Is happiness overrated? Of course it is. Reading the most popular writing or browsing the internet one always finds clichéd articles about “How to be happy”, “What makes you happy”, “How to stay happy”, “10 ways to happiness” and so on. We are programmed with fairy tales with ‘happily ever after’ endings from a very early age creating this dellusion that, that’s how things are supposed to pan out!
One starts to feel terribly inadequate if one is anything but deliriously happy all the time. But honestly, what is happiness? The feeling of excitement when you make holiday plans?The outpouring of love when your pet or kid throws himself at you? The satisfaction of meeting a deadline? Going for a solo walk? All the above – check.
They are all isolated incidences. Call me a cynic if you like but I think the word happiness is highly over rated, abused and forced upon people. Making us believe that we must be happy at every turn of life. Of course that’s not possible. Happiness and joy are emotions that are felt simply becasue of certain chemical reactions in the brain. The brain is the only organ that can ‘feel’ any emotion. Certain hormones and neurotransmitters are released and circulate within the brain stimulating certain parts of the brain that are responsible for the feeling that we call happiness. These hormones and neurotransmitters are released for various reasons. Did you know some of these chemicals are released while exercising? So basically just moving your body, working up a sweat can release these hormones and neurotransmitters. Imagine that!! Similar results obtained from receiving a diamond ring, getting a raise, buying a house and a run around the lake!! Well, maybe not quite but you get my drift! And yet, there will be profuse writings from agony aunts in the most popular magazines to advice from famous TV personalities on how to procure that diamond ring, how to nail the man of your dreams, how to land the job, how to make your next million like those are the only achievements worth aspiring for.
What I am trying to say is, happiness as is seen in the most common light is a fleeting feeling which cannot be sustained indefinitely simple because the neurotransmitters/hormones creating that feeling cannot be released indefinitely. Produced continuously they can cause more harm that good. They run out, the situation leading to the release comes to an end.
So is the objective we seek a continuous supply of these neurotransmitters bathing our brain cells causing us to feel joy? Seems a bit childish and simplistic.
Interspersed with the reality of life, will be life-events like marriage, falling in love (in whichever order you like), having children, adopting pets, getting a raise, buying a house, nailing the job, driving down a beautiful coastline, becoming the chief of the department, having an affair, climbing the Himalayas, buying that beautiful pair of shoes you coveted and so on…. All of which produce a spurt of chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin or dopamine which create joy, thrill, excitement and happiness.
I think we can feel satisfied doing other things which don’t necessarily produce a severe rush of such chemicals, but which create that hum that resonates with just……….. Life. Simple things, like reading a book or getting to work, completing a task. Even the act of giving and helping for no particular reason produces similar feeling of contentment.
What we need is purpose. A feeling of necessity. We don’t really need to feel thrilled or happy in such situations but we can feel functional, engaged and relevant. That I think is what keeps us going. The relevance of our existence.
What one needs is not permanent bliss but relevance. The happy moments come and go. Many life events create such moments, but that’s what they are – moments or extended moments. The fillers are ‘real life’ situations, which change and evolve but don’t necessarily create feverish happiness. Live through them we must knowing that they too are precious, that life is precious irrespective of whether it is producing happiness relayed hormones or not.
Life cannot be controlled. These moments cannot be orchestrated.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I exercise. That is somehow within my control. I am actually able to release some ‘feel good’ hormones at will. It takes me through daily life in a positive frame of mind, (not deliriously ‘happy’, but definitely positive) to be able to enjoy those special moments when they do arrive!!