Recently, a friend told me that during her last therapy session she was asked a question she could not answer. “What does happiness look like to you?” Considering the fact that this friend is well into her 30’s, you might think that she should have been able to figure out this seemingly simple life puzzle by now. But as she related how this question had stunned her into several seconds of silence, I realized that the answer was much more complex than it appears on the surface.
We are told what we SHOULD think happiness looks like by a constant barrage of messages thrown at us by all of the various forms of media out there – television, YouTube, digital news outlets, Facebook, Instagram – the list is never ending. If we pay attention to these messages, happiness looks polished and clean, well dressed and educated. Happiness has an entourage of friends and a committed, loving, attractive and equally happy partner. Happiness goes out drinking and dining, and travels quite often. Happiness is in wonderful physical shape and perfect health without much effort exerted on exercise or thought to the quality of food consumed. Happiness seems to have an endless supply of money with which to buy whatever one wants. And happiness is always happy, always good, always well – all the time. By these standards, I’m not sure how anyone can achieve happiness. I know I can’t. And the reason why I can’t achieve this vision of happiness is because it is constantly changing and inevitably unattainable.
The idea my friend’s therapist was getting at was the hidden truth – hidden only because, in our culture, we have been indoctrinated with this elusive definition of happiness dictated by corporations. The hidden truth is that we decide our own vision of happiness. Regardless of what any other person thinks, I have the right, the responsibility, to dictate what happiness looks like to me. If I so chose, I can go along with society’s idea of happiness. But if I do that, I will never really be happy. Instead of happiness, I will exist in a constant state of chasing happiness.
Rather than an illusory image of happiness, I would like to chose an attainable, authentic and sustainable definition of happiness. So, what does happiness look like to me? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I know that it involves jogging outside at a leisurely pace, cooking yummy food while sipping wine and listening to Nina Simone, and offering a smile and ‘Hello’ to a passing stranger on the street. Hey! Does this mean I’m happy?!