Lately I have been thinking a lot about happiness and exactly what that means on an individual level.
Thinking back through time I have been trying to remember key moments when I was happy, truly happy. Of course I must try to define what exactly that means. Being Happy…hmm, not as simple as we might assume.
This is a very personal condition to say the least, what each of us defines as ‘being happy’ is likely to differ wildly from anyone else’s definition and if we are truly honest with ourselves it is a condition that is far more elusive and rare that we might care to admit to ourselves.
Happiness is often thought of in very broad terms and not as specific points in time, or in a life, and is too often veiled, fogged, colored and tainted by past situations and memories, to say nothing of the comparative baselines we measure such things against. We often think in terms of being ‘generally happy’ taking everything going on in our lives into account.
For myself I try to think of these instances as being pivotal moments or events that are so lucid and well defined as to have altered the way in which I view life. These points in time are so potent as to possibly even reset or redirect personal aims and goals, possibly even cause a change in a life’s direction to say nothing of future expectations.
Things would be more straightforward if there were just one universal form of happiness, a simple answer to a yes or no question. Of course things are never that black and white and there are many forms this emotion can take but for the purposes of this discussion I am talking about the kind of happiness that is internal and personal. This can however originate and reside completely within an individual or it can be the result of some external influence, either way there is also an infinite range of emotional density ranging from the mild to an all encompassing sublime state.
You may notice that I have refrained from associating Happiness with Joy or referring to them as the same emotion, while in some instances these may indeed be one and the same this is not always the case.
Purely internal happiness is relatively rare, a state that is not solely dictated by external stimuli but is self generated and realized, it may be entirely internal or may be initiated by external influences. This form is often more common when we are younger but sadly seems to diminish with age, possibly due to us becoming desensitized as we are bombarded by outside stimuli. As we age we often become programmed to identify with, and react to, what is going on around us and we lose our connection to the internal self that was once natural to us. This shift in awareness is imperceptible as our need to conform to the requirements of modern society increases. It is however possible to retain, or regain, this personal internal connection.
An example of purely internal happiness is the emotion we feel when our children are born, when we get married, (hopefully), when we watch a sunrise…you get the idea. This emotion is still in response to external situations or influences but this kind of influence sets the stage for not only happiness but an increased connection to our Inner selves.
You might wonder what I mean when I talk about Inner and Outer self. Inner self can be thought of as who we are, who we truly are, when our social position or status, our jobs and our material belongings are removed.
Outer self is a projected image of who we are, it is the image that we, and those around us, think we are. Quite often we believe these two versions of ourselves to be one and the same thing, in truth they are almost never the same. When we consider who we are we usually think in terms of, ‘I am a Doctor, a Lawyer, a Manager, I drive a BMW and live in a big house,’ but this is truly just the Outer version of who we are, the modified projection of ourselves, the one we outwardly present to the world. This is a version we become so used to presenting to the world that we may choose to identify solely and completely with the illusion. Maybe we prefer this outward image, it certainly is easier to maintain or alter if we feel the need. Make more money, buy a better car, or whatever, and what the world sees is what we want them to see right? Only to a point.
So what does all this talk about Inner and Outer self have to do with happiness? Well…
As we mature we are taught, and hopefully learn, how to fit in, to become productive members of society. Of course some wiggle room is left to accommodate individuality. We are naturally communal or tribal creatures and that also means living in groups of varying sizes. This behavior is hard wired in us and we historically have prospered better in groups than as individuals. The risk we face in this situation is having our Outer, or communal self, dominate to the point where the Inner, or true, self is pushed so far into the background that we forget it even exists. This can leave us believing that our Outer or Public self is truly who we are and in that persona the natural way of trying to be happy is to look to external sources.
As previously mentioned, external sources can be valid initiators for happiness but too often the source may be questionable. As part of a societal group, and with a strong identification with the Outer or Public self, we often get caught in the trap of chasing happiness while keeping up appearances through the acquisition of material items, items we may not even need but believe we do because someone else looks happy and they have one. Thanks to modern marketing techniques we have been taught to believe that the newest ‘this or that’ will make us the envy of everyone else and therefore make us happy.
We have all felt the excitement, and yes even happiness, when the day comes to pick up that new car we have been dreaming about. The new car smell, the salesmen fawning over us as we sign the final paperwork and are escorted to that perfect shining new car waiting for us. Yes we are happy, at that moment, but for how long? It is only a matter of time before the feeling wears off and we go chasing the next bigger and better thing.
I understand that consumerism is a necessity, given the model we have chosen for the way we live, and there is nothing wrong with that. The issue arises when we lose who we truly are and begin to believe we can be happy by presenting a false outward image to the world. This can be exhausting to maintain, to say the least, and we spend a lot of time watching for cracks in the facade.
Don’t you feel happy when you get a raise or a promotion? When you take an expensive vacation? How do you feel just a short time after the initial thrill of the event has subsided?
So, what is the solution? I don’t have the answers, I’m sorry. But I am looking more closely at both my Inner and Outer self, I am working at remembering the times when I felt happiness in it’s purest form, i.e. A day spent as a young boy with my father flying a model airplane at a park in Ireland where we lived. My father has long since passed but the happiness I felt that day was all encompassing, not because of what we were doing at the moment but because of the obvious happiness on my fathers face, for that short time we were both just little boys playing in each others company and that alone made us happy.