Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Don’t Worry, Be Happy?

by Staff


Tags: Happiness, psychology, positive psychology, sadness, depression, pharmaceuticals,

People make mistakes in the pursuit of happiness, but eventually we can all get there. “We are meant to be happy,” says psychologist . In his new book, Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert tries to help people understand how to find a joyful life. He advises people to “distrust your brain, and trust your eyes a little bit more.” Don’t myopically pursue selfish and materialistic goals that you think will make you feel good. Rather, take a more scientific view, testing what makes you happy, and making natural mistakes on your way there.

This quest for bliss, however, may be entirely misguided, Eric G. Wilson writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Americans’ over-pursuit of happiness, and rejection of sadness, amounts to “a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life.” Melancholic feelings give inspiration to music, art, and literature, yet Americans try to destroy sadness through positive psychology and prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical therapies can help seriously depressed people, Wilson acknowledges, but too many people try to numb their pain instead of embracing it. This is a horrible and dangerous mistake.

Bennett Gordon

 

sandra brown_1
1/27/2008 7:13:36 PM

If we were to validate our feelings of depression as coming from our connection to a world that itself was full of sadness (remember "a warp in the force field"?) it might put unhappiness into a wider context--a kind of higher calling to those with the antennae to feel the Universe-al pain. Some in our society carry the burden not only for themselves, but for others who don't feel the injustices and injuries (clueless?). In more primitive societies we might actually honor these people for their sadness instead of insisting they get well. Psychotherapy is wonderful--everyone should have a kindly professional help them examine the patterns of their life in order to gain some measure of control and consciousness. And as a woman I am familiar with the chemical/hormonal titrating that can change one's attitude from dark to delighted -- but overall, depression seems to me to be valid response to a really disturbing world. http://sojourneyfarm.com


joseph riden
1/26/2008 11:40:38 PM

It came to me that happiness is elusive only if I am deluded about what happiness really is. For a long time I thought happiness is an emotion. It's not. At least not for me. The catalyst for this insight was my friend Kim. She often will ask me in odd moments if I am happy. Without a second's hesitation, I always answer "Yes. I'm always happy." This is not an automatic response. I really am always happy. "Even when I feel sad, I'm happy," I once told her. She asked me to explain. My answer is simple -- happiness is not an emotion, like the opposite of sadness. The opposite of sadness is the emotion joy. Or bliss. Happiness is a being state, not an emotion. It's a state of mind that I choose to sustain, which allows me to be filled with whatever experience 'now' is, and to welcome it, along with whatever feelings 'now' brings. Happiness is not about only liking feel-good time. Happiness is to be so enthralled with living that any of it, all of it, is precious and welcomed. Even when it hurts, being alive is the most fundamental blessing I receive. To live this way I have to stay in the center of myself, which is about taking responsibility to think independently and be as completely present as I can. It's work, but the rewards are stupendous. Happiness is no longer contingent on anything outside of me. I don't have to wait to be rich, or to be loved, or to be thin, or to be recognized, or to be anything someone else might want me to be. I only have to be myself and be real and know what's happening is never wrong. If it's what's happening, how could it be anything but right? Thinking otherwise would seem delusional to me. Perhaps the best thing I don't have to wait for any more is heaven. I don't have to feel sorry for myself suffering through all my tiny tragedies, waiting for some ultimate reward. I can skip the waiting and just be happy right now. Any


ed livingston_6
1/24/2008 5:40:20 PM

Excellent article. I am happy that I read it. It's ironic that pursuing happiness at all costs could prevent you from achieving it. That is, perhaps we are happier when we are not trying directly to be happy, but rather pursuing other goals. So we can be happy when we are pursuing professional advancement, assisting others, being generous, etc., etc., and not so much when we are doing things based on the answer to the question, "How can I be happier?"


ana castro
1/24/2008 1:21:04 PM

In a general way, I agree with a lot of things: medication when depression is too mutch paintfull, meditation to calm down, the role of melancholia in the process of creation, and so on. but in my case, the better thing was psichoterapy, deep psichoterapy. I was born again, so much stronger and happy, not always, not forever, but happy, anyway. Why not? Deep transformation put me in charge of myself. Gave a new sense of live.


tammy abdelqader
1/24/2008 8:20:32 AM

Being melancholy and somewhat depressed has to be experienced. We are missing a part of ourselves if we don't accept this. I think we can even reach contentedness, which really should be what we strive for rather than what we think of as happiness, if we realize that it's okay to live with a bit of melancholy. Happiness and sadness and other human emotions are part of who we are. To be content is to realize this and take advantage of the emotions as we experience them. It is also okay if one person is more prone to being happy or less serious and one more prone to being melancholy or more serious. Realizing what kind of person we are and accepting this is also part of reaching a contented life. Clinical depression and deep long depression are something different than sadness and melancholy. That's a different subject than what is being addressed here.


sherri byer
1/23/2008 11:22:58 PM

I would like to play the voice of moderation, for those who might be inclined to agree *too* wholeheartedly without looking at the whole picture. While I am generally someone who prefers natural healing methods over medication, I am grateful to what medication is able to do to level out my low points. I suffer from depression, which is an extreme form of pain. Medication helps me function. Those who do not suffer from depression, I have found, can be quick to dismiss it. I am great believer in the importance of the role of pain in my life. I am grateful for my pain, in fact. I could resort to an eastern yin-yang sort of explanation, and maybe that is true. In meditation, I sit with my pain; in music and poetry, I embrace and use my pain. But more basically than that, I believe in living intentionally, in seeing beauty in the small things, in finding joy because it is there to be found, and in creating my own joy and creating my own "luck". In truth, I would be lost without my melancholic self. Having said all that, I am not accusing this writer of diminishing the usefulness of medication, in its place. But I do want to remind other readers who might be eager to jump on the "medication-free" bandwagon that there is a very valid place for medication, just as there is for pain. And, having said ALL of that, I too agree quite fully that we as a society are much too eager to flee from pain and sadness and to seek quick fixes - whatever those may be: shopping, eating, drinking, drugs or medication, extreme sports, the list goes on. None of these is a crutch on its own, but all of them can be used as avoidance tactics, each as much as the other.


alice macedo
1/23/2008 6:23:53 PM

I agree wholeheartedly!!!!!!!!YES!