too, only don't take it out on others.

    A deep depression is something else, again. As far as I understand, in certain cases it is an illness that has to be treated medically. In other cases, the origin of depression can be traced. That would require doing something about the origin.

    Is this putting it too simple? Maybe, but then, I'm a simple person (not a simpleton).

    Sending you encouragement and smiles,

  3. A more British take on the idea -
    They say that someone has "gone mad"
    Which to us means "crazy" - but could also mean
    So yeah, they are connected!
    You seem ready to challenge your old thought systems and find one that better suits your "deeper" and more healthy needs... sometimes this world can be depressing .... as if there is something more to be had!
    But yet, something that is not crazy!

  4. Robin, I love you so much. You address it straight on - especially the part about fixing each other in partnership. You can't know how right on the money day-appropriate your post is today.

  5. Dearest PB ~ I see over there in your sidebar that it is the lovely uneven number of *99 days* of abstinence. wow. THAT has been a hard-won goal based in honesty and earnestness, my friend!

    About this issue of being OK when not happy...I have something to share. An agreement, really. And I don't really know when my husband and I came to this (I think unspoken) agreement although it has been some years now. Perhaps *acknowledgement* is the better word. He is of such different temperament from me and does not "feel" things in the way I do. This can create the most wonderful balance between personalities but it can also escalate differences at times.

    For lack of a better word, one day I went into a "funk" (I actually really like this word - it's amorphous) for no apparent reason that my husband could discern and I probably didn't know exactly why myself but it is usually caused by an accumulation of events (or feelings). He did some similar things that you have described with your husband...jolly, joking, absurd solutions. At some point in our exchange I expressed to him that look, you're not helping, but I really can't be helped by others nor do I want to be...I'm just feeling really "nudged" (out of sorts, pissed off, stressed, over tired, frustrated) and I'll get through it in my own way. I have to think it through, wallow through, be sad, or mad BUT - you don't have to help.

    I let him off the hook.

    More importantly, I let myself off the hook.

    To this day when any of those feelings descend on me and I grow dark (while he appears light), we have a routine. He will start to *help* (his natural, make-it-lighter response) and I will say, look, I'm just incredibly nudged right now (or anything along those lines). He doesn't take responsibility for my feelings and I don't place blame or ask for solutions. I work things out in my own mind, in my own way, in my own time frame. He has let me know that he's noticed this darkness BUT those feelings that he has to fix me, help me lighten up, are no longer an issue.

    Perhaps this tale is a bit off-course from your own sailings PB, but I wanted to toss in my two bits nonetheless.

    luv ya.

  6. I've noticed that obligation to at least appear happy, too, as if people will be offended in some way if I'm not. There are actually people who will come up to you when you're waiting for the bus or otherwise just "in neutral" and command you to smile. I'll leave it to your imagination what I say to folks who want me to arrange my facial expression to their liking! I have no idea what's up with that. I think that being occasionally down lets us really appreciate the up times, plus, people are entitled to their own feelings, whatever they may be.

    My husband wants to "fix" things for me, too. Maybe it's a guy thing. I've told him that when I say something or other is bothering me, it's just that I want to let him know what's going on with me, and he doesn't need to find a solution, nor do I want him to. That's really hard for him to get. He sees a problem, he wants to solve it. I see a state of being that will change sooner or later, probably sooner, given my short attention span. Slowly over the years he's gotten used to this, but I don't think he'll ever understand it.

  7. What comes to mind for me reading this is that sometimes people want to change a person's mood or outlook to help that person, but it could be that a person finds it inconveniences them to not have the "down" person paying attention to them and care taking their mood. Relationships are so complex. I am so glad you are discovering your real self moment by moment and not escaping your feelings by eating.

  8. Hey, PB!

    Yeah, that is interesting about the operative word.....

    I wonder how happy people who appear to be happy really are. What is real and what is illusion? Just like all of the times when I pretend to be "fine," when I am far from it.


    Keep thinkin'



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