Have you ever thought I should be feeling happier in my life? Perhaps you have been plagued by the sensation of feeling flat for a few days? Have you got a tendency to keep busy, or do you ensure there are things in your life to look forward to?
All of us have to manage our mental health to some degree. Whether it is through exercise, diet, sleep or talking to loved ones. Seeking professional help is essential if your mood is impacting on your ability to function in everyday life.
The positive thinking and gratitude movement has been around for a few decades. In fact the happiness and positive thinking industry is estimated to be worth US $11 billion a year.
I suspect most of us have found positive thinking and gratitude practice helpful at times because we do have a tendency in our society to ask, “What is wrong?” rather than, “What is right?” Shifting our focus to what is going well can change our thinking for the better, which can also shift our mood.
Do you remember when positive affirmations became popular in the New Age movement? Saying affirmations like “My life is perfect in every way!” felt like I was trying to con myself.
Some people can find gratitude practice difficult too. There are aspects of life that do make us sad and angry and sometimes no amount of gratitude practice will remove these feelings. Pushing ourselves to be grateful or positive could be a type of suppression of our our problems which can lead to more distress (Psychology Today)
It can be a slippery slope making happiness your number one goal in life. Yet the happiness and positive thinking industry helps perpetuate the fantasy that happiness is a realistic goal (Euba:2019)
Most of us know, perhaps painfully, that happiness is a transient state. Some experts say there is no neurological basis for happiness in the brain because it is a`human construct’ and even less dependable than depression for helping us to survive. Depression encourages caution and rumination that is biologically advantageous in dangerous times (Euba: 2019)
Despite this, most of us still aspire to be happy most of the time. Of course we do because it feels so good.
I love the poem by William Blake on the transience of happiness:
“He who binds to himself to joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”
Learning to accept what is, rather than what should be, is powerful. If you are anything like me you have probably spent a great deal of your life struggling with what is, rather than accepting it.
A few years ago during Covid, I received an online teaching by a Buddhist monk (I am sorry his name eludes me). He was talking about this idea of okayness. In other words, not aspiring for happiness and being satisfied with being okay. Is this sounding too beige and mediocre?
A few months ago I had been feeling a bit down for a few days and I was getting worried that something was wrong in my life. It was at that moment, I recalled the teaching on okayness. So I asked myself “Am I okay?” And after a moment my answer came back, “Yes. I am okay.” I could feel the weighty striving for happiness float away and my heart swelled with the confidence that I would be alright.
Perhaps like you, I have had the habit of nudging myself to look on the positive side of life too much. It seems like something has been left out in the happiness and positive thinking movement. 11 million dollars is a good reason to perpetuate the happiness myth.
Being okay is empowering. It helps you to acknowledge the positive and negative aspects of your life. All expectations can drop away, even if it’s just momentarily.
Difficulties are part of life and if we can take a step back with a knowingness that despite the ups and downs we can find some equilibrium. When we accept that we are okay, maybe there is more room to kiss the joy as it flies.
Euba, Rafael, 2019. https://theconversation.com/hu…