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The Reality of Happiness

The commonly asked question, “How are you feeling?” is often replied with the somewhat obligatory “Good, thanks, and you?”

However, Jungian author James Hollis suggested that, “Feeling good may be a very poor measure of the worth of one’s life.” He furthered queried, “Think of the people you truly admire or inspire you. How much of their life was about ‘feeling good’” or being happy?

As the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend approaches, perhaps it is an opportune time to question the importance of happiness in our lives and what truly brings us gratitude.

According to Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Jung agreed, stating, “The more you deliberately seek happiness the more sure you are not to find it.”

In the film, Under the Tuscan Sun, the wise eccentric widow, Katherine, advised Francis, “Listen, when I was a little girl I used to spend hours looking for ladybugs. Finally, I’d just give up and fall asleep in the grass. When I woke up, they were crawling all over me.”

Much like butterflies and ladybugs, happiness is fleeting. Hollis suggested, “Our goal is not happiness, which is evanescent and impossible to sustain; it is meaning which broadens us and carries us towards our destiny.”

Part of the meaning, as Jung suggested, deals with our capacity of “coping with the vicissitudes of life.” It refers to being able to look inward for answers, to trust our true voice and to honour our values and feelings regardless of whether it rains or shines. Perhaps more meaningful for residents of B.C.’s west coast is the anonymous saying, “If you think sunshine brings you happiness, then you haven’t danced in the rain.”

Society’s focus on achieving and maintaining happiness is a fallacy. It is impossible to live a completely happy life. To live such a life would negate half (or more) of our experiences, resulting in an unbalanced existence. Jung stated that, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”

In fact, not feeling good is often unacceptable. We learned very early, usually from our family of origin, not to express any so-called negative feelings. Everything had to be ‘fine’ or ‘good.’ Valid feelings of discomfort, sadness, disappointment and hurt were often negated or minimized. This results in feeling as if there was, and may continue to be, something wrong with us when we experience such feelings.

Writer Ivan Panin wrote, “As the sea is beautiful not only in calm but also in storm, so is happiness found not only in peace but also in strife.” Instead of seeking happiness, perhaps it is more meaningful to value states of well-being, satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, peace, acceptance, groundedness, trust and gratitude. When this shift occurs it allows one to more fully appreciate all that life has to offer – where ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ become what simply are.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.