Saturday, March 18, 2017

What Happiness Isn't

It may surprise you to hear this: Happiness is not always being happy. In fact, if you try to force yourself to be happy, you’re in for a big bad surprise. You will never feel truly happy.

So what is happiness about if it’s not about always feeling happy?  In a nutshell, it’s about integration. You have to feel your lows to get your highs.  You have to be with yourself unconditionally, attentive to your sorrows as you are to your joys.

I was just at the World Happiness Summit (WoHaSu) in Miami where lovely women and men were floating about with a message that if you took this class or that, prescribed to this theology or that technology, you could turn all your frowns upside-down and live in bliss on the other side of the rainbow.  Not so.  When we fail to process all our grief, it stays inside, way down deep. It also send out a dark cloud that keeps us from ever feeling fully happy, eventually landing us in a land where we always come back to a sinking feeling like we are living beside ourselves, detached, like we are faking it. Over time, we start to feel that this state of feeling like a fake is who we are.  In fact, trying to always be happy is a recipe for depression.  That is why happiness is, sometimes, bring sad, mad, angry, lonely, tired, and all the other pieces.

Luis Gallardo, founder of WoHaSu did get something very right about what happiness is. It is the tagline: Feel, Understand, Act. While happiness can be sadness, it is not acting on sadness, anger or hatred.  What happiness is when you are mad, envious, scared or stressed is talking it through, thinking it through, and giving yourself the space to not resist your feelings, and let all those thoughts you do not want to have come into being; and fade away, including the ideas of things you would never really do. Once you have processed all this, then you are in a good space to consider your options. You can find the wisdom to know which options are good, which are bad – for you and others. 

When you do process those things you have to grieve over in your life – people, opportunities, and things lost; an expectation never realized; a need never filled; things that happened to you that you wish had not;  things that you did that you regret– then you will find that your happiness is real happiness.  For more information about how to do this, see our Feeling Sad, Feeling Happy tool for happiness.  

Another thing happiness is not is a brand new movement.  WoHaSu proclaimed itself the first happiness summit. Not so. Some would say the first happiness summit was in 2009, coordinated by Susan Andrews in Brazil. It was called a Gross National Happiness conference, and attended by government officials from the Kingdom of Bhutan, academics, community organizers and many others.  Others would say the first one was the 2012 UN High Level Meeting Well-being and Happiness: Toward a New Economic Paradigm convened by past Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and past Prime Minister Thinley of Bhutan (Bhutan is a democratic monarchy) may have been. At that meeting, Thinley declared an unofficial launching of the happiness movement. That meeting was preceded by UN Resolution 65/309 Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development calling on governments to use wider measures of well-being like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index in lieu of Gross Domestic Product, and followed by UN Resolution 66/28 proclaiming March 20th to be International Day of Happiness. There have been many other happiness movement conferences, too many to list here and certainly enough to say that the happiness movement has launched.

That said, WoHaSu has done something may never have been done before. It may have been the first happiness summit to be launched on a for-profit model.  There are some good things about this. WoHaSu was excellently branded. My definition of a brand is the experienced promised.  Everything from the logo and tag line to the partnering and co-branding was excellently done. And where better place to do this than Miami, a city where presentation, look and feel are highly valued. In Miami, it is not hard to find a Lamborghini car sales shop or fantastic presentations on whatever it is you want to buy or experience.  

But Miami is also a city of deep paradox. Hotel rooms on South Beach start at $400 a night, and an apartment in Wynwood neighborhood can be had at $450 a month.  On my bus rides to and fro, I met a woman who told me of her nephew who died from a bullet to the head while attending his friend's wake. His friend also was dead from a bullet. The tension in this unresolved dilemma is, I believe, part of the inspiration for the brilliance of WoHaSu’s branding for the conference. All that said, WoHaSu may have given the happiness movement a shot in the arm equivalent to a super-charge.

Part of this super charge potential is that the business world – today the chief driver of society -  may learn to take the happiness movement seriously.  As long as the intent, goals and ultimate vision of the happiness movement stays pure, as encapsulated by UN Resolution 65/309 message to governments to “pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies,” then this is a good thing.

Thus we come to the question: who’s job is it to ensure the happiness movement is not diluted or divested by corporate interests? It’s ours. The grass-root activists, community organizers, public media, educators, speakers, researchers, academics, policy makers…all of us.  We can welcome in the companies, corporations, the brands and business, and at the same time, we must stay the course, speak our truth, and keep the happiness movement on track.

Written by Laura Musikanski, ED of the Happiness Alliance

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