So, what is ‘happiness’ anyway?

Since I have gotten past “that day” (It seems my life is now divided by before attempt and after attempt) I have found that I am especially sensitive to those that are always quoting, remarking, or including in their business signatures little blurbs about happiness. You know the ones… “Make the choice to be happy today!” or something like, “Make it a great day!!” The ‘Polyannas’ of the office/book club/PTO, etc. Those that make you feel guilty for feeling less than exuberant on a particular day. You might run into Miss/Mrs/Ms/Mr Pollyanna at any given time and she is always well-groomed and looks extremely well-rested and if she has children they always are in matching outfits with scrubbed faces and perfectly unscuffed shoes. I used to be one of those always posting inspirational quotes about happiness, love or ambition on my MySpace or Facebook page. Usually I would do this when I had nothing better to say, or since my mother taught me when you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all; this was my version of saying nothing. It was also my attempt to both cheer myself up and give the appearance that I was ambitious, loved and happy. I so badly wanted to be…

Not to make it seems as if I think being the Pollyanna type is bad. IF it is genuine. And also if the purpose of being so, and posting such quotes, is not to be passive aggressive to those who may be having a bad day and desperate not trying to take it out on anyone else. I saw a (mis-appropriated) quote by Voltaire posted on Istagram not that long ago very shortly after I disclosed that I battle Major Depressive Disorder. I had just spilled my guts about trying for years to fight for cheerfulness and a positive outlook on life to only end up feeling worse and exhausted at the end of each day. Explaining that by shoving my true feelings of despair and self-hatred had only built up to a crisis of violence and a few moments of self-destruction that nearly ended my life. My intention of putting this closely guarded secret of mine out into the public was to bring depression out into the open and help defeat stigma as much as to cleanse myself of this false image of myself I felt I had portrayed for so long. The quote read something like:

“I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health”

(1) Voltaire never said that. He said something more to the effect that ‘I have heard being positive is supposed to be good for you so I guess I will put more effort into that…’ or something. Although, it was known to have been said more tongue in cheek than as an actual mission statement.

(2)Yes, naturally happy people do live longer, this is a proven fact. And if people could simply make a choice to be happy and upbeat, and never be in a bad mood or irritable, surely they would, right?

Although I do think there are some people who seem to wallow in their misery and that is way more annoying that the Pollyannas of the world. I have known way too many people who are only satisfied when they are pointing out other people’s flaws or beating people over the head with bible verses to prove them wrong or show them how badly they are living their life or because they feel it is their purpose on this planet to point out the horrible, evil, sinners of the world; none of them realizing that sinner and saint alike scatter when they walk into a room.

So, what is ‘happiness‘ anyway? It is something I am not sure I have experienced much in my life. Or maybe my standards for what happy is is too lofty. Websters Dictionary defines it as: Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

Okay. A “state of being”. Happiness is a state of mind. So I can simply say I am happy and it is so? Even if I am jumping out of my skin with anxiety? But then what is it to be content? And when would one feel “intense joy”? I only have more questions so I did a little more research. The Dalai Lama thinks; “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” but yet George Orwell does not agree saying, “Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.” So was Mr. Lama (is that sacrilegious?) unhappy then?

Other notable ‘happy’ related quotes:

 “Remember happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.”
~ Dale Carnegie

“Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

 “Definition of happiness: The full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The most interesting one was from a man who has been discovered to be extremely depressed during his entire life. Even confiding in some and writing at times of his own death in a wistful manner. These days they call this passive suicide if one hopes to get hit by a car, or doesn’t take life-sustaining medication. This seemed to be the level of the President’s melancholy. “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

In my 30 something years here I have done everything from volunteering for good causes, I exercise for hours a week and eat healthy, always put a smile on my face, read books about being happy and seeking contentment, prayed and claimed peace and fulfillment and yet the depression would follow me wherever I went. I didn’t ask for it. I certainly didn’t seek it and I don’t think there is one person in this country who would say I ever wallowed or felt sorry for myself and yet this ‘happiness’ feeling has seemed to skip right over me.

Now that I have faced my real feelings and am allowing myself to talk about my mood and have begun to talk about depression and gone into therapy, I can admit that sometimes I just wake up sad. There are days that I want to close myself in my room and scream. I can actually be in physical pain because I am so unhappy, but you may not know it. Most days it is all I can take to get through a typical workday and to have to also go to the store and deal with crowds and noise can put me on edge fast. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to “Make It a Great Day”. I distinctly recall NOT choosing to be unhappy. And I have never prefered to be a Debbie Downer. This is just where I am at this moment. And suppressing it makes me sicker.

So please forgive me if I do not ‘like’ your professing of choosing our own happiness on Facebook, or click the little heart on Instagram when you misquote Voltaire or otherwise diatribe about a self-boasting ability to cure yourself of depression simply by deciding to make it so. I’ll just be in my corner trying not to correct your grammar or worse yet, slap you silly. Instead, I’ll be listening to a podcast about the newest research on depression studies or researching some peer-reviewed essays regarding case studies in PTSD hoping to be closer to an effective treatment and maybe even editing my next blog to assuage my need to reach out to find others like me who would like to love life and would LOVE to like ourselves and wish it were as easy as choosing to make this possible but until then I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite and most tragic literary geniuses: “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” ~ Ernest Hemingway


About Christine O.

I had been a young, single Mom to two girls for ten years; until March 9, 2014 when I married my soul-mate Jason. I’m a former 20 year+ full time executive in a demanding field turned business owner (this year); marathon runner, daughter to the perfect parents, oldest sister of a highly successful ‘normal’ younger brother and ‘functional’ single-mother (of 3) sister, coach, boss, best friend, member of the church choir, volunteer for the local NAMI, AFSP, and CASA organizations, and have over time become well acclimated to the world of mental illness after a life changing event or two. I have also become known in my community as the one who takes on the High School year after year in attempts to have a Suicide Prevention Program in place (as in Texas statute). My goal in writing, blogging and learning as much as I can about such subjects is to defeat stigma associated with brain disease, preventing suicide in the future, and saving my family.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, depression, Happiness, Health, major depressive disorder, mental illness, OCD, suicide attempt survivor, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to So, what is ‘happiness’ anyway?

  1. Jon says:

    Complex subject indeed. And, sorry, I don’t have the answers. 🙂
    I do try to look for happiness and to be happy in as small doses as possible and as often as I can – even on an instantaneous basis.
    And I have been better in batting back the negative in quickly and forcefully dismissing it.
    For example, I still rue about somebody disrespecting me in the lack of a response to an e-mail, BUT I quickly let it go. In the past, I didn’t do myself any positive favors over similar issues – and wondered why I was so emotional.
    A big change since late February has been to what I filter through my head in my choice of music, shifting from predominantly country to contemporary Christian music.
    For me, it is a daily battle to fight back those thoughts of comparison to what the world sees as successful, important and so on. And focus back on what I believe is important. That’s what matters.

    • Christine O. says:

      😊 Good point, Jon. I do enjoy some small things about my daily routine. Coffee and the news, waking up my Littles and seeing their sleepy faces first thing in the morning, that first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season and sleeping in (past 5am) on Sundays. I can appreciate the good things, I just don’t understand this perpetual blissfulness some people tend to always have. I am too concerned with the next task or three on my list. And that’s when I’m not depressed. I can accept that is my disposition (or condition as the case may be) but the cheery people who insist it is just a matter of deciding to feel happy that makes it happen make me want to lock them in a windowless room with never ending episodes of Barney until they can commiserate with my annoyance.

  2. Matthew Chiglinsky says:

    There’s no real point to life, so if you can’t define one for yourself (based on your own instincts and intuitions) then you are lost. Perhaps you need someone else to guide you. This is why some people turn to religion or friends/family, then they define happiness by what other people think. You can either be independent, a leader, or a follower when it comes to happiness.

    I’m an independent. For me, happiness is simply having a sense of accomplishment and serving a purpose, and I decided that myself because when I accomplish things I feel happy.

    • Christine O. says:

      I used to think that the ‘meaning of life’ was love. People live and die for it, wars have been started over it, it just seems to drive us; but as I have been disappointed over and over by it I hope that isn’t it because it certainly has not made me happy. I can say it has given me a feeling of contentment from time to time.

      I like what you wrote about being a leader/follower/independent. I have taken different positions in my different roles and always preferred leading because that ways seemed to bring out the best in me, but I also put more pressure on myself as a leader. And I certainly wasn’t happy.

      Thank you for your comment. I will just keep working on it.

      Unfortunately, accomplishing goals hasn’t made me happy either. I reach a goal and then instead of being able to feel satisfied in the moment or feeling a sense of success or completion I feel empty until I am again pursuing a new goal or two. If I do not have something to work towards I get complacent and lazy. It really is all or nothing with me.

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