Wednesday 1st December 2021

Young. 44/51. #LifeThisWeek. Mr W. Happiness Myth. 124/2021.

Young. 44/51. #LifeThisWeek. Mr W. Happiness Myth. 124/2021.

Welcoming back my husband for his final contribution in 2021. And, for your info: there are “only” 7 more weeks of Life This Week in 2021!!

 

Content Warning: Mental Health, Self Harm, Suicide, Addiction. Information at the end of this post.

 

THE HAPPINESS MYTH


I’m always amused by the overwhelming focus our society has on happiness as members scramble like hell to acquire material possessions. How many times has the question, “What do you want in life?” been asked with the response, “Oh, I just want to be happy!”

The entrepreneurs have swooped on this pointless wish and produced enough books and programs on how we can be happy to fill the state library a couple of times and then some.

Do this or do that and you’ll be happy as if ‘happiness’ is a constant state that we all ought to be aspiring to. It’s bunkum! It’s a myth and it can be a dangerous trap!

Life today is more treacherous than it was for our tribal ancestors who were cave dwellers. Their sabre-toothed tiger can be likened to our internet that crawls with users, claws out and ready to pounce on some prey. Life today is painful, often disheartening and seemingly without hope. Bureaus of Statistics universally share some scary statistics in relation to its manifestations.

  • About 264 million of the global population are clinically depressed. Generally, people who are depressed also have an anxiety disorder.
  • 20% of us will go through a period of depression.
  • A quarter of us have, has had or will have an addiction.
  • 3 adults in 10 have a recognised psychological disorder (bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, autism, schizophrenia, etc.).
  • Of all the people you know over half will give thought to suicide. 1 in 10 will attempt to take their own life.

Don’t be alarmed by these statistics.

They simply serve to demonstrate that contemporary living is bloody hard and that those happy spikes have a more random occurrence than the sad troughs. This is not helped by our naturally occurring negative bias evolved to help us survive the hungry rage of that sabre-toothed tiger. Unhappily, it has left contemporary us in that state of alert which, when triggered ignites distorted thinking and has us going down the catastrophic slippery slope of fear and uncertainty.

Hence the need to live in the now!

Happiness is a temporary state of emotion in response to a specific stimulus.

On the lower or negative side of the continuum is sadness, also a temporary feeling but a more prolonged state. Above the centre continuum is happiness, its peaks less prolonged than its counterpart’s. Think about the screen of an oscilloscope as it depicts sound waves.

The peaks represent the happy moments and the troughs the sad. What you may notice is that neither remain around for long. What you may also notice is that, over a period of time, they tend to even themselves out.

That happy spike you felt last Sunday when you and your partner engaged in the most joyful of intimate moments will spike with maximum height and intensity. While you might want the feeling at its peak to go on and on, we would simply be unable to psychosomatically sustain it.

Even continued happiness at a lower level is unsustainable. The greater the ‘up’ feeling the more they offset the down times. The resultant flattening out will, with a number of other effects, leave us in a state of CONTENTMENT!  That’s what we need to aspire to!

Contentment – What’s That?

“Man’s happiness really lies in contentment.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Contentment is the state of peaceful well-being resulting from taking what life is offering ‘now’ and working with it. It is attending to and respecting the reality of the present in order to live a rich, full and meaningful life. In so doing, those happy moments integrate with the sad times leaving us in a pleasant state of contentment.

So, What Are Its Characteristics?

The person who is truly content will demonstrate the following attributes:

 

  • a kindness and compassion to him/herself and to others;
  • a general satisfaction with life that finds joy in what we have;
  • an understanding that all feelings are temporary;
  • a lack of envy for what others have;
  • a satisfaction with our possessions, status and situation;
  • humility that recognises the temporary nature of life and its material things (sic transit gloriae mundae – Latin for ‘thus passes worldly goods’);
  • doesn’t measure success in terms of material acquisitions;
  • doesn’t try to find fulfilment through the acquisition of more material possessions – how much of anything do we really need;
  • self-discipline in managing one’s life and affairs; and,
  • an abhorrence of greed and the thirst for power recognising the destructive capabilities of both;
  • lives a rich, full and meaningful life.

 

Can You Show Me a Picture?

 Sorry, I can’t show you a picture. But I can do the next best and show you a simplified graphic representation.

The following sine wave provides a general idea of what happens with our emotions during the course of a time interval. The blue line represents our happy and sad moments that peak and trough.

Its frequency is much less even and varied than in the representation. However, it’s a very good illustration of how our emotions jump around randomly in response to thoughts, memories, urges, etc.

The most important line is black centre line. It is our line of contentment. The blue feeds the black so the more positive and rewarding our experiences are, the thicker the line of contentment.

 

How Do I Enrich My Line of Contentment?

 Life for the contemporary citizen is based around ‘doing’. This is not unexpected because the updated brain is always in the ‘doing’ mode ready to solve your next problem for you. The big problem with that is that the brain cannot solve a problem of the heart.

So, when the next feeling dilemma arises, the brain tries to think its way to happiness or instructs you to resist that feeling. Both are not solutions.The first because it’s impossible as the brain seeks only rational solutions and the second because the undesirable feeling will persist and even grow hungrier.

Hence the need to have our minds override the brain and allow us to just BE.

We are, after all, human BEINGS!

In the BEING mode,

  • We allow all feelings, even welcoming the more painful ones. They belong to us and are therefore our responsibility. We name them and neutralise them by recognising their temporary state. They will pass.

 

  • We are being MINDFUL of all that’s going on in the ‘now’ – just ask Leo Tolstoy, he’ll tell you that it’s very important to pay attention to the ‘now’. After all, there’s more than enough going on in the ‘now’ to keep us busy without looking for trouble from the past or future. So, it’s important to be aware, open, attentive and curious in the ‘now’ in order to capture all moments.

 

  • Reflect on your values. They have formed the basis for doing what matters to you. If you’ve hit a roadblock or are in a roundabout with no exit, be willing to change what’s not working for you. Maybe you are basing your behaviour on the expectations of others. Check your own rulebook. Our lives become more content when we operate on our values-driven rules. If something is not working for you, do what does by changing the dynamics of the pesky rule!

 

  • Give yourself a grading on self-compassion. Being kind to, and caring of yourself is as important as being compassionate to others. Think of it as a two-way street.

 

  • When in doubt about how to defuse a critical thought – sing! Here’s a little exercise to try. Think of a thought that’s causing you pain, e.g. “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a loser!” Sing that song to a familiar ditty such as ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and observe what happens. You’ll discover that you’re not who you thinks you are.

 

  • Contentment relies on authenticity – being true to who you are. This is defined by your values that also inform what really matters to you. The transgression of your values, by yourself or others, creates pain.

 

  • Contentment loves gratitude. Reflect each day on what you are genuinely grateful for. The question, “what am I grateful for”, triggers a release of chemicals that our body loves and feeds our feelings of inner peace and contentment.

 

  • Both Denyse and I get great joy and feelings of contentment viewing this rose that has been growing in the front garden for years now.

As a final thought I offer you the following based on the AA prayer.

“ Give me the courage to solve those problems that can be solved, the serenity to accept those problems that can’t be solved and,

The wisdom to know the difference.”

“Happiness is self-contentedness.” – Aristotle

Thanks to Bernard for his final post for 2021. We have some great conversations about how I add the posts to the blog. All good!! Photo collage above expresses my gratitude for his love and presence in my life since October 1970. We’ve had our ups, downs and in betweens through a marriage of over 50 years but I know that “I” am feeling more contentment with my life as it is now because of my experiences and some of the teachings Bernard has helped me learn. Denyse. 

For those who may need to reach out to organisations based on this story’s content these are Australian-based sources for help.
Your Family G.P. can be a helpful person to listen and make referrals.

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636

Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for 24 hour assessment, referral, advice, and hospital and community health centre contact details

Qualified Psychologists can be found by visiting https://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/

Australian Counselling Association is on 1300 784 333 to find a counsellor

 

Link Up #264.

Life This Week. Link Up #264.

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Comments

  1. Hi Denyse & Bernard, thank you for a very informative and important post. The statistics of depression, suicide, substance abuse are very sobering and I believe we have all been touched in some way by these experiences either personally or through a loved one. We have had a very difficult year which continues on and for me, to cope, I need to focus on the moment, living each day as best that I can, being grateful for all of the good that is in my life despite the turmoil my husband and I are experiencing. The final thought which is an AA prayer is one we should all strive to follow. Have a lovely week and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. #lifethisweek

    • Thank you Sue. I am so sorry the year has been (and continues to be) as challenging for you and your husband and why. Not fun times at all.

      You do all you can, as you say, to be more in the moment for yourself and that is commendable.

      I am glad Bernard’s words were received by you as you wrote.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Sue. Sounds like you’re really switched on to a lifestyle that ought to be bringing you inner peace and contentment.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  2. Good post. Many moons ago I wrote something simillar. i think we overlook contentedness. It’s is feeling your glass is full, no matter how far from the rim it is….(Scary stats tho!!!!)

    • Yes, happy isn’t long lasting but contentment can be as you noted, Lydia.

      The stats are not good. At all.

      Let’s hope though that there is greater understanding of and compassion for our fellow humans. The last couple of years have challenged us all like no other.

      Take care,

      Denyse

    • Thanks, Lydia.

      The stats are a bit confronting. However, we need to remember that, we’re a lot better now at diagnosing and treating mental illness than we were 50 years ago. It’s too difficult to say whether MI was as much of a problem back then as it is today as the relevant stats are shabby. What’s positive today as compared to then is that, while we still have a long way to go, there is much greater awareness and preparedness to disclose today.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  3. Thanks Bernard for your wise words (again) here. You are so right it’s contentment we need in our lives. I think I’ve become more contented over the years and age is one part of that, I’ve learnt to try to just be and live in the moment, rather than chase the elusive happiness. I have also found being kind to others, volunteering in my local community and thinking of my impact on others has helped me gain a feeling of contentment in my busy retired life.

    • I like that you are also finding contentment via your impact on others too, Deb. I tend to forget that site of life. Your local and wider community (as well as family) are ones which benefit from your kindness, care and compassion. I am fortunate to be one of those recipients. Thank you, always!

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Great stuff, Debbie. You use a wonderful adjective to describe happiness – elusive. It sure is and that’s because that’s how it ought to be.
      I think you’re right about ageing. I guess as we age we, hopefully, mature an acquire a little wisdom that helps us sort out what really matters in life.

      May you continue to thrive on your sources of inner peace and contentment.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  4. Great to read more wise words from Bernard. I agree with so many of your thoughts. This need to be happy constantly really irks me. Life just is not like that. As you say we have to allow for the ups and downs of life to feel contentment. I’ve had quite a few sad times in my life which are ongoing but I’m able to feel much joy, happiness and contentment in my life by embracing acceptance and gratitude. Denyse thanks for giving Bernard to write on your blog during this year. I’ve enjoyed all his contributions.

    • Well-said Jennifer. It’s those “think happy, be happy” positivity people promoting their often ill-considered agenda.

      I am so pleased you are living life via acceptance and gratitude. I am still working on aspects of that to be honest.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Thanks so much, Jennifer.

      I love your philosophy for living. Your words have that very pleasant aroma of compassion, both for others and for self.

      And, yes, thanks Denyse for giving Bernard to opportunity to virtually meet such a great group of human beings. It has been a most heartening experience.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard

  5. Thanks Bernard for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on happiness and contentment. Also wonderful to see you and Denyse living a content life. Congrats on your 51 years together!

    • Many thanks to you Natalie for your kind wishes.

      51 years together, we even think…”what the…” and time passes so fast in many ways.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Thank you, Natalie.

      We are indeed living the life of contentment, with lots of laughter and the odd tear. Hope you are experiencing similar, Natalie.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  6. Those stats are so sad and a bit scary. Thank you Bernard for sharing your wisdom, I found myself nodding along. I find a lot of joy in the seemingly little things in life but really they make the biggest difference – contentment is massively underrated. I think that AA prayer is spot on. Bernard, I’ve really appreciated your insightful posts this year and hope you make a bloggy comeback in 2022!

    • That’s a lovely response to the post Sam….and even though the stats are scary, we need to be able to both recognised them and let them into conversations as hiding away does not help in the long run.

      Glad you found the words based on AA prayer helpful.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hi Sammie,

      Don’t allow those stats to worry you too much. They are certainly confronting but when looked at in the context of the last 50 to 100 years we are actually making progress in the area of mental health. People, especially female people, are much more prepared to talk openly about their problems, This is great as narrative therapy is extremely beneficial for most people. Also, a greater focus on trained counselling has emerged in the last 50 years so there is a greatly increased opportunity for people to get help.

      As far as my blogging future is concerned, Sammie. Unhappily, my contract has been terminated. The boss is confident she won’t be requiring my services in 2022. We’re currently looking into whether it may be an Unfair Dismissal case!!!!

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  7. This is a beautiful post Bernard and all of it rang true with me. I always seek to give a stranger a compliment a day, sometimes more. It’s not a planned thing, it just comes naturally. A genuine compliment not only visibly lifts the spirit of the person, but I also feel the joy it brings. I will share this on Twitter. I am sure it will help so many people including myself. A smile goes for miles too. 😀

    • Oh Jody, with all that “life” has thrown your way in recent times that is such a compassionate and caring thing to do and to write about sharing here. Thank you so much.

      Lovely words. I am getting into the habit of saying more to strangers if I notice they are alone and saying something kind. We may be the only person they get to speak to that day. Sad to say.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hi Jody @ Six Little Hearts,

      Thank you. You sound like one of mother Nature’s finest achievements. I love your connection with others. Even just a well-meant “g’day” is a compliment as it’s recognising the human integrity of another.

      Share away, Jody and keep smiling,

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  8. Love this post from Bernard and I’ve commented on something similar before. To me happiness can be transient (though less so than joy) whereas contentment is longer-term and more of a state of being.

    I also love the way Bernard’s included the graph to remind us that life oscillates around our level of contentment.

    • I am pleased this post has resonated and made points that are in agreement with your views, Deb.

      There is a lot out there in the “be happy, choose happiness” brigade that needs to be better broken down into day to day contentment with what is. I am slowly making my way to that state.

      Glad his graph was a good illustration of his points for you too. Thank you.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Thank you, Deborah.

      It fills me with reassurance as it becomes more evident that people are seeing through the commercially-driven ‘happiness’ myth and taking the idea of contentment as a more realistic and attainable goal.

      Pleased you liked the picture, Deb. Pictures can eliminate the need for a lot of words.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  9. Hello Bernard
    Thank you for a ‘simple’ well written, understandable post on what ails so many these days. Wanting it all (to be happy/happiness) but finding it hard to cope trying to get it or when we realise it’s not always attainable.

    These days I’m content with my lot – I imagine age has a lot to do with it. Doesn’t mean to say (if this past year is anything to go by) sadness, anger or any other emotion doesn’t crop up now and again….It’s hard to describe, the older I get the less I want materially…….however I’ve not given up on wanting to experience new things just accepting they may not happen.

    Take care
    Cathy

    • Thanks so much for your kind and caring words and also those where I think both Bernard and I would be nodding along…ageing has its good side for sure, Cathy.

      I surprised myself by not wanting to get straight out and about after lockdown ended because I had a kind of good thing going at home routine wise for the preceding umpteen weeks & I know you all did it much tougher in Vic!

      Yesterday thought we were both delighted to drive down to see our son and his 4 growing up kids after a gap of 6 months! Memories made again.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Thanks very much, Cathy.

      These intangibles can be difficult to wrap your head around. I agree that the wisdom wrought by ageing is very helpful.

      Marcel Proust suggests the real voyage in life is seeing old landscapes with new eyes. We don’t have to go far to do that, do we?

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  10. Always nice to read Bernard’s thoughts. Very useful!

  11. Thank you so much, Bernard, for such an enlightening post. I am not nearly as content as I wish I were, but that, too, is okay, I guess.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Astrid.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hi Astrid,

      There are no upper or lower limits to contentment but its acquisition relies on being as kind to yourself as you are to others, doing what really matters based on values and living in the present where you are open, grateful and authentic.

      Give yourself a break, Astrid, and a little self-compassion. There is also no race associated with being content. At least you’re aware and understanding of contentment’s value. Keep building towards it and it will come 9sounds a bit like a line from a movie, doesn’t it?).

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  12. This was a fantastic post Bernard and there was so much wisdom tied up in it. I feel like everything I blog about has been condensed into one post – so I might as well hang up my blogging hat and go and read a novel! Loved the focus on being, gratitude, contentment, balance, and separating happiness from possessions and productivity. Just really loved the whole post!

    • Well that is so kind and lovely. I am sure Bernard will be chuffed to read this!

      Happy Birthday dear Leanne,…and no sorry, I really enjoy your thoughts. Keep blogging…as you choose!!

      Take care,

      Denyse

    • Hi Leanne.

      Thank you for your very generous words. Please don’t undersell the value of your own work. I’m quite sure someone with your insight into the affairs of human beings still has much to offer. Why don’t you do both – blog and read the novel!

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  13. I absolutely loved this post! The happiness trap is out there and so many people fall into it and remain miserable because of it. I don’t strive for happiness, I know it doesn’t exist more than now and then, but I’m trying to get to the state of contentment and stability – which is hard when the world out there is in pieces and everything is uncertain.
    But I’ve come further than a year ago. The pandemic forced me to self-reflection and prioritisation – how I spend my time and energy, how I look at myself, my attitudes and what I choose to focus on. I’m in a sort of growth phase right now, I still have a lot to do when it comes to stopping comparing myself to others, being true to who I am, and general self-compassion. But I’m getting there – the first step is awareness! And despite what is going on outside my little house, there is a lot to be grateful for and a lot to live for.

    • I am so glad you did, Susanne.

      If you’ve been able to look at yourself with more kindness and compassion as a result of the pandemic and all it brought, then there has been some good.

      Awareness is so important, I agree.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hello Susanne,

      Your beautiful words have touched my heart. I can feel all the effort you are putting into living a life thats not weighed down with external striving. That outside world certainly is not conducive to the easy acquisition of contentment. It will never be found in materialism.

      I think it’s great that you found the big positive from the pandemic restrictions. It was a very good time to sort out what really matters in life. That’s an essential step on the road to contentment. And, wow, you used it to do the full Socrates counsel of ‘man know thyself’. during the reflection process, I’m guessing that you were continually reminded that you’re not perfect, like all of us. We all therefore have to keep working towards being that complete human being Carl Jung talked of.

      I am so grateful for your response. Keep strumming.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  14. Great write up!! One of the things I did during the isolation of the pandemic was take a series of classes in Positive Psychology. I also took The Science of Wellbeing class (from Yale, highly recommend it) which actually provides research on what actually does make us happy – and it’s a right in line with your “contentment/being” elements. I’ve taken all of my learning into 11 Tenets for myself… things I try and live by. I’m (like others) still learning how to live by these tenets everyday. – practicing kindness, being grateful, stopping comparison to others, being compassionate & accepting (versus judgmental), savoring what is, mindfulness.

    • Thanks so much Patricia for your insights and experiences with all you’ve been doing, as an on-going learner yourself!

      Great to read all here that’s been making sense for you as you tread this less than familiar path in life’s retirement times.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hi Patricia,

      Thanks for your enthusiastic response. I love what you’re doing and the philosophy that is driving it.

      We all need to be sufficiently humble so as to realise that we all remain students forever. The learning is much more effective that way. Having your own set of ‘commandments’ is an excellent idea. It provides an easy-referenced rulebook that informs our moral compasses. Perhaps you’d care to share this with Scomo and Glad and the remainder of their cohort of dissonant liars!

      A quick final word. You made reference to comparing yourself to others. I’m guessing, like most others, especially women, you have found that comparing oneself to others is odious and fraught with negative consequences and yet, it was what we are constantly encouraged to do by society’s hidden persuaders. It is rarely a helpful thing to do!

      May your life be continually imbued with the calm waters of inner peace and contentment.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  15. There is certainly a lot of misery and unhappiness in the world and among people, but I’m happy to say according to all your dot points I qualify as being happy! I am indeed and am grateful everyday. My cup is full so I try to pass it on to others. Thanks for the information provided.

  16. This was the perfect read for me earlier this week when my brain has fast-forwarded into the future with all the what-ifs and unknowns. It’s taken a while to bring it back to the present. I find when I do moments of being content, it’s amazing and it’s usually around the little things like being at the beach, or writing or watching the water, but then soon after, my brain kinda goes ‘what are you being content about? Surely you have to worry…’ and so begins the spiral. It’s hard work being in the present and I keep needing to reset. Thanks for always hosting this and for this insightful post

    • Step by step…this thing we try to change and acknowledge in ourselves is a tough one I recognise too. Good for you, coming back and sharing your thoughts now too, Sanch!

      I hope whatever this so-called future we get ourselves tied up in knots about, can be a gentler path for you.

      Take care,

      Denyse.

    • Hello Sanch,

      I apologise for my tardiness in replying to your very honest and open comment. Thank you and more power to you, Sanch. The mind, like the conductor of and orchestra, instructs the brain to do its bidding. Unlike the brain, the mind (soul, personality, etc.) possesses love and will. As I see it, the brain does all the heavy lifting for the mind which has the responsibility for making our lives harmonious. As you are your mind only you can render the changes and tweaks needed to achieve that harmonious quality of life that I call contentment. This is a state of being that is the outcome of all the hard work done in the process of living. This will include all the moments from happy to sad, satisfying to unsatisfying, success to failure, and so on. You can understand, therefore, the value of living in the present. And, unless you need to deal with a problem that’s arisen in the present, then, you need to allow all those irrelevant thoughts, that will mostly be negative, to pass on through to the keeper. “Thanks for the thought about tomorrow but I just can’t use it at the moment.”

      I know this all sounds so easy when written in a few words. However, it’s like learning to play a musical instrument. It requires lots and lots of practice and does not happen overnight. Practise naming and neutralising unhelpful thoughts and feelings. If it’s an unpleasant feeling like anxiety, take a very deep breath and allow it to go right down to your pelvic floor. Exhale slowly or go for a walk outside to ground yourself. Never resist it.

      I wonder, Sanch, if you may be caught between the worlds of theory and reality? It’s one thing to know how it all works and strategies for dealing with it. It’s quite another to live it. People attend therapy because there is something in their lives that’s not working for them. The challenge is to identify that something and then change the relationship with. This may mean erasing it altogether or keeping and reconfiguring it so it’s no longer a stumbling block.

      Stay in touch, Sanch, as I am keen to know how you’re getting along.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

Denyse values & reads every comment written, thank you. There is always a reply.

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