One of the oldest questions in history can be summed up in just three words: ‘what is happiness?’
Many might relate it to good things happening, or maybe more good things than bad things. It could be about pleasure over pain, or just that pleasant feeling that you get when things are going right in life.
There’s no easy answer. Most of my days, tend to focus on the next task on my list. There’s more focus on the future than the present.
I’ve been working at it. I’m grateful that I at least can identify that there’s an issue worth addressing. My psychologist has told me that I don’t mentally allow myself to be happy for long. I’ve been told that I constantly move the goalpost just as I’m getting to it. As an example, I’ve finished my novel. But that’s not enough. I had it evaluated by close friends and family. That’s not enough. I sent it to a publisher. That’s not enough. Will it be enough when it’s accepted? When it’s published? What about if it becomes a best seller?
My problem isn’t unique. It’s symptomatic of the societal values we’re given – we want more. We crave more. We make ourselves believe that we need more. I struggle to let myself be happy with what I have.
For the past week and a bit, I’ve had the flu. It derailed a fairly successful exercise routine, forced me to cancel just about everything social I had for a whole week, and left me feeling fairly useless.
“Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice… Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.”
These are the words of Epictetus, one of the earliest great stoic philosophers, and a writer who I continue to find inspiring. I wasn’t precisely forced to cancel any part of my weekly routine. I chose to do what felt necessary. I was and still am in control.
When I was at work on Wednesday last week, I found myself wondering if I should even be there. My health had gone downhill once more. I had to choose to stick it out and hope for the best, or cut my losses and get some rest.
I went home.
An exercise of choice, but one that I was grateful I did. Everything I did, I had to choose – will this benefit my health, or at least make very little impact on it? Now, of course I wasn’t terminally ill, but it demonstrates how well I take my health for granted until I have it taken from me.
This relates to happiness. When we’re on a high, we often throw caution to the wind and feel that we’ll never come down. Mood varies like the tide, if a little less regular and less predictable. There is always ebb and flow.
But when bad things happen, these are something that affect some other part of our being, never our ability to choose. When I became sick, I lost my health. I was still able to choose how much or how little I wanted to continue to do. So it was with the flu last week, and so has it been with my choice to see a psychologist.
My psych told me the week before last that I would ‘make a good psychologist, but no one can counsel themselves’. Before my doctor referenced me to a psych, he told me that I ‘have a strong mind’. There’s an odd but definite difference between knowing that you’ll be okay, and really taking steps to get to that point
I know I’m not at risk as far as severe, life-threatening mental illness goes. I know this because I’ve been forcing myself to choose happiness as often as I can.
Happiness – the best choice I can make in a day. I often choose to exercise not because I find it utterly thrilling (let’s be real, it’s usually quite painful), but because I know it’ll help me. I know it’ll better me. I know it’s the right step on the path to happiness.
Terrible things can happen to me. Or… inconvenient things, as they most often are. It doesn’t give me less control over my life. I cannot lose control of things that I never had control over in the first place. I’ve come to learn that happiness is something that can come our way through fortune, but often it’s as simple as making the right choice.