I start most days with a nice cup of tea and a scroll through the various news and social media platforms to see what is going on in the world of wellness.
This morning it was twitter that caught my eye with the hashtag #InternationalDayOfHappiness which was trending as I started planning the day.
When I say caught my eye, this hashtag was one of those things that immediately invoked a response, something I felt I had an opinion on. Of course the problem with snapshots like this is that they don’t give you any context so on the surface my interpretation of this hashtag is that the intention is that everyone should be happy today. As someone who changed their career to the pursuit of better wellbeing I feel that there are few problems with such a simplistic view, however well intentioned. My intention here is not to pour salt all over happiness, but to explain why I feel its pursuit as a life goal is potentially flawed and offer a different perspective that will enhance our sense of wellbeing.
So is International Day of Happiness all about making people happy?
Its not that simple. The principle is that the world is such a negative place, for one day, it is nice to flood our periphery with joy and happiness.
Sounds great, what wrong with that?
All over the world, thousands of people will feel the benefit. There are many others who wont. For some people, happiness is simply not within their grasp and certainly its not going to happen by telling them to be. The problem with flooding their world with happiness is that it simply reinforces their own unhappiness. We see this already at Christmas time, when our community feels an overwhelming pressure to feel joyful. Its well documented that those suffering from depression, loneliness or isolation will feel the effects particularly at this time of year.
Let’s just make them happy then!
If someone is unhappy, no amount of tom foolery or coercion is going to make them happy. The problem is that happiness is not a perpetual state of mind, its an emotion just like anger, fear and worry. Emotions when expressed appropriately are a normal response to situations we find ourselves in. For example, we feel fear when faced with danger. This is entirely appropriate and triggers a hormonal response in our bodies that alters how we function in preparation for responding to the threat. The natural expression of a broad range of emotions is normal, healthy and part of living a well balanced life. It becomes a problem when these emotions cant be switched off or become overly expressed. Happiness is no different. It would be highly inappropriate to feel happy when faced with a dangerous situation or grief.
So you don’t want people to be happy then
That’s not what I’m saying. I think people should express happiness, sadness, anger and all of the other emotions freely and appropriately without fear of judgement or ridicule. Setting your sights on “acquiring” happiness however is fundamentally flawed in the same way as being motivated by money.
What I consider to be problematic is how we define happiness. In our modern world, driven by consumerism and, lets be honest here, greed, happiness as some understand it is inexplicably intertwined with the acquisition of goods. There are other extremes too. For example, some people feel happiness when they are driving a vehicle at break neck speeds or from stealing other peoples possessions. Happiness in itself is not an exclusively virtuous or wholesome pathway and it is by no means an absolute right to feel happy if there is a cost to others.
So what do you suggest instead
I believe in a values based approach to setting life goals, working to the best of our ability to do what we feel is right and aligns with the person we truly want to be. Self compassion and compassion for others, if we follow this path, happiness may reward us along the way but we will achieve an overall sense of contentment and personal wellbeing, in my opinion a more achievable and sustainable goal.
We all know what the intention of the day is. Your making a bit of a big deal out of a few words aren’t you?
I don’t think so. The hashtag I saw this morning invoked an immediate response from me because of the language used. As humans have evolved, particularly over the last few years, our language and use of it has developed enormously. The addition of new words into our vocabulary and the change in culture have affected how we interpret language. We have a duty to take care over the choice of words we use and at very least to discuss and rationalise how we interpret themes. This isn’t judging something as right or wrong, simply opening the opportunity to broaden our discussions and consider different perspectives. That is why I offer this opinion, not to spoil the fun.
I’m sure people will disagree with me. This is what makes us develop as human beings and I welcome the variety of opinion that supports or contradicts my own. That is after all what keeps the conversation going and the human mind developing. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and if so, or if not, please comment.