For every person who seeks happiness there is one who denies that it even exists. The very word triggers people, both on the gut level and the high plains of philosophy. As with every trigger subject, opinions form and rigidify quickly to a concrete wall. This article does not attempt to break through anyone’s wall, but instead offer support to those who feel discouraged by others’ negativity. It is hard enough to gain clarity about a complex matter. Then, in a variety of ways and for multiple reasons, come the people who trash (your) happiness… Let’s find out how you could respond to some of them:
1. Misery Seeks Company.
Should all members of your closest circle wish you happiness even when it escapes them, skip to the next point. For the rest of us, remember that rivalry is common, manifesting in feelings of annoyance, unreasonable demands and incessant judgments. The envious person does not usually think of herself as envious, but might role her eyes when you laugh, sing, whistle or share a success. Feeling left behind, a brother or colleague might change the subject or point out the negative every time you mention anything positive. The possibilities for rivalry are endless and for you to figure out. Once you are aware, your response will have to start — and may have to remain — internal. Competitiveness is part of life. Nothing matters more than accepting the way thing are. Let go and forgive. Think to yourself, “It is right and good to be happy, even when others have a hard time to be happy themselves. I will be sensitive to their pain, but it will not stunt my growth. I will not hide my light under the bushel.”
Another rather primitive reaction to happiness is projection. Many civilized people – removed from nature and community, sedentary, sleep-deprived, intoxicated with simple carbohydrates — are unhappy. Depression and addiction to pain killers are on the rise. Many feel lonely. We see what we are. While a person might bring forth a seemingly intellectual argument (“Happiness does not exist because of A, B and C), he might be informed by a dark cloud that doubts the existence of the sky. Instead of thinking, “My life is hard and I feel doomed”, he might generalize and think that life is always hard and that the whole human race, if not the entire universe, is doomed. Projections are, by definition, unconscious. It might be enough for you to know this to move on and embrace life. Sometimes it is appropriate to point out the obvious and say, “Yes, life can be really tough and many are doomed.” This true statement does two things: give relief to the unhappy person and create distance for you to become untangled from his hardship. The ability to relate constructively to others is the most important ingredient to happiness (see “The Ten Building Blocks of Connections” in A Unified Theory of Happiness). But nobody is served when you too feel doomed. If you take on the unhappy person’s depressed mood, you only add to the darkness in the world.
3. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.
Even though your understanding of happiness is likely based in personal, complex learning, you will be subjected to tired expressions. For example, anybody remotely interested in the subject knows that happiness is not perpetually feeling good, but includes hard work, acceptance of failure and sadness. Discomfort, however buffered by perspective, is part of a fully engaged life. Thoughts like these do not stop the “serious” critic, who just must educate you. Be prepared to endure endlessly repeated “do-not-chase-the-rainbow” quotes. Keep in mind that copying others is a major method of learning–for all of us. People prefer this method over thinking things through themselves. The response here must be simply: patience, patience, patience.
4. “Aim at contentment, not happiness.”
Happiness does not exist without having the ability to content oneself within the present moment, but contentment can do without. A happy person does not only smile to what is; she occasionally laughs her head off and emotes while striving for goals and engaging full heartedly in messy relationships. I usually respond, “You be content. I be happy andcontent.”
5. “Happiness Is Not a Meaningful Goal.”
This judgment comes from skeptical thinkers who, ironically, have not thought this one through. Whether happiness is or isn’t a meaningful goal surely depends on how happiness is defined. If your definition is limited to good fortune and feelings, you derive little meaning. Contrary, if it is seeking excellence, being a good, loving person or living an enlightened life, you derive great meaning. Offer your definition of happiness to the skeptic. Should he ignore it, he entertains a show in his head in which you play no role. That’s too bad. For him.
6. “Happiness Is an Egotistical Preoccupation.”
This negative perception should be easily corrected. Happiness is never a one-woman show, but is born out of a sense of relatedness. Isolation is for rats.
7. “Happiness Is Idiotic.”
Many are triggered when it comes to happiness, but the uncontained among us might just lose it. When (mostly) men, pair raw aggression with confidence, they speak as they damn please. These days, the overly aggressive believe themselves in opposition to the politically correct—a lame excuse, I must say. Take note of the lack of manners and ask for a more constructive choice of words. Be assertive without turning into a rude person yourself as otherwise, you join his unhappiness. If all fails, be ready to disengage. Happiness includes the willingness to set boundaries and say “No, in the name of love.”
I bow to those who claim their right to live a fully engaged life. Stand strong in face of negativity. And when you touch on your own, become aware, stay with it, do what you can, and let it pass.
© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.