Is Happiness Acheivable?
September 17, 2004 6:13 PM   Subscribe

This thread inspired me to wonder: Do you consider happiness an acheivable goal? Do you consider it one of your goals? Do you like winter? Do you think not being enamored of happiness makes you like winter more?
posted by dame to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always thought that happiness was a lie told by the first person who ever tried to sell someone something they didn't need. But this quote by Gandhi is the closest thing to an acceptible definition of happiness that I've come across:

"happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
posted by Space Coyote at 6:38 PM on September 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

yup. yup. yup. nope. : >

I like winter and the cold and snow, but don't like the gray. Happiness is a larger thing entirely.
posted by amberglow at 6:40 PM on September 17, 2004

Isn't happiness the desired result of every long-term goal? Of course, most things don't result in happiness, but people pursue them for that reason. If you have goals, then happiness is at the end of all of them.
posted by wackybrit at 6:50 PM on September 17, 2004

I dunno.

The only people I ever saw who seemed consistently cheerful were mentally handicapped people. The type who spontaneously ask for hugs. I always kind of envy them. Maybe they're not as tortured by existential angst, or maybe they're just more able to express simple longings like that. Or not let complicated doubts and sophistication cloud simple pleasantness.

Sometimes I think I'd trade whatever intellect I possess for that. But I'm probably idealizing things.
posted by jonmc at 6:50 PM on September 17, 2004

After two winters in Boston, I consider myself a convert from someone who loved winter to someone who cringes every time he turns a corner for fear of a bitterly cold wind.

That said, I think happiness is achievable, and it is one of my goals. To think as such, a person probably needs to know what would make them happy, and they would have to realize that their manifestation of happiness is not unreachable. Some people expect perfection, and they will never be happy.
posted by bitpart at 7:36 PM on September 17, 2004

According to brain scans of practicing Buddhists, the answer is yes! There are measureable physical differences in brains of people who are truly happy. See links for details:

[New Scientist]
posted by Meridian at 8:06 PM on September 17, 2004

I work with three, eternally happy handicapped people like that (from a career in banking thank you). It truly is a great thing to be around all the time

My ONLY goal is happiness - not the fleeting moments but the lasting, all round, even kind. I am usually pretty happy (with some snaps of severe, crippling, bottle of JD depression once in a while).
posted by Quartermass at 8:08 PM on September 17, 2004

If misery is the only possiblity, what is there to compare it to, to make it seem so?
posted by weston at 8:25 PM on September 17, 2004

The secret to being happy is to just ignore most of the shit that falls into your life, especially the details. What's good in your life? Now, when things suck, remember that thing that was good. Oh, remember happiness is not Nirvana, nobody gets that except the idiots. Also, when the really bad shit hits you, you will be sad. That is good. Let it flood over you and don't fight it. Afterwards you can be even stronger and more protected from the everyday shit. If it gets so bad that you have to take your life, don't be some wimp who pops too many pills and dies wallowing in self pity. Get your ass over to some God forsaken land and die helping someone put a little food into their swollen starving belly. You'll probably find in the process that dying sucks too much for yourself. If not, you won't have wasted it. If you ever meet me on the street and you are sad, just ask me for a hug, I won't refuse you, even if you haven't bathed in weeks. If the reverse happens, don't refuse the hug.

posted by caddis at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2004

What is that dangling little "I" all by itself, on its own line, at the end of my comment?

It is failure, tragedy, the path to . . . . . . . seppuku.
posted by caddis at 8:48 PM on September 17, 2004

Go out and make some mistakes. Go get some stories to tell your grandchildren when you're too old to get out of the chair. Make choices that remove the possibility of regret in your life.

That's it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:21 PM on September 17, 2004

It'll sound corny, but I've always held that happiness comes when you're ding what you love.

Find something you love, regardless of the time of year, and do it as much as you can.

That is the meaning of life. And it's the best and shortest path to happiness.
posted by chicobangs at 9:21 PM on September 17, 2004

I dunno, I don't think I really aim for "happiness." I aim for interest. There are lots of interesting things out there, and many of them give me pleasure, but my image of happiness is too facile for me to really make it a goal.
posted by dame at 9:24 PM on September 17, 2004

Go out and make some mistakes.

You mean like STDs and stuff?
posted by bitpart at 9:33 PM on September 17, 2004

There is a mean but persistent streak in my nature which equates happiness with ignorance. Often, it's wilful ignorance, or selfishness. The world is just full of horrors and you can't honestly smile unless you are too stupid to understand them, or you develop an instinct for blinking at just the right time and for just long enough that they pass out of view. This is supposed to be a virtue, but it's kind of disgusting. Anyone in their right mind is probably mostly content, but not happy.

Anyhow, in a corner, in some untidy spot, the dogs go on with their doggy lives and the torturer's horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

I get extra depressed in winter, but actually I kind of look forward to having something atmospheric on which to hang my hand-wringing melancholy. There is nowhere like Seattle in the winter if you really want to be glum.
posted by Hildago at 10:29 PM on September 17, 2004

You should check the work of Daniel Kahneman. Also relevant to your last question in my opinion.
posted by golo at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2004

I'm happy mostly, and working towards happiness when I'm not happy. It's most like that path/destination thng that b1tr0t just said, actually exactly. Since my happiness doesn't hinge on being any different than I am right now, or some outside-my-reach goal, there's nothing preventing it. Once I get my head around that idea, the rest is just details.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2004

Go out and make some mistakes.

Whatever you say.

*grabs fork, looks for outlet*
posted by jonmc at 8:37 AM on September 18, 2004

Happiness is a good set of expectations.

That said, I think happiness is over-rated. There are a lot of other, more nuanced emotions that I enjoy more. Anticipation, for one; Righteous exhaustion, there's another.

Happiness strikes me as an end, which makes me a little suspicious.

jonmc, I knew I would find you in here.
posted by squirrel at 8:57 AM on September 18, 2004

I like all the seasons (summer less than the others), and I'm just a naturally happy person, it appears, since I'm happy most of the time... But this admission somehow casts me into a sort of false stereotype. I'm not shallow, and though I laugh a lot, I'm not what I would consider "jolly". I'm not very gregarious in the sense of desiring a lot of social contact, though I'm not at all uncomfortable with people (and in fact usually pretty popular). I prefer solitary pastimes over social pleasures, and pretty much the only time I ever get bored is when I'm in a social situation that I can't escape for some reason.

If there are any behaviors I could advocate in terms of "getting happier", they would be:

To appreciate what you have when you have it, and to let it go when you lose it

Not to pin your life on something that you hope to achieve in the future, or something that you accomplished in the past

Always to strive to open your mind as far as possible, and when you see yourself mentally "closing down" over something, back yourself off and try to examine why

Love what loves you (this is way too much to get into here, but let's just use, as a couple of examples, fair-skinned blondes who try to get a dark, dark tan, and people who are only attracted to those who reject them. Why always seek what was never meant to be yours?)

And finally, Try to Help. Putting something or someone down is easier, and funnier, and may even give you a fraction of a second of feeling superior and satisfied, but actually helping a person or a situation is like an elixir - it transforms everything.

If all these seems silly and obvious, then just subtract that "not-shallow" claim above, but then go ahead and give me a break - people write books about this stuff! I'm just responding to an AskMe question!
posted by taz at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2004

Righteous exhaustion, there's another.

Interesting that you brought that up. I remember when I was working at joe jobs back in my early twenties, despite all the crap, after some days I'd feel bushed but almost buzzed with the fatigue.

There's something to be said for that feeling of being spent. Maybe it's cause it's similar to the feeling you get after hard partying. or sex.
posted by jonmc at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2004

Well spent, I think, might be better phrase, johnmc.

Also, I tried the thing with the outlet and kitchen implement when I was four or five. It did not make me happy, but it did turn the wall black and provide a pretty scary display of sparks.

Actually, it provides me with amusement in retrospect, but I still don't recommend it.
posted by weston at 11:12 AM on September 18, 2004

I think everyone's working with a different definition of happiness here. I don't want cheerfulness, but I do want fulfillment, engagement, a sense of depth and beauty. I tried to explain on that thread that when I don't get enough natural light, whether because of dark winters or dark apartments, I tend to just lose energy. This does not mean I become philosophical and dark and introspective; it means I sort of shut down a bit and feel bored and listless. I am interested in philosophy and introspection to start with. I lose interest when I get depressed - I just can't be bothered.

I think a certain amount of sadness can definitely be part of happiness, actually. I think my definition of the one true mood of the universe is "funny-sad". That's where I find meaning, and both parts are important and when I find those meaningful things, I feel connected, which is what happiness is for me. So I don't want to deny sadness as a real feeling, but it needs to somehow connect, to seem like truth, not just like bland dissatisfaction and pointlessness. Or, I don't even want to say pointlessness, because in a way the whole point is the pointlessness, but it's about the mood, the way it feels at that moment, not the definition - and I don't really think moods are hugely controlled by us (and this is not some 20th century pharmaceutical attitude - emerson said we live in a 'flux of moods' - "This vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall")
posted by mdn at 12:22 PM on September 18, 2004

"Funny-sad" is perfect, mdn.
posted by taz at 1:04 PM on September 18, 2004

i'd say happiness is an emotion to have on occasions but generally i want to be content, meaning that i'm not generally sad. I like to think of it as a fluctuating curve with happiness on the positve y axis and sadness in the negative y direction (x axis being time). Overall the curve fluctuates greatly between the two (or less greatly depending on one's copaceticness) and when you take the average of the curve you get a line which will iether be in the postivie or negative side of the curve (lets not get into how this average is about a 10 day cumulative). Anyway, i like to see my average slightly on the happy side but don't expect it to go too far up...and that to me is contentness.

oh, and i love winter, hot weather makes me angry and spiteful but snow and ice just make me smile (of course i just moved from boston to San francisco so i might not be the best one to argue).
posted by NGnerd at 2:06 PM on September 18, 2004

If I understand you, mdn, you're talking about depression. I know just the set of feelings you're talking about: the sense of disconnectedness, isolation, apathy, lethargy. I have some experience with that, including one year-long bout in my early 20s. Everything appeared pointless; I was transfixed by existential anxiety; after a while, I became isolated and paranoid. Oddly, it was one of the most creative periods of my life, and I had swings of euphoria that lasted for days.

Of course, that's a different discussion from what most people have been talking about here: happiness. As I'm sure you know, depression isn't the oposite of happiness any more than diabetes is the oposite of influenza. It's an illness... brought on by a variety of biological, psychological and environmental factors. It may be misleading to frame the discussion in terms of happiness versus depression.

FWIW, I'll tell you what appeared to help me get a leg up on my depression: daily aerobic excercise.

NGnerd: Golden Gate Park at dawn... that's happiness.
posted by squirrel at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2004

squirrel, i'd specifically say the japanese tea gardens whenever the tourists aren't around...though i'm in berkeley so it's grizzly peak or indian rock (though just driving into the city on my morning commute makes me appreciate life).

While depression is a disease, people are still allowed to have sadness without having to be considered depressed, therefore i think it's acceptable as a counterpart to happiness (seriously, is there a disease where a person is constantly happy?). In the end have some part conciously in choosing what we focus on and some part unconciously, you can't completely control anything you feel and therefore your kinda fucked iether way...but it is nice to be lucky, and it's good to be the king.
posted by NGnerd at 10:20 PM on September 18, 2004

NGnerd: If someone was constantly happy, how could you say they have a dis-ease? A condition or syndrome perhaps, but dis-ease is contradictory to being happy.

I get depressed sometimes. Usually it manfests itself as what I call "terminal boredom". I deal with it by encouraging it, sinking down in 'til it becomes boring itself, then I find a way out. Sometimes this means embracing it totally and writing about it. Elation results, my lights go on, and next thing I know, I'm happy again. Other times, I just think of a project to do, and get busy, with the same results.

Happiness for me comes from either a programming project that engrosses me deeply, or warm weather with sunshine and a beach (and few impediments to enjoying it). Otherwise I am mostly quite content and comfortable.

So what is happiness for me? Being in the 'grove', which is to say, I feel I am moving towards my goals without excess impediments, being satisfied with current progress. Occasionaly I have to do something to shake things up, as too much sameness becomes grayness, and the boredom weighs me down.
posted by Goofyy at 12:47 AM on September 19, 2004

Someone wittier than I said it, Goofyy: "Absorption is bliss."
posted by squirrel at 3:58 AM on September 21, 2004

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