Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

I’ve continued to think about the idea of happiness since my last blog post, so when my sister sent me a link to a TED talk about happiness, I watched.  What I saw and heard really resonates with me.  It’s a 2004 TED talk by Eve Ensler, the woman who wrote The Vagina Monologues (click here to listen). The talk is about how she found a new type of happiness while doing that project, and in the work that has come out of it.

She describes her realization very clearly.

Happiness exists in action, it exists in telling the truth and saying what your truth is, and it exists in giving away what you want the most.

This strikes a deep chord with me, especially the telling the truth part.  And she is not talking about the truth as in “Did you cheat on your test?” or “Did you eat the last cookie?”  She is talking about a deeper truth, the truths that so many people refuse to see or can’t face.  The truths that individuals, families, countries hide every day.  For Ensler, the truth she found while doing The Vagina Monologues, and in her work that has followed, is that women and girls are suffering and all too often are not given a chance to express that.  She talks about that being her experience as a child, and how working to give voice to girls and women she has been able to heal.

I feel like our society discourages truth.  We are meant to be happy, put on a good face.  We are not meant to talk about the pain and difficulty of growing older.  We just get plastic surgery.  We are not meant to talk about the difficulties of pregnancy or the stress that having children puts on a marriage.  We are supposed to revel in our sweet babies and buy the best strollers, clothes and toys, and send a boasting holiday card each and every year.  We are meant to be grateful for our job because it’s a “good company” and we have benefits.  We’re not supposed to talk about how it’s killing our soul.

For better or worse, I am a truth teller.  It doesn’t always serve me well, but it’s all I know.  As I have gotten older, I’ve learned to be more skillful and sometimes subtle in telling my truth with others.

It was a relief when I started to train to be a life coach.  It was all about telling the truth!  And people wanted me to say more, tell more.  I had learned to hide my truth and people were asking me to bring it out again…they wanted more.

And now my job is to hear people’s truth.  It’s exactly what Ensler says about happiness existing when we give away what we want the most.  That’s me!  What I have always wanted in my life, personal and professional, is to be seen and be heard.  As I coach, I am able to give people a place to be seen and heard…to speak their truth.

It feels right, and I’d even say I’m happy, in this pursuit.

What is your truth?

The article, A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness, by John Tierney (click here to read the whole article) in today’s New York Times questions the idea that happiness is what we should all strive for.  It’s not that happiness is bad, but the author and people interviewed in the article ask whether there is a richer sense of well-being that comes from more than just positive, happy feelings.

This strikes a chord with me. Partly personally, but also because I see clients all the time looking for a deeper well-being, even when in many ways they would describe themselves as happy.   They’re looking for connection and relationships, both personal and in work.  They’re looking for contributing to the greater good and being part of something bigger.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, who founded the positive psychology movement, says he has come around to see that happiness (positive emotion)  is not enough, but just one of what he believes are five crucial elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” he writes. “Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”

The economist Arthur Brooks agrees.

In his 2008 book, “Gross National Happiness,” Dr. Brooks argues that what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.

Brooks explains one way this plays out.

“People find meaning in providing unconditional love for children,” writes Dr. Brooks, who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute. “Paradoxically, your happiness is raised by the very fact that you are willing to have your happiness lowered through years of dirty diapers, tantrums and backtalk. Willingness to accept unhappiness from children is a source of happiness.”

Why does this all resonate with me?  I guess because it makes sense that well-being is not always connected to or dependent on happiness per se.  Our culture sometimes puts happiness so high on the pedestal of life, that short of achieving happiness nothing is enough.  This view that overall well-being is more complicated and complex than just feeling happy makes me feel more normal and validated.

What do you do that doesn’t necessarily always make  you happy but that adds to your overall sense of well-being?

A recent blog post on the NY Times talks about a new study that shows people who engage in deeper, more substantive conversations are happier than those who mostly engage in small talk.

But, he (the researcher) proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

I have spent a considerable portion of my life wondering how things would be if I could keep things more on the surface…stop questioning so much, stop searching so much, stop feeling so much.  In many ways society encourages people to keep things on the surface and frowns on the deeper connection.  I’m not sure if I’m happier (what is happy anyway?) because of the deeper connections, but I do think I’m more fulfilled and present because I am not pushing down these basic instincts.

What would be possible if there were more connection, real connection, between human beings?   Where are you on the conversation spectrum?

To read the NY Times article, click here.