There is one reason I might hesitate from writing about happiness. It's a similar reason to why I hesitate writing about Christian faith.
It's the pouncers.
I have to turn and walk away, if I can, or quit reading, when I hear or read Christians talk about other Christians lacking faith or being hypocrites because if they were real Christians or if they really had faith they would/wouldn't .... you can fill in the blank.
I hate litmus tests, political ones, faith tests, and I hate happiness litmus tests.
So, for example, Steven Reiss argues that the most reliable happiness grows out of living in accordance with one's values, as opposed to seeking happiness in things that make one feel good temporarily. In other words, a person who values compassion and acts compassionately will be more inwardly and emotionally satisfied, happier, than a person who tries to find happiness in buying things or amassing a bunch of possessions.
I generally agree with Reiss' argument and I'll write more about it in another post.
But, one thing that makes me cringe when I read Reiss' argument is that I'd hate to think of someone agreeing with him and then judging unhappy people as not having values, or not living by them.
Happiness is not that simple.
There's not a litmus test.
So, does being happy mean that a person (like me) is never angry? Never hurt? Never offended? Never pissy? Never sarcastic? Never aggrieved? Never suffers? Is never afraid?
But, I do think that I live my life with a general sense of happiness, of positivity, of well-being, of satisfaction, of trust, and of contentment. I generally feel appreciated. I'm not always looking over my shoulder out of fear of who is going to try to screw me over next or sabotage me -- although this happens from time to time.
And, almost needless to say, I know people, some whom I encounter nearly every day, who live life with a general sense of dissatisfaction, of distrust, of fault finding, of fatalism, of always being taken advantage of, being looked over, and unappreciated. These people are quick with comments about what's wrong with things, quick to see idiots and moochers in the world, quick to talk about the worst that will happen to them, quick to cast themselves as victims.
So, when I think of, or see, happiness, I'm thinking of a general state of being open to enjoyment and acceptance and gratitude, but not a state of being void of pain, suffering, disappointment, and grief.
And when I think of, or see, unhappiness, I'm also thinking of a general state of being, generally shut off from enjoyment and acceptance and gratitude, generally suspicious, but not a state of being void of laughter, fellow feeling, and moments of joy.
My general sense of happiness stems from the somewhat slight concern I have for myself as an individual and the much larger regard I have for the people and things I love. It is in my relationships with my wife and stepchildren, lifelong family members, friends I've known forever and ones I've befriended more recently, fellow teachers, students, current and former, and the church, that I find happiness. I'm happiest when I extend myself, not when I'm self-occupied.
One of the reasons I have hated my struggles with depression over the years is that it was so self-centering. Until this struggle abated nearly four years ago, not only was my mood dark, but my thoughts were primarily about myself. I hated that. Likewise, it's why I hated the other illnesses I've battled over the last fifteen years. Illness makes it difficult to get outside of myself and outside of myself is where I'm happiest.
One of the happy consequences of being happiest when I'm outside myself is that I've arrived at some sense of peace that the world, and especially the U.S.A, will never function the way I'd like it to.
I don't really know if I'd like the country to function "my way". My view of things could, after all, be all wrong. But, wrong as they might be, I have dreams and visions of what a just world would be and those dreams have never come true and my visions have never become reality. As I've grown older, I've stopped wanting the country to shape itself to my vision of things (imagine that!); my expectations have mellowed. I'm more accepting of what I disagree with, even with what I think is wrong.
I don't project my disappointments onto elected or appointed officials. When I'm at my best, I don't call them names, disparage their intelligence, or make them the butt of my jokes. I'm happier when I don't stoop to insults and exaggerations and derogatory nicknames to talk about or when I talk with those I disagree with. (I save my sarcasm for aging and washed up self-centered sports starts who won't go away!)
As a result, I'm happier not expressing my political and social views online. Online, on Facebook and in other blogs, insulters, name callers and relentless labelers and accusers have clearly let me know what they think of my dreams and visions and view of things by the negative comments and captioned pictures they post about people and organizations and public figures who see the world similar to how I do. Often, these aspersions come from friends or from the wide reach of my family.
It makes me happier that friends and family not know they've been including me, albeit inadvertently, in those insults and derogatory comments.
I'd rather focus on the deep bonds we have formed with each other over the many years and on ways we continue to support and care for each other. I want to focus on continuing to have fun together. The bonds and the fun make me happy.
Yes, we see the world differently and have different hopes. But I'm happy knowing and believing that the bonds forged over the years are stronger than our different world views and I don't care to mess with those bonds by returning insults or casting aspersions. I'm happier turning the other cheek and not fighting back.
I'm always happier when I'm being constructive, not destructive.
In other words, I experience these insults directed at people I share a world view with through the perspective formed by my general sense of happiness. Briefly, I'm dismayed. I don't like knowing I hold a world view that a friend or family member regards an idiotic. Occasionally, I'm angered. I don't like people I care about thinking of people like me as brain washed.
Neither feeling lasts long.
My generally happy disposition takes over, and I think how fun it will be to have a drink or be at a party with that person, to talk about family stuff, church stuff, remember good times we had as kids in Kellogg, rattle off names of old football players who make us laugh, tell each other how good we look, share stories about our parents, make plans for the next get together, and live in our zone of happiness.