Friday, May 18, 2012

Pursuit of Happiness

I've long been interested, er, maybe a little obsessed, with the question of what it takes to be happy. Oh, I know, happiness is not essential. But just as love covers a multitude of sins, so happiness can buoy us high enough to float over many of life's rocks and wrecks. Of course it makes a lousy god.  But pursuing it can give us the edge we need to better pursue more worthy goals. Would you agree?

One complicating factor is that one person's pleasures are different from another's. Maybe that's why we end up telling one another, "I think you'd be happier if..." and "I was just trying to make you happy!" all the while missing the mark.

I often notice this when shopping for greeting cards. Seriously, your idea of a happy birthday means lots of alcohol? Casual sex? Shopping? Earlier this year I was seated behind a couple people on an airline who really seemed to hit it off. By the end one guy was offering to take the other out to get seriously wasted.

What about happiness and marriage? There's a book out now that teaches that marriage is to make us holy, not to make us happy. I haven't read it yet. But even here, I think, won't the happiness edge - when we can have it - spur us on for holiness? Wonder if I've got my priorities off-kilter.

I feel as if I'm starting to internalize the things that please C. He tries very hard to figure out how to please me. Both of us find it hard to talk about these things. It goes against the grain to correct or instruct one you love so much, especially over when you think the other person's ideas may just be better than yours; what right have you to ask for your way, if you even know what it is? My confidence flags at this so intimate level. 

This has come out somewhat in wedding planning. Chris and everyone else has ideas about what is appropriate. I get lots of conflicting advice. I'm not sure what I want, yet I'm hurt and sometimes even feel betrayed when I don't get my way. When people tell me it's my wedding and mine alone (!) and it should be just how I want it, that only makes flexibility and compromise more difficult. I'm stuck in my own head, and realizing how little I know about how to compromise. Uh oh; bridezilla!

Years ago I started noting the things I could legitimately manage to help my sense of well-being. Wondering how many of these I should cultivate now, versus leaving them behind. 1980 - a good book. 1987 - a hot bath. A cup of homemade cocoa. 1992 - buying someone flowers. Helping someone craft their communication and getting it right; the perfect sentence. Listening; drawing other people out and making friends. Getting eight hours of sleep was the revelation of 2002. I was so much better to be around! By 2005 I'd realized the real pleasure of knowing I looked good had to be sacrificed for staying comfortable; even in the heat of summer I'd protect myself from the annoyance of A/C by donning nylons or socks instead of sporting bare legs and sandals. And somewhere along the line I learned the strategic pleasures of eating right and exercise. Good music, time to write, time with friends. Getting things done. Did I mention coffee? And the deeper pleasures of knowing I have worked hard or done what is right, that's like gold to me.

What about time with others versus time alone? Makes a big difference in your content or sense of well-being, doesn't it? Yet the circumstances are often beyond our control.

I'm mildly extroverted, and came to the conclusion a couple years ago that I am at my best when I get at least two hours to myself every day, and at least two hours with other people. At times one is much easier to get than the other. When I gave up my cubicle and started working at home at the beginning of 2010 I was afraid I'd have trouble getting enough people time, but it ended up working out pretty well. At least until I left my roommate, church, and social network and moved to Oregon. Now, with marriage and family, I've already hit a season when time alone may be harder to come by - at least time that doesn't feel like it must be dedicated to work and school. So it's a struggle again.

I think I'm in the midst of a long, mid-life stage of recalibrating.

To think about:
1. How committed are you to pursuing happiness, and why?
2. What circumstances nurture your happiness? 
2. What can you do to be happy or content even under more challenging circumstances?


Dean Smith said...

Check this out:

I find it to be god advice.

Marti said...

Wow, that =is= some good advice. Challenging! Thanks.