Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
I am not happy. I don’t know if I was born unhappy or it came about as a result of growing up in an alcoholic family where you just never knew what was about to happen at any given moment. It fell to me to take care of my sister and mediate between mom and dad, who were like two tornadoes living under one roof. Things got better when I was 13- mom left and dad remarried someone sane. Since starting treatment myself I am no longer depressed but I was surprised and chagrined to find that the absence of depression wasn’t happiness! I just assumed when sadness dissipated I would feel happiness. This hasn’t been the case.
Happiness is an emotion that usually happens as a result of an actual event or accomplishment. It doesn’t happen all by itself. It needs to be allowed to happen. Happiness is essentially the way you pay attention to things and become absorbed by them. It requires letting go, appreciating, melding.
Sometimes you might actually be happy but not know it because it isn’t what you expect when you think of the term happiness. “I blame this on the media. There, happiness is advertised as elation. In reality, happiness can be a far more subtle type of joy that involves peace of mind and contentment.” (1)
If we grow up in chaos we often try to control everything. This leaves us very little space to simply be- we can’t allow emotions to fill us because we are trying to keep all the crazy shit out. Such people tend to have an “all or nothing” perception which can be a barrier to happiness. As nothing is ever truly all good or perfect, the inability to accept imperfection can act as a filter to block the awareness of happiness, as can the expectation of imperfection.
Many people are happy because they are in denial; they believe what they want to and filter out all the bad. This works for a while but cannot last. If you are responsible for others, this tactic isn’t viable because your eyes need to be open to protect your loved ones.
You are no longer a child. You can say no. you do not need to be liked by everyone but you don’t need to be unlikable either. You do not need to be alone but you can survive the times you are alone. It is ok for you and others to be imperfect but you must not let those imperfections prevent you from being the person you wish to become. Healthcare professionals tend to label people as broken because this is the state of healthcare today. I wouldn’t accept that label- perhaps you are just not fully realized yet.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: when I was researching genetics, I discovered something very interesting. There is a genetic component to happiness; it has to do with optimism and pessimism. Research has discovered that there is a section of the oxytocin receptor gene that influences an individual’s tendency to see the glass as either half empty or half full. Those of us who are naturally optimistic tend to be more content and “happy” than those who are pessimistic and are always expecting something to go wrong.
That being said, this discovery paves the way for another thought- happiness does not lie outside of each person, but rather inside. Either we are grateful for, and appreciate all that comes to us…or we are like old curmudgeons sitting on our porches just waiting for kids to play on the lawn so we can yell at them to get off.
According to the media, happiness is designer clothes, a perfect face and a hot car. The fact is, at least half of the people in that hot car and designer clothes are wishing discontentedly for even better stuff and more plastic surgery- while the naturally content optimists would be just as happy taking the bus to the zoo.
We can make our own happiness- or we can be miserable in the midst of plenty. It’s all about the attitude. If you are genetically disposed to be pessimistic, don’t let it run your life. As adults, we can all make choices.
(1) Susan Hurd