We have a problem being happy, or more to the point–we have a problem letting ourselves be happy. And I have to wonder why that is.
In a vain attempt to keep up with what’s “trending,” I’ve set up Google alerts to come into my inbox on a weekly basis. I like to keep my thumb on the pulse of what grinds peoples’ gears–because, usually, it’s already been grinding mine for some time.
What I saw in my Psychology Today Google alert astounded me (even though it really didn’t) mainly because I’ve been dealing with depression since before I hit puberty. Almost two years before, in fact, and I’ve always wondered why I’ve been plagued by this almost-constant feeling of hopelessness and anxiety. To say that I worry a lot (and usually about things that feel larger-than-life) is the understatement of the decade, but looking at the proximity of those two conflicting articles made it all too clear to me.
Pursuing happiness makes us feel selfish. If we aren’t out there volunteering, running marathons, and holding down multiple jobs (when you’re lucky to get one these days), then you feel guilty taking the time to read that book or chase that “impossible” dream. When we see others living out their dreams, it makes us immediately jealous. With a streak of envy so green, leprechauns are trying to match the shade for their new fall line. We want that so badly for ourselves, but then we take a look around.
“But I’ve got kids, parents, grandkids, or bills to take care of. I don’t have the time to spare.”
Which is wrong.
But we’ve been socialized to always put others first. There are those who shirk that self-imposed concern, and here we also have a slight case of envy–but we also see the error in that. Things tend to work in a cyclical pattern–in other words, what goes around comes around–so, we see any devoted concern and compassion as an investment.
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
The Golden Rule, of course, but I’ve seen a modified version of it recently:
“Treat others as THEY would have you treat them.”
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not saying that other peoples’ emotions aren’t important. I’m neither a psycho- nor sociopath. Promise. I’m merely saying that there needs to be a balance. As the email above implies, “Don’t be hedonistic, but at the same time don’t shortchange your strengths.”
We also need to remember not to shortchange the strengths of others because it makes us feel inadequate. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Admitting your weaknesses gives you the real strength to see your potential.
This isn’t just self-help bullshit, again, I promise. This is me, looking at my random hodge-podge of Psychology Today articles; and–BOOM–there it is. We can’t be happy because we won’t let ourselves be happy. Seeking out our own happiness, our very own joy makes us what, boys and girls?
“Hedonistic” or “Superficial” or “Flighty”
Simultaneously, we read research that says we should “practice positive moods” and “capitalize on your strengths.” Which is right, then, do you presume? The trick is that neither is right. What those two authors need to do is get together and combine their research to determine how people can strike the balance between remaining harmonious to self and remaining harmonious to others. Teach us how to hear an opinion that differs from our own and realize that the two can co-exist. Teach us how to appreciate the people who are currently making us feel like we’re less than we are. That’s right, appreciate them. It’s the challenges in life that make us who we are. What you stand up for, what you fight for, those are the kinds of personality traits people make note of.
You are worth standing up for, no matter what other people tell you.
Having said that, no matter what side of any argument you fall on, it is never okay to intentionally cause physical harm to someone simply because you disagree with them. Will you cause emotional harm? Certainly, just like it hurts when someone disagrees with you. Because you realize that yours is not the only opinion, it makes you question your beliefs–and some people just can’t handle that process… but I digress… kind of…
My point here was that true happiness comes in the balance of taking care of yourself and taking care of others. Happiness does not exist in a vacuum or without the bearing of other emotions. But your happiness is something you need to find, and that cannot be defined by anyone else.