Is happiness a state of mind?

You know, one of these days I’m actually going to finish a post when I mean to. Recently I’ve got into the habit of starting posts and not finishing them… I’m not sure why, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I just don’t feel like posting them and they get put aside.

I started doing it again with this post; I started writing it on Boxing Day and only got back to it today. I needed a couple of days to clear my mind anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing… it’s just annoying and feels too much like writer’s block to me. I have enough of that in my life already, thanks.

Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking about happiness a lot lately. What started it was when I had dinner with my parents on Christmas day. A funny thing happened. It was just the three of us as we’re never that fussed about having a big Christmas. A couple of hours before we were going to eat, my mother decided to use the good china and we spent about ten minutes trying to find the good glasses to go with them. I think they must have vanished into the Twilight Zone because we couldn’t find them, so we settled for some champagne glasses instead.

I don’t drink much, so it was just ginger ale and it probably would have been easier to have drunk it out of the bottle. But it seemed like a nice idea, so I went along with it. My mistake. I’m halfway through the meal – a nice salad; we can’t imagine a roast on a hot day – and start to take a sip. Except I can’t. The glass won’t go past my nose.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a particularly large nose, but I must have as I just couldn’t get the glass past it. Maybe my nose was broken when that sandbag hit me ten years ago; maybe I’ve been telling too many lies like Pinocchio. Either way, it wasn’t working and tipping my head back didn’t help. I had a decision to make; either admit defeat (ha!) and get a different glass, or work out some other way.

So very slowly I started to slide down in my chair. I was able to angle the glass more and eventually the drink started to tip out. Of course by this time my parents were in absolute hysterics and I’m busy studying them, trying to work out which was to blame for my humongous nose. Strangely they’re both quite normal. I guess the gene must have skipped a generation. 😕

Later on I thought about it and I realised that, in a strange way, it was a nice experience. I mean, yes, I was being stubborn, but I didn’t feel embarrassed or stupid; I was with family and it’s been a while since we’d laughed like that. Even now when I think about it, it still gives me a happy feeling and that’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Happiness is a strange thing, isn’t it? It’s something that can feel so different; contentment and peace can give us one kind of happiness, intense joy another. The way we each experience happiness is different, as is what makes us happy. Something I find funny – a show like Seinfeld or Friends – might be annoying to someone else; likewise some of us might go through our lives without showing much emotion, but might still feel peaceful and content. Happiness is so hard to define, but plays such an important part in our lives.

What I’ve been wondering recently is, do I feel happy in my life? Am I a happy person? If I’m being honest then I’d have to say I’m not sure. Most of the time I’m probably not; I like to laugh (and make people laugh) and try not to take things too seriously, but I consider things carefully and that’s my natural response. At the same time I’m not unhappy or sad either. I actually think I’m at peace most of the time. Happiness or sadness is an emotional response for me; I’m neither all the time, I’m just going about my day.

I think a lot of people confuse being “positive” with being “happy”. Being positive is a way of looking at life; being happy is an emotional response which comes from your mindset. You can choose to be positive, but usually something happens that makes you happy. I’ve heard people say they’re positive and so they’re happy, but I’m not so sure. For a lot of people having a positive mindset is a great thing; it lets you look to the future and it’s helped sportspeople and people in everyday life. But I’ve met several people who I’ve thought are so positive that they’re miserable. They work so hard at creating their outlook that they bring everyone down, including themselves; their relations with their families and friends are strained and though they’re positive, they never seem particularly happy… they always want more.

I think having a positive outlook in life is more likely to make us happy, but doesn’t mean we will be happy. And I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been reading some articles recently that indicate if you’re happier, you’ll be healthier too. One study found that “happy” subjects were one-third less likely to develop a cold, while another found that people who thought in happier and more positive ways were more likely to increase their longevity by an average of 10 years.

If that’s right then there’s a definite reason to want to be happier. And so maybe I should make more of an effort to be happier and not let things bother me… although again I don’t feel like I’m unhappy or particularly negative. I’m content with who I am and think I’m a fairly realistic person. Plus isn’t the whole idea of what makes us happy all relative? I’m writing a new poem at the moment and like a lot of my poetry, it’s quite melancholic… some people might find it depressing but even though it’s sad, it makes me happy because it’s something I want to write. I think the key to happiness is respecting yourself, and in that way I’m at peace.

I wonder what you think? Does being happy make us healthy? Is happiness a state of mind? I’d be interested to find out, and I wish you all peace and happiness in the new year. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Is happiness a state of mind?

  1. I’m afraid you’re only happy when you don’t know it. If you start wondering if you are happy – then you’re not! Catch 22. But, you may not be exactly depressed or sad – just neutral or vaguely nonplussed.

    Happiness is good for you. it releases thingummybobs from your brain that boost your whatsamajig that gives you a shot of doodah or something that makes you feel high and light hearted.

    That last sentence was purely scientific and will be verified by Happiness Professors around the globe.

    CJ: That’s true; if you’re thinking about happiness, then you’re not happy, or at least looking for something more… but isn’t it healthy to question what we’re feeling as well?

    I actually don’t feel that way a lot of the time. When I’m happy I tend not to feel euphoric or have an adrenaline rush; for me it’s more a feeling of contentment. But when I’m happy I do feel more likely to succeed and healthier, so it must be good for us. All those people and Mr. Men books can’t be wrong, eh? 😉

    Thanks for your thoughts, and for stopping by. 🙂

  2. I don’t think happiness is an emotion particularly, nor does having a positive outlook make one happy. I think that happiness stems from achieving whatever it is you want to achieve in your life. Its mate might be contentment. We all have moments of fun and cheer, laughter – that I think is the emotion but happiness to me is a state of life and mind.

    Also too, I was struck by your comment about your friends with ‘positive’ attitudes who yet are miserable – those two don’t reconcile for me – perhaps their positive attitudes is something they are trying to use to force the misery away or just deny its existence? I wonder.

    Also, I’ve noticed in my own life, that when I am feeling the need for change it speaks to some unhappiness in my life – whether the change will affect the unhappiness or not – it still seems to signal that somewhere I’ve gone off my own personal path.

    LOL – does any of this make sense?
    WC

    CJ: No, it makes a lot of sense, WC. I think I’m the one who sounds confused! Note to self: don’t post at 5 AM again. 😉

    What I meant about my friends being positive but miserable is more an observation… if I asked them (and I have a few times), I’m sure they’d disagree, and I might be wrong. But I think their actions indicate what they’re feeling. They think positively about the future, but complain about things that have happened; sometimes they’re so positive that their behaviour can be self-destructive – doing the same things in the same way that has hurt them in the past because they don’t believe it will happen again. It could just be a way of coping… I suppose they’re the only ones who really know, deep down.

    I think what you said about happiness stemming from what we achieve is dead right. To me happiness is the response to something we feel like cheer or joy or accomplishment; to some extent we can control if we feel happy by being aware of what we’re feeling, but sometimes we just react as well, like with a spontaneous joke. So I don’t think we’re ever in complete control of our happiness any more than we are in complete control of our lives.

    Perhaps that signals some need for self-evaluation… I know when I feel unhappy, I need to address it on the appropriate level; otherwise I’m just glossing over it. But sometimes I think it’s normal to feel unhappy as well… I don’t think either is a natural state, it’s a response to what we’re feeling. So if something has happened in my life that makes me feel unhappy, I need to respect that just as much and see how it directs me on my path.

    Thanks, WC – you’ve given me a few things to think about. 🙂

  3. As a person who struggles every day to remain alive and happy, regardless of my circumstances, I have also been exploring this topic in my personal blog this year.

    I do believe that happiness is to a great extent a decision that we make between our ears. And, it’s my experience that striving to remain happy no matter what is an empowering choice that we can make in our darkest hours, when circumstances would indicate otherwise.

    I hope you will indulge me by allowing me to post this link to Crossroads: Happiness Questions because when I’m feeling unhappy and finding it hard to make another choice I use this process to evaluate where I’m at and how to move forward and into the light. I hope by sharing it that others may also benefit from the process.

    Namaste (I salute the divine light within both thee and me, in that time and space within us, wherein we are one. )

    CJ: Thanks, brightfeather. One of the reasons I wanted to write this post was to work through some of my own feelings on happiness, particularly as something to look back on in darker moments… seeing other people working through similar things is a great comfort as well.

    Often times I think happiness is a decision we make; something happens in our lives, and how we choose to react to it determines how we feel. If someone makes a joke at my expense, for instance, I can either take offence or let it go and laugh at the joke. Sometimes the decision is more difficult than that, but knowing I can choose and have control is very empowering.

    Sometimes, though, I think things just happen as well, and shape our response. If a friend dies, it would be normal for me to be sad, and that’s something I can’t control; I can choose to remember and honour their life, but some part of me will still be sad. I think respecting that and my path is important too.

    Thanks for the link, and peace and happiness to you, always. 🙂

  4. hahaha! your nose doesn’t look big in your picture, but it’s small and your moustache and beard probably helped hide it better. 😛

    of course being happy makes you healthier! (doesn’t mean you won’t fall sick, of course.) not only scientific research has claimed happiness makes you live longer, it also says that lonely, depressed people die younger (than their happier counterparts). but of course, scientific data can be quite biased without us knowing it, so can’t exactly take it for absolute truth; yet i still think it makes much sense.

    i think happiness is part state of mind and part physiologically-conditioned. i mean, that’s why there are people who are clinically depressed, right? they aren’t being depressed just because they want to – low serotonin levels and all that.

    happiness can also be caught on. if your loved ones are happy, you’ll probably get infected by the mood, unless you have a reason to be grumpy.

    as for a positive outlook, i’m very pessimistic about myself but optimistic for others. i’m trying to change that though, after having some personal problems that got me down. sometimes i still think i don’t have it all, but when i think again, i know what i’ve got is great too! 🙂

    CJ: Well, my nose probably isn’t quite as big it sounds. I had a look at the glasses again today and they’re slightly narrower than the average size. But it could be the beard too!

    I agree that we often feel healthier when we’re happier, and lots of people who are unhappy or depressed often die younger or achieve less. But I’m not so sure it’s this standard either. I mean, I know a few of the most stubborn, cantankerous old people you’d ever meet. I’m sure some of them will outlive me! They’ve rarely seemed happy in their lives, but they’ve clung on to life just the same, maybe just out of spite. So there’s hope – maybe if we’re not happy we can be miserable and live just as long! 😀

    You’re right as well, there’s definitely a physiological/psychological element to happiness. Some people just can’t make the same connections we can due to depression or impairment or for whatever reason… even with medication, it’s difficult for them to function. It should make us more appreciative of what we can feel, although sometimes it’s easier said than done.

    I think a lot of people are harder on themselves than they are on other people… maybe that’s part of being pessimistic about yourself but optimistic for others. I liked the new sulz before, btw, but it was still you, so I don’t think there’s as big a difference as you’d think! 🙂

  5. I loved your nose and ginger ale story. It’s nice you shared a piece of your life as an illustration. Words are funny things. Sometimes when I think of a happy person, I imagine them bubbly, frothy, and giggly. I am not that person. I would say more that I’m content, and, at times, even serene. From what you described, you sound mostly content too. You may not be bouncing off the walls, but you surely don’t sound depressed.
    You bring up an interesting point about being “positive” vs. being “happy”. It reminds me of one of your past posts about optimism and pessimism. I would think a positive attitude is equivalent to an optimistic one. That doesn’t mean that you don’t ever have a bad day, just that your overall outlook is positive. I don’t know about your friends who are positive, but not happy. Perhaps they’re trying to hard, and not just being?
    Here’s a quote: “A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life.”
    –That’s from a teacher of mine. I must admit I don’t entirely understand it, but it seems to apply. 🙂

    CJ: Glad you liked the story, Muse. It was mighty annoying at the time I can tell you! For a moment I thought I could hear the Mission Impossible theme playing in my head. 🙂

    It’s interesting how we think about a “happy” person… it’s something of a stereotype, the person who’s always laughing and doesn’t take things too seriously. But fun, joy, cheer are emotions; happiness is what comes from them. Usually I’m fairly content and that’s my definition of happiness, being at peace. I think some of my friends look at happiness as being the same thing as being positive and think they must always be “happy” to suit their outlook; if something goes against how they feel, they dismiss it rather than learn from it. But they might well be happy; they might just have a different definition of happiness and peace than I do.

    I was thinking when I was writing the post that it was a bit like the “glass half full” one. I do think there’s a slight difference between being optimistic and positive, though. I think being optimistic is more of a natural state, but often being positive is a mindset that we choose; we choose whether something will impact us positively or negatively. I think we can look at the world optimistically (or pessimistically) but it’s shaped by many more factors, while our mindset is shaped by us. It’s a mild distinction but I think it makes sense?

    Love the quote, btw. That’s Esther Hicks, isn’t it? It’s so true that people try so hard to be happy but don’t always recognise what makes them happy on the way! I’ve always loved one by Nathaniel Hawthorne. “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” That’s what it means to me. 🙂

  6. Okay, I don’t know what happened with the nose! It was always my favourite part of you as child. And it still is a gorgeous nose Christopher, it is just that it is an adult nose now. A bit like your sense of happiness really, it has changed as you have matured.
    Love you heaps,
    Mumxxxxx

    CJ: I’m still blaming the sandbag. It hurt like hell for weeks, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pushed out of joint! Might just have been enough to stop me drinking like a normal person. 😉

    Good to know you think I’ve matured. I could do without the nose maturing too, though… what do you think of cosmetic surgery? 😀

  7. Hi CJ,

    Interesting subject to talk about my Aussie friend…I agree with what you have mentioned above that being positive is more a mindset that we choose and being optimistic is more of a natural state…Personally, I am an optimistic person but it does not stop myself feeling unhappy about my life right now..So, am I the one that brought these few unwanted events because I conditioned myself being negative?? I think it is far more complex than just thinking negatively; sometimes we are not even consciously aware of the reasons why we are feeling unhappy…Feeling happy goes from the inside and out…

    Wish U, CJ, a very happy 2008 and unlimited flash of inspiration that we can, still, for a long time enjoy ur writings..

    Cheers!

    CV

    CJ: Thanks, CV. It’s funny how we come up with subjects, isn’t it? Sometimes something is obvious or topical and I know I want to write about it… other times it takes several things to come together, like with this post! I think happiness is very interesting to talk about because it means so much to each of us, but can be very different.

    You’re right about our happiness (and sadness) being shaped in more ways than we’re aware of; many times I can’t pinpoint why I feel a certain way… I think the thing to remember is we’re never truly insulated in our lives… we can protect ourselves, our thoughts, but sometimes it’s natural to feel a certain way, even if it’s not how we want to feel. I don’t think that means we’ve brought it on ourselves, just that that happens in life… sometimes we have to take the bad with the good, and hope that it makes us stronger in our journey…

    Happy New Year to you, CV, and best wishes for a peaceful and bright 2008. I look forward to reading more of your beautiful poetry. 🙂

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