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Do Worry, Be Happy

When I decided to embark upon writing a book about happiness, I should reiterate I wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, an authority on happiness. In fact, one might say I was the polar opposite of an authority on anything, least of all happiness. A few months prior I’d actively considered throwing myself off a bridge. But haters are haters and I don’t have time for that type of negativity in my already increasingly miserable life. So, in my quest to distract myself from suicidal thoughts and a diet of nothing but chocolate eclairs, I considered what makes those around me happy.

In asking the people I love (and abject strangers) where their happiness stems from, I thought maybe I can get a hit of that sweet, sweet joy for myself. If I follow their rules for happiness maybe I too can be someone who smiles at strangers instead of assuming they are about to rob or murder me. Maybe I too could be someone that people refer to as ‘like a lollipop filled with sunshine’ or something equally as nauseating. Maybe I could even use statements like ‘lollipop filled with sunshine’ without feeling violently unwell.

But the more I thought about it, the more I considered quite how much effort this would take on my part and if I could be bothered with the hard work of finding happiness. Isn’t it something that should just fall into our lap? Like that time I ‘fell’ into the lap of a handsome man at work and briefly considered whether I would get asked on a date or met with a sexual-harassment lawsuit. (It was neither for those interested).

Maybe I’m just not designed to be ‘happy’. Maybe I’m destined to be detached, disdainful of everything and everyone, and to have a deep-seated hatred for people walking slowly in front of me in shopping centres.

Besides, there are actually some compelling ideas against happiness… For example, it’s been proven that happier people are more prone to prejudicial behaviour. A possible explanation for this is that a contented and happy attitude can allow people to easily turn to stereotypes or other caricatures when making judgements. Feeling blissful can cloud our judgement; imagine a cartoon version of yourself seeing only the beauty of life, skipping through meadows singing songs from Oklahoma and smiling as cartoon birds land sweetly on your shoulder. That version of you is less likely to spot the axe murderer coming towards you and lose their head, literally. It’s just science.

Other reasons not to reach for happiness at all costs, include the idea that a ‘blind pursuit of happiness’ may neglect some complicated effects associated with socioeconomic improvement. Those of us who strive to improve our status in life often subsequently report feeling less happy. This is as a result of achieving more money, more stature and more personal freedom can come more pressure, more greed, more expectation placed on us.  This can lead to feelings of inferiority, as if we have everything we ever wanted and are still not feeling the happiness we strived for, what has it all been for? We are left feeling we have the desire for more, more, more in our search for elusive happiness. That old cliché that ‘money can’t buy happiness’ may certainly be true for some. Although I don’t doubt it permits quite a bit of it on the incline.

But you see, in looking for ways to avoid finding happiness I’ve already given up. Much like getting out of bed for work every morning it takes will power. The mental strength required is exhausting, simply not to snooze the alarm again, not to call in sick because you had to blow your nose once in 1992, not to not try.

But for most of us happiness doesn’t come naturally. It’s life’s great con.

‘Once you find love you’ll be happy’; but have you picked up 4 day old boxer shorts from the floor? ‘Once you get your dream job you’ll be happy’; but have you met Linda who microwaves tuna in the office kitchen?

Some of us see the negative first, and it makes it hard to keep rose-tinted glasses on our face.

But happiness is everywhere. It’s not a constant feeling of euphoria akin to a 15 week long orgasm, or getting the last chocolate éclair in the shop (interchangeable feelings FYI). Happiness is unique to all of us and shouldn’t be looked for in the places we are told we will find it. It can come as a pleasant surprise, when we least expect it; it can leave us feeling lost when it goes. But to quote every philosopher and inspirational meme from the beginning of time; happiness starts from within. We are the source of our own happiness and shouldn’t expect others to provide it for us on a silver platter.

So, if you are feeling blue, like I often do; stop and take a look at what makes you feel good and actively try to nurture it. Exclude the negative thoughts and free up more room for the good ones.

(Just maybe don’t write a book about it, I don’t need the competition.)

Kathleen NichollsComment