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!