Our obsession with always being happy may backfire: Contentment is more sustainable, and may be a stepping stone to happiness. Image courtesy of ShivaPrasad Madaian at freedigitalphotos.net
It is interesting to know that, only in the Western World is “depression” is a seriously taken diagnosable condition. I do not intend to invalidate those who do suffer from this debilitating illness. I am hardly in the position to do so, relating as much as I do to sometimes feeling this way myself.
However, I feel it may be worthwhile to explore why, in such an affluent country where even unemployment does not render you in a serious financial position, due to welfare, is depression such a problem.
This is only speculation, but does our Western World place too much emphasis on, and have expectations for people to almost always be happy? Going into any bookshop, upon looking around for not that long, and you will inevitably stumble upon a rather large “self-help” section.
These are the rows of books promising the answers to depression, relationship problems, and existential angst. There are also a plethora of books about “success” – usually referring to getting to the top of the ladder, or making oodles of money.
I wonder if in developing countries, just surviving takes up enough time and energy that one doesn’t have time to look for ways “to feel even better”.
People are too busy worrying about having enough food for themselves and their family, of having their house not destroyed by war or a natural disaster. At the end of the day there probably isn’t too much time left over to dwell on self-actualisation.
In developing countries, a different definition of what ‘success’ means is interesting because I wonder if it is not a healthier one – it usually doesn’t involve an individualistic search for achievement. It may to a degree, certainly – however there is a much greater emphasis on working as a family, which is often extended.
These interdependent cultures gain a sense of fulfilment from working together, and society is often more cohesive. Everything is shared with less of the Western World’s preoccupation with “that’s mine” and “this is yours”.
I feel personally I am a little spoilt by living in such an affluent country – not purposefully: however with my needs for food, water and shelter never being a worry, I wonder if I sometimes take them for granted.
I am half Australian and half Fijian-Indian. When I visited Fiji, visiting my relatives, the diet was by no means scant. However, there were no junk food machines, or fancy foods. We did have a lot of rice and curry – which thankfully I love!
The fact is, no matter what country you a from, nobody is happy all the time.
I wonder if we are a little scared by our emotions…However as a human being I personally believe it is normal and healthy to feel the full gamut of emotions – from fear to sadness to excitement and happiness. I do not know the answer to this (perhaps other readers of this article could tell me) but I wonder if in some cultures sadness or just being ‘okay’ but not ‘fantastic’ is more acceptable.
So here we are in Australia, chasing the top of the ladder and grinning from ear to ear (well that’s the goal?!). However, what if that ladder topples over – where will the smiles be then?
I believe there’s nothing wrong to pursue happiness in itself, but a search for a deeper meaning, and the adoption of a personal philosophy of one’s unique values should be a must. With meaning, we can get back on the horse, and find a “more 'calm and still' kind of happiness”.
Perhaps contentment that is sustainable and that emanates from doing what we love and having a set of values that serves as a guiding light for our lives is better.
The other problem with happiness, I personally find, is that once I achieve it, I am sometimes obsessed with the reality that yes, it will disappear or come and go naturally, like the ebb and flow of waves.
This can carry with it a sense of fear – what if I stumble into some chasm of darkness. However, very very recently I have adopted a new goal of sustainable contentment. I also find that contentment can be the trampoline that can bounce me up to happiness anyway. However, if I go looking for it, it may elude me.
The precursor to contentment is a state of acceptance: it is letting what is, be. There is nothing wrong with trying to find what positives there may be in this, however.
The other issue with having a goal of perpetual happiness, is what happens if something does go wrong? If we are more adept at practicing acceptance, we will be more likely to face life's challenges in a healthy way. The fact of the matter is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling sad, anyway, if something does occur.
Our society has conditioned us to become scared of sadness - of showing it, or admitting the feeling to ourselves or others. If we struggle with sad feelings, the irony is they wil persist. If we accept and work with them, eventually we can pass through the tunnel. If we don't enter the tunnel in the first place, we won't ever get to the other side. However the sadness will remain, because we will still see the tunnel in front of us.
Happiness will come but don’t be terrified if you don’t always feel this way. If you don’t know darkness, how can you recognise light when it is there? If we were happy all the time, we probably would not recognise this emotion for what it is, because there would be nothing to compare it to.
Regularly dwell on what positives in your life there are, the ones you take for granted. You may not realise how important they are until they are taken away.
The final point I’d like to write about is that I believe happiness is a choice. It is so easy when we have got so many things to want more and more – this is not to blame ourselves; it is human nature. I believe that when we are happy with what we have, the universe gives us more. Sometimes, it is only when something is taken away from us, we realise how grateful we would be to have it back.
Be at peace with yourself and aim for contentment and acceptance.
This is a really thought provoking article and I agree with many of the points you make. A few years ago I read an interesting book set in England during the Great Depression and World War II period. The family were very poor and lived in poverty through the Depression. They got through this difficult time with neighbours helping each other out and supporting each other. When the war came they had more money as all the members of the family of working age had employment. They were able to move from their squalid cramped accommodation to better lodgings and they had more food and clothes. The author made the point that they were actually less happy because they no longer had the close ties with their neighbours. there was less sense of community. That point has always stuck in my mind.