The Myth of Happiness

by E. Nina Rothe

I will admit to a bit of a lazy streak running through me at this time of year. It typically comes on just as my body begins to crave lots of chocolatey, fatty things and my mind requires more than its usual share of sitcoms a la The New Adventures of Old Christine and The Big Bang Theory. That, paired up with a few too many champagne dinners and meeting friends who have more time during this Holiday period of the year, makes for some fabulously relaxing hours but is not at all conducive to writing. I'm too inebriated, my mind too full of aimless entertainment and my body too stuffed with fatty foods to bring on anything too interesting. So, long story short, I won't bore you for too, too long... But just a few thoughts on the idea of "Happiness".

Once the start of a new year rolls around, there are even more of the infuriating "How To Be Happy" segments on TV programs and "Happiness Manuals" displayed upfront and for sale at the local bookstore. What is it about this word and the concept behind it that has such a grip on us? I was brought up to believe that we are allowed "JOY", a temporary emotion, but that trying to find "HAPPINESS" - which implies a permanent state - is simply delusional and trying to live a fairy tale that doesn't really exist. Yet we - myself included - are constantly trying to make this powerful word a staple of our lives.

Matthieu Ricard, the French translator to the Dalai Lama and a Buddhist monk himself, talks about happiness being a muscle. One that needs constant exercising in order to stay in shape, maintain maximum performance. Much in the same way we work out our abs or flex our triceps, exercising our happiness muscle requires constant care and a smart, disciplined routine of exercises. I had the honor of meeting Ricard in person a couple of years ago and he certainly confirmed that location has a lot to do with finding a happy balance. While not completely dismissing the possibility of being content in a metropolis, Ricard said “I am not much of a city dweller but I can tell you that happiness is simple to find in the small monastery in Nepal where I reside.”

A recently published book by Dr. Henry Cloud titled The Law of Happiness tells the reader to focus less on what we think we need to be happy - the right job, a great relationship, a lot of money - and more on an abstract state of mind which simply sounds a lot more like calm than happiness to me. Or maybe they are the same thing! He points out that what we often think of happiness is more a manic state, not the real thing. True happiness should be maintainable, not a fleeting moment. He also confirms that genetic predisposition accounts for a lot, bringing us up to 50% closer to our chances of experiencing the stuff if our parents and grandparents did... I think the chips were definitely against me with a German father and an Italian mother, both artists and quite proud of their outbursts and passionately discontented natures! I grew up hearing how "Happiness" does not exist.

But books, parents and experts aside, I admit that I do have my personal formula for happiness: an island, two horses, a man, a dog, some birds in the trees, three sun dresses, two T-shirts, a pair of jeans, two pairs of sandals - one dressy, one flip flops - and lots of pretty undies. Unobtainable, perhaps. But a girl can dream... So, what is your personal formula for absolute happiness? Share it, you know you want to. It might even bring you joy to do so!

Top image courtesy of Lindt USA, bluebird of happiness by


  1. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  2. Happiness? Hmm, let me think... Aha! No chores!

    Lol, it might seem funny, but having brushed with death twice already in 27 years, I look to the little things in life to make me happy and bring me peace.

    Ok, here's the real personal recipe - no chores to do, the hubs is cooking, the kiddo is safely playing and laughing that merry child's laugh I cherish, and I'm in my house surrounded by those I love. Yup, I'm that simple to please... :)

    Big hugs, girl. XOXO

  3. Anonymous, such a lovely comment and no way to thank you...

    Darling Zee, thank you for the lovely recipe. Indeed, there is something to be said about the small things in life, but what you do end up mentioning then as your own formula is ALL the big things of life! Hugs and love and thanks so much for stopping by and sharing!

  4. Nina, as of now I would be really happy to learn where the "happy muscle" is : ). Could you tell me please?

  5. to be happy, you need to keep adjusting your personal formula for happiness depending on what you have.

  6. Hello Kriti,

    Eh hum... NO it's not THAT one. But I think it's somewhere between our brain and our soul. A place where the light is easier to find than the darkness, to quote the fellow PopCultureDiva Joanna!

    And Monika, it's so nice you said it twice! Thanks for the comment and the wisdom!

  7. It's funny, because I'm just back from a vacation in Toronto and my experience with happiness is the polar opposite of Matthieu Ricard. I'm never happier than when I'm in the Big City.

    I currently live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I grew up. It has parts of the things that make me happy: family, friends, the ocean, the woods, the rocks.

    But I moved to Toronto when I was in my 20's, because that's where I went to university, discovered my authentic self, and delighted in the energy and sensibility of urban life. I now miss it all the time. It appears I'm doomed to miss people all the time! Now I have more friends and family there than I do here, at 'home'.

    But it could be worse. I could have no one to miss at all.

  8. LOVE LOVE LOVE your post Nina!

    I think true happiness is elusive if we go looking for it outside ourselves.

    I think you're right - as is the Buddhist monk - it takes a lot of work.

    Peronally i think it's all part of the journey of life.

    Happy New Year! ;D

  9. Thank you so much Julia and Jojo for stopping by! I've not been as good at commenting but am keeping up with the posts regularly and have loved the past month. So fun and yet so poignant.

    Anyway, Julia I think in this modern world of ours where we are constantly moving and making new friends, we are forever condemned to missing someone. I never have all my friends and things I love in one place and constantly yearn to be somewhere else.

    And Jojo, it must be inside ourselves, because these days it's not anywhere else. Though when I spend an afternoon with a dear friend or talk to a new acquaintance about something I am passionate about, I end the day feeling very very happy... Connecting perhaps is my own formula?

    Hugs to both and love for the New Year! May we all be rockstars in 2011!!!


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