Working on happiness

“My only wish is for her to be happy!” That is usually a good starting point – if it is serious, and not an excuse for doing dumb things. Some practice and self-reflection may be needed to get it right.

From time to time I wish there was some way to transfer happiness. It is not that I particularly want to be less happy, but there are people I consider friends (or nearly so) who occasionally seem quite unhappy. I don’t mean the kind of happiness you can transfer with a smile or a few cheerful words. That would not be enough in these cases. People who are chronically bored, or angry for reasons they either don’t quite know or think they can do nothing about, or who just find life meaningless and humans disappointing.

There are many conditions that fall under the umbrella of “unhappiness”. And there are many of them I can do little about. In the past, I would buy small things to my student friends:  Books, CDs, DVDs, perhaps clothes or stuff for the house. I hoped this would cheer them up, and I guess for a while it did. But now they earn more than I do, many of them, but they are still not happy. What can I do about it now?

The fact is, happiness is one of those things you can’t just transfer, it is like strength or health. If you are strong and someone else is weak, you can give them a helping hand, but you cannot give them your actual strength. At best you can teach them exercises that will make them strong, but chances are they already knew that but for various reasons never did them, or did not benefit as much from them as you.  (And of course, a lot of people give up if they don’t become as strong as you within a month or two.)

The same goes for health:  If you want to make others healthy, you have to encourage them to do their own healthy living. And even then it is not a sure thing. A few people may be born with weak health, and for some of the rest it may already be too late. But it is still the best we can do, set an example with our own healthy living. If any.

(On that note, I am back to quick walking an hour or more most days again, including this weekend. If a legendary lazy person like me can do it – and I call on my three brothers as witness to my extraordinary laziness – then it is hard to imagine who can not, unless they already have one foot in the grave and the other is amputated. Anyway, walking is not only good for your body but also for your psyche. It reduces stress and gives you time to defragment your brain.)

But basically, happiness is one of those things that work like that. You have to build up your own, because you cannot just take it from another. And that is a fact: You cannot take happiness from another. Obviously you cannot steal it, any happiness you gain from putting others down is sure to fly away faster than a bird on the window sill. But you cannot even receive it. Rumor has it that many people in America think their spouse will make them happy. I am sure there are joys to be had in marriage, but the deep happiness is not something that comes from another. Even if you think so, you are not looking closely enough. Other people may be part of a greater framework that supports your happiness, but the happiness itself must come from within. That is the nature of happiness. It is not something that is done to you.

So in the end, we both have to work on our happiness. There is no way around that.

But would you that, if you could? There are those who feel they should not be happy. Perhaps they have been told so in the past. Or perhaps they have been happy, but then something horrible happened, and they associate the sudden fall into tragedy with the happiness they had before. “If you are never happy, you can never lose your happiness.” And that is true enough, but it is hopeless truth. If you are always sick, you cannot lose your health, but it is better to be healthy even half the time than none of the time, right? It is like that with happiness too.

Unless you are very extraordinary, you will not be able to experience unbroken happiness for the rest of your life. There will be events that lend a tinge of sadness to your life for a while. You will not be ecstatically upbeat, at least, even if you generally wake up grateful each day. But even for an ordinary person, happiness can be built up, and start to take hold, take over more and more of your life. This is definitely the truth. A level of happiness that seemed extraordinary when you were young, may become the norm when you are 50. That is worth a bit of self-reflection and taking responsibility, don’t you think?