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Happiness - within reason (08/23/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
A life without scars, failures, regrets, guilt, pipedreams, and an occasional broken heart can be described in one word – BORING! (just joshing!)

Remember all the sappy happy things we said in the lightheaded, halcyon era of the sixties and seventies about what happiness is. We generalized the emotion with fluff by declaring that happiness is everything from a Big Mac attack, to tiptoeing through the tulips, to dancing the peppermint twist, being as thin as Twiggy, Beatlemania, and similar airhead gibberish. Ecstasy is merely licking the frosting spoon before the cake is served.

Happiness is a guarded word, used sparsely today. It’s a challenge to find the genuine article when all the world around you is falling apart. Instead of talking about what happiness is, it would be more accurate to reflect on what happiness could be. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has been investigating positive emotions for 20 years.

She has written, “When people increase their daily diets of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life. They also find that they receive more social support – or perhaps they just notice it more, because they’re more attuned to the give-and-take between people.”

At times, we deceive ourselves by mistaking fleeting pleasures for happiness, such as the purchase of something we thought we couldn’t live without, or a hot, short-lived relationship, winning big at a casino, the thrill of meeting our hero in person - grandiose deceptions. The state of happiness is impermanent. Happiness is a culmination of positive moments. To make the best of every experience, uplifting as well as unpleasant, is to grow and to nurture wisdom.

There is actually a place where happiness is a day-to-day achievement. In Bhutan, in the breathtaking Himalayan Mountains, their people laugh and smile as they sing and dance together, colorfully dressed, as though every day is a celebration. Cultivating happy and devoted relationships is a way of life in Bhutan.

There are those times, out of restlessness, boredom, mundane routine, or plans falling through, when we stew because our perception of happiness hinges on bliss, and that’s isn’t happening. We sulk, “Is this all there is?” Often, we don’t stop to think that as we long for life’s mollycoddling joys, that ordinary, uneventful days are swiftly slipping.

It seems that in order to determine the features of happiness, unhappiness has to be addressed. Negative situations can give way to peace of mind. For instance, happiness is freedom from abuse, as one is rescued from a violent marriage after years of helplessness and unmerciful suffering. Restored health, when one is cured of cancer, can be nothing other than relief and happiness. Consequential joy in such cases is the result of suffering, fear, and anxiety being alleviated. A calmer state of mind has been restored, and the individual emerges a stronger person.

Many hard and valuable lessons can be realized between strong emotions of despair and heartache and something called happiness. Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” was my initial indoctrination into inspired masters of prophecies. He wrote this adage: “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

It’s impossible to envision global happiness, even nation by nation. If ever there could be a time when no war is raging on the earth, and a conjoined, worldwide movement to preserve the environment could be realized, and if all people of every culture could recognize one another as equals – such acts of justice and peace would be ultimate happiness and well being.

The world is overflowing with deception and greed. Advertisements have always exploited superficial happiness to sell their products. We’re promised wrinkle-free skin, instant relief, sexual enhancement, the perfect partner, rejuvenated hair follicles, no more tears, and winning the most outrageous lawsuit. We can never seem to possess enough of what we don’t need to make us happy.

We have two lives – the one we learn with, and the life we live after that.

Carpe diem!

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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