Human

Joy is not all ponies and rainbows

The last two posts make it sound like choosing happiness is easy – just a matter of programming ourselves to always do so. Let’s be realistic, and not buy completely into the hype.

First of all, many people are playing life on “hard mode,” as they fight chemical dependencies, depression, or other neurological illnesses. Those require more than a personal choice. They require professional treatment, sustainable management, and the joyful support of friends. The choice is often to recognize and accept those requirements, and to take action.

Secondly, while we can reprogram our lizard brains with some success, it’s not a panacea for all emotional reactions. We get annoyed, we anger, we feel helpless, we worry, we mourn. That’s as it should be.

Finally, it’s hard. We’re not only fighting evolution, we’re fighting our own learned habits. We are constantly tempted to enjoy the short-term “joy” of recreational complaining, of vengeance, of being the victim, of blaming others. (The Internet is built on those instant dopamine hits.) It’s the easy path with a quick reward, but one that sets us on a programmed path for long-term unhappiness.

Optimism is not the opposite of realism. We can expect the best while preparing for the worst. We can seek joy in hard work. We can look for happiness in the face of suffering.

Finding joy can be hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Human

Owning happiness

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story that a motivational speaker gave which has stuck with me over the years. It goes something like this:

“I have a friend who I think was the happiest guy in the world. When people asked him, ‘How are you?’ he would respond, ‘I’m great! Because I’m happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. If I were any happier, there’d be two of me!’ It wasn’t an act, either – he was genuinely, authentically happy. He was always a ray of sunshine, and he brightened up everyone’s day.

“One day I got some terrible news. My friend had been in a car accident. Several bones were broken. He would probably be in the hospital for weeks recovering. Just a horrible, horrible event. So I went over to the hospital to see him. I said to him somberly, how are you doing? Without delay he said, ‘I’m great! Because I’m happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. If I were any happier, there’d be two of me!’

“I couldn’t believe it, and he explained: My happiness is a choice. Bad things happen that we can’t control. I’ve chosen to be happy. It’s easy to choose that when things are going well. I choose to be happy even when they’re not.’ ”

Whether or not this extreme case of a story is true, it’s an admirable, aspirational philosophy. We may not all be able to follow it, but we can all remember it the next time choosing happiness is hard.