Happiness is…..what?

It’s been a great day so far.  We went to our home group meeting this morning, came home and did our chores, and then took a nice long nap.  And now, mid-afternoon, we are enjoying a nice monsoon thunderstorm.  I love being able to open all the blinds and watch the rain pour down.  Not to mention it really cools things off.  It feels like the temperature dropped about 20-25 degrees outside, which is great because the heat is pretty oppressive in Tucson in July.  I’m sitting here typing away while my step-son is building something with K’nex (like a cross between legos and tinker toys) on the floor, and Austin is getting something yummy started for dinner.  Anyway, I am feeling pretty happy today.

Recently I read an interesting article about happiness.  It talks about what things happy people do differently than others.   It was interesting to me because the things that it said about the characteristics of happy people weren’t what I thought they would be.  I was expecting things like having an optimistic view of things, having some sort of spirituality, being non-judgmental, having meaningful connections with other people, being self-accepting.  Those types of things.  It turns out I was wrong.  According to the studies talked about in the article, happy people have a few seemingly paradoxical things in common.

comfort zone

The first thing that the article talked about was that happy people embrace their anxiety.  What??  It says that they often do anxiety-provoking things that are outside of their comfort zone.  They seem to know that just doing the things that they know and are comfortable with won’t provide sustained happiness.  This seems a little bit crazy to me, but I do buy it.  When I have been able to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I normally wouldn’t because of fear and anxiety, I have felt pretty darn happy.  For example, a few months ago I was asked to give a presentation at work about alcoholism and addiction.  I work at a local vocational college, and my audience was the entire student body.  Now, I am not a public speaker.  At the time I hadn’t done anything more than run a staff meeting, or share at an AA meeting (which I don’t even do that often).  But, I accepted without thinking because I am passionate about spreading the message.  When the day of the presentation came, I was filled with anxiety.  I was going to talk about myself and alcoholism in front of 400 people!  What the hell had I been thinking when I said yes?  But I did it, it went well, and I felt happy.  I wasn’t happy just because I didn’t embarrass myself, I was happy because I did something that I was afraid to do.  It felt good.


The next commonality of happy people is that they don’t get caught up in details.  They see the forest, but not the trees.  The article states, “the happiest people have a natural emotional protection against getting sucked in by the intense gravitational pull of little details.”  I agree that paying too much attention to small inconsequential things does seem fairly joy-sucking.  I often catch myself studying friends’ and coworkers’ facial expressions when we’re interacting, searching for acceptance and approval.  If I see some little glimpse of something (it could just be a muscle twitch for all I know!) that I think might be negative, I quietly obsess about it, and what I did or said that was wrong.  I think what the article is saying is that happy people don’t do that.  They don’t notice those minute things that really have no meaning.


Happy people find joy in others’ good fortunes.  That one is sometimes difficult for me.  Not because I begrudge others’ happiness, but because often times, I wish I had what they have.  It’s pretty easy for me to sympathize and empathize when friends are feeling down, or having some sort of crisis.  I’ve been told that I am a compassionate, loving, understanding person.  And I think that’s true for the most part.  But when things are going great for someone else, there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head.  While I may not act like it outwardly, when someone has something that I wish I did, internally I am covetous.  Especially when it comes to mothers relationships with their daughters.  That one really tears me up because I don’t have one, good or bad, with mine.  I guess this aspect is something that I need to work on.


The next characteristic is that happy people don’t hide from negative emotions.  Wait a minute, happy people feel bad sometimes?  Of course they do.  They just handle it differently than others.  They are able to feel those yucky feelings and face them head on.  I’ve talked about how I deal with negative emotions, or try not to deal with them, as the case may be, in this post.  I’m not always exactly healthy, but I’m getting better at it.  Happy people are able to constructively use their anger or guilt to modify their behavior, which in turn improves the situation, and they can return their former happy selves.  It seems so easy, doesn’t it?


The last bit of the article says that happy people are able to balance pleasure with purpose.  They are able to look beyond instant gratification to the bigger picture, and sacrifice short-term pleasures in order to make progress toward long-term aspirations.  Wow.  I think that for most alcoholics this presents some challenges.  I mean we drank for instant gratification, even when the consequence was screwing up whatever our long-term aspirations were.  I know that for me, my drinking (brief, fleeting pleasure), actually completely annihilated any long-term goals I had.  My old aspirations, and some new ones, are coming back to me, but it’s taken a long time.  And, truthfully, there are many moments when I still want relief from anxiety, stress, and shame instantly.  I don’t want to drink, but I want something that will make things better.  Nowadays I use prayer and napping for that!

I guess I’ve rambled on long enough, but this article really struck something in me.  I’m not sure that I know how to change the things that need changing in me, so that I can experience more happiness, but this gives me some ideas.

If you want to read the whole article you can find it here.