Other people’s happy

You’re on the interwebs. You’ve just bought something. Or posted about a book you read. Or signed up for a class. You are happy. You stay on the computer and see a post about a different purchase, book, or class. Someone else is describing their choice in glorious terms. And just like that, you are unhappy with your decision.

hindenburg-wideYou should have done more research, you think. The other choice was better. Smarter. The joy goes out of your emotional sails like hydrogen out of the Hindenburg.

How can it be that your satisfaction and joy could be deflated so fast? How did you get left with dust in your mouth and heart?

Comparison is a natural inclination. But the conclusion that the other choice was better is not a natural inclination. It’s a mindset that makes unhappiness the norm. And it’s a short, straight road to competitive happiness. It’s a tough game, and you can’t win it. Because there are always other choices, bigger choices, better decisions.

If you aren’t sure about what makes you happy, it may be time to spend some time with yourself, discovering more about what lights your heart, what brings you joy. It’s not about what others are doing. Where is your center? Where is your balance? Your joy is uniquely yours. Be proud of it. Satisfaction feels like a ripe tomato–warm and heavy for its size. Your joy is yours to have. Nurture it.

–Quinn McDonald knows the Inner Critic doesn’t want you to be happy. He’s just jealous.


34 thoughts on “Other people’s happy

  1. Happy and I have a good relationship. Whenever Happy starts disappearing off round some corner or into a maze, I go inside and sit very, still and find my other dear faithful friend, Contentment. Sometimes I need to sit their a while and I apologise for losing sight of her . . . and then Happy just cruises on back and sits beside me and the IC melts away!

  2. In my opinion, we make a choice to be happy…with our life, our decisions, and our history. Maybe it’s not even happiness, maybe it’s acceptance, but that in and of itself is still a form of happiness for me. We have to learn to become comfortable in our own skin and stop comparing ourselves to everyone else who is thinner, smarter, wealthier, more creative, etc.

    I’m at a point in my life that I feel happy and blessed (almost) every day. Those days that I’m not actually experiencing happiness…well, that’s because I’m not thinking about it one way or another. If I look back on the day, I can find happy moments to be grateful for.

  3. Great post.

    I think it is interesting that your constitution mentions “the pursuit of happiness” not the attaining of happiness. Because the framers of that document understood that the joy of life come from the striving towards that momentary, fleeting feeling that we experience only after a truly extraordinary effort, either by ourselves or by someone else on our behalf.

    The happiness we feel successfully completing a task or job as part of a project can keep us on track to the end of the project. The moment we sit back and say, “I happy with that.” may not be the happiest we feel over the course of the project.

    PS – thanks Pete for making me think about my endocrine system at 0700 and the fact it was enjoying my morning coffee. Happy day!

  4. happiness: contentment, joy
    happiness: a good days work building a pig pen and a hot bath
    happiness: waking up to a cup of tea with Quinn and her commenters

  5. It all depends, of course, on what happiness is. Nowadays it’s usually referenced as if it’s a subjective state of mind, very much like “pleasure”. Or maybe the same. And yet, if you imagine living a life entirely of pleasure, there might be just a bit of doubt in there about whether such a life, for all that it’s pleasurable, would be happy.

    Happiness is hard. Hard to understand, hard to attain, hard to know if and when you’ve attained it. Why is this? It would seem like “happiness” ought to be a perfectly obvious thing; I mean, how can I not know if I’m happy?

    And yet I don’t, really. People that I’ve asked (not that I make a habit of this) don’t really know either, once they give it a bit of thought. So it’s probably not just me being an emotional dolt; there’s something about happiness that’s very elusive. The idea of happiness, I mean; the closer you look the more puzzling it becomes.

    I think it’s because happiness is not subjective at all. It has nothing to do with how you feel. I mean, are you going to trust your happiness (which some people claim is the ultimate goal of life) to something as fickle and unreliable as your endocrine system?

    I think you can know what contributes to the happiness of your life, and what subtracts from it, but you really can’t know — ever — whether you have achieved happiness. This is because happiness is a state of balance, of a lifetime of making more decisions in the direction of happiness than in other directions. The happiness of a life can only be known when it’s complete, then. Which, if you think about it, kind of sucks; you spend your whole life striving for happiness (perhaps even forgoing a great deal of pleasure and other short-term gratification) and you don’t even get to know whether you made it!

    Although you probably have a pretty good idea along the way.

    • Oddly enough, i know pretty much when I am happy and why. And I know that “happy” is impossible without “unhappy” or “sad.” And knowing both, I can actually demand of my endocrine system to re-set itself. But it could just be me.

      • OK ok, I reread a bunch of the Ethics last night; this is less distilled by time and distance.

        To Aristotle, happiness is the purpose of human existence. This is the source of Jefferson’s idea in the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental right; it’s fundamental because it comes from our nature as humans. The idea that happiness is our goal comes from observation of nature, which contains four kinds of things:
        – lifeless things that simply exist (rocks, etc),
        – plants (which exist and seek nourishment and growth),
        – animals (which exist, seek nourishment and growth, and have some awareness; you can talk about a happy or sad horse or dog), and
        – humans, who in addition to all the other things have reason and thus responsibility for choices.

        Because we alone have the capacity for reasoning, it is the exercising of this capacity that is the means to reaching our potential. Pleasure alone can’t constitute human happiness. And so we arrive at:

        “…the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.”

        The “golden mean”, “middle way” or “middle path” — that’s straight out of Aristotle. “…“a settled condition of the soul which wills or chooses the mean relatively to ourselves, this mean being determined by a rule or whatever we like to call that by which the wise man determines it.”

        Anyway, in Aristotelian terms happiness is not pleasure, not a virtue itself, and not a transient state. It’s the result of the exercise of virtue in total. You can know that you’re satisfied, pleased, joyous, amused, encouraged, loved, accompanied…but happiness is more like a measure of your life.

    • Something that’s not (as far as I know) explicit in Aristotle is the notion that humans exist in time in a manner that’s unique among all the other kinds of things in the world. Pleasure is not the same as happiness because our awareness extends beyond the immediate (where another chocolate bar seems desirable) to the past (remember what happened last time…) and the future (we understand consequences).

      That’s one of the things reason is; the ability to exist in a bigger swath of time. And time is such weird stuff we can live in that bigger space all at once.

      I wonder if another goal of human life is to grow outward in time.

        • I dunno; confusion seems to be a pretty constructive thing in most cases. People who are never confused are generally not the kind of people you want to be around.

          • While confusion makes me feel uncomfortable in the minute, it is an amazingly useful, and sometimes, quite satisfying emotion. In my case, it leads to puzzling over something, and that can be interesting, if not always productive.

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