Grieving the loss of happiness
I recently returned from a 5 week trip to India where I pretty much focused on myself. It was all about self-improvement. I felt happier, and more content, I experienced longer periods of peacefulness, I was compassionate in different ways, and more.
I knew it would require effort to maintain that when I returned home, but I didn’t expect to ‘lose it’ so quickly.
I was devastated and hugely disappointed with myself, for letting so many petty things get me down, wound up, frustrated or upset in some other way.
Why did I lose the ‘magic’ I felt so quickly?
First I needed to look at what happiness meant so that I could understand what it was that I was missing.
Three definitions of happiness
Merriam-Webster defines happiness as:
- a state of well-being and contentment
- a pleasurable or satisfying experience
Happiness, gladness or joy is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
A variety of biological, psychological, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including positive psychology, are employing the scientific method to research questions about what “happiness” is, and how it might be attained.
Vocabulary.com describes it as:
Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness. The “pursuit of happiness” is something this country is based on, and different people feel happiness for different reasons. Whenever doing something causes happiness, people usually want to do more of it. No one ever complained about feeling too much happiness.
Happiness seems multifaceted and quite complex. It also means different things to different people.
Is it possible for all of us to prevent the loss of happiness?
If so, is there a straightforward solution?
Possible causes of happiness
Vocabulary.com says that “different people feel happiness for different reasons” so I’m going try and createÂ a short list of possible causes of happiness.
- being warm
- being cool
- eatingÂ foods I like
- eating sweet foods
- eating savoury foods
- avoiding eating
- having a full tummy
- feeling hungry and resisting the desire to eat
- making my body smell nice
- being near natural smells
- seeing people I like
- being in an empty space
- listening to calming music
- going to a heavy metal concert
- being in a neat space where everything has its place
- living in ‘organised chaos’
- living in a quiet home
- being surrounded by noise
- sleeping on a hard bed
- sleeping on a soft bed
- having a clean home
- being in a home with a little dirt and mess so it feels homely
- completing lists of tasks
- doing things as and when I remember them
The range of possible causes is huge! Although the list isn’t inclusive, it shows that happiness is dependent, for some, on the presence or absence of; emotions, physical experiences, accomplishments, structure and sensual pleasures.
Is there any way for all of us to experience more happiness for greater chunks of time or is it impossible?
Is unhappiness inevitable?
If, for most of us, happiness is dependent on the presence or absence of; certain emotions, physical experiences, accomplishments, structure and sensual pleasures; what actually happens when we don’t get or feel those things?
What happens when the bed is soft, rather than hard?
How do I feel when someone cooks me a meal that’s mild, and all I want is spicy food?
What if someone’s sprayed themselves with a scent that I can’t stand?
How do I react when my home’s messy and cluttered, rather than being neat and tidy?
This is what I experienced when I returned from India. The causes were different but the result was the same. I experienced a range of negative thoughts and emotions, and this had an impact on how I behaved!
Is the downfall that follows ‘the loss of happiness’ inevitable?
What is this downward spiral? What does it mean to be unhappy?
In order to get to the bottom of this, I felt the need to look at the definition of unhappiness and see if I could match it with what I was experiencing.
Merriam-WebsterÂ defines it as:
- sad, depressed, or disappointed
- causing or involving feelings of sadness
- not pleasant or joyful
- not appropriate or lucky
Sadness (archaically called heavy-heartedness) is emotional pain associated with, or characterized by, feelings of disadvantage, loss, despair, helplessness, disappointment or sorrow. An individual experiencing sadness may become quiet or lethargic, and withdraw themselves from others. Crying is often an indication of sadness, though paradoxically can infer the opposite.
Vocabulary.com describes it as:
Experiencing or marked by or causing sadness or sorrow or discontent
I don’t know of anyone who would intentionally want to feel like this,.
So assuming we’re all on the same page, why haven’t we found a way to be happy?
Is it impossible to avoid unhappiness?
I truly believe that expectations cause happiness and unhappiness.
When my expectations are met I’ll feel happy and when they’re not met, I’ll feel the opposite.
The most important thing, which I fail to remember often enough is that, all of this is temporary. It may not last for a month, let alone a lifetime; so why do I expect it things to be and remain a certain way?
It is widely recognised that we are able to feel multiple emotions within a minute. This shows how fleeting they can be.
Is it possible to get off this roller-coaster of emotions?
Can we find a way to alleviate ourselves of it and remain centred?
Can we protect our peace and calm?
The summary of all this is, we are complex and what we do or don’t want changes frequently.
However, most of us only stop to think when things aren’t going our way. We try and find ways to prevent it happening again, or we try and change the way things are at that time. We may realise that we feel uncomfortable with whatever’s happened or we may delve deeper and have a greater grasp of how our thoughts, feelings and behaviour has been affected, by this sense of unhappiness.
Most of us don’t analyse how we change when we’re happy, yet the affect may not always be a positive one. We may say inappropriate things, be boastful, feel superior, make long-term decisions based on possibly, short-term situations and so on.
So might it be better to be centred, rather than, flit between downward spirals and moments of elatedness?
Possible strategies to remain more centred
- think about how temporary everything is, to help us indulge less, and also, be less affected when things don’t go our way
- see each moment of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ as a challenge for us to protect our calm and peace of mind
- be as self-dependent as possible
- don’t count on whatever we can’t/don’t want to do ourselves, as something that should be picked up by someone else
- remind ourselves of what we have, to bring about a feeling of gratitude
- reflect on others who feel content, even though they ‘lack’ what we may consider to be ‘essentials’
- think back to how our likes and dislikes have changed over time, and assume that they may change again, which may help us be more accepting of what we have in the present
- look at the amazingness within others, rather than focusing on the things that we wish to be different
Is wavering between ‘happiness’ and ‘unhappiness’ something that’s worth letting go of?
Will being more centred be positive for you and those around you?
Can you think of any other ways to help make living smoother and calmer?