Tag Archives: happiness

Keep Calm, or, Happiness vs. Contentment

Keep Calm and Take Your Meds graphic

Today I’m wearing an earring that says just that. The aspect ratio in the picture is wrong, since the earring is made from a Scrabble® tile, but you get the idea.

Like so many others, I am on psychoactive medications. The depression they help me cope with is a legacy from my mother, who inherited it from her father, and so on back for untold generations. I say “untold” because we don’t know how far back it goes. We do know, however, that it is cross-gender from generation to generation; that is, sons inherit it from their mothers, and daughters from their fathers. My two brothers also have their own battles with it.

A psychiatrist who was treating me told me that today is the best time in history to have depression. What he meant was we have a better understanding of it today than ever before. Consider: in the 1970s, when my mother was first diagnosed, there were no antidepressants. The solution (offered by a male doctor)? Right. She had a complete hysterectomy. “Woman troubles,” you know.

Today we have almost the opposite problem: too many medications, with no real understanding of how they work. In fact, any number of studies attribute their effectiveness to the placebo effect; that is, they work because the patient believes they work. Well, if that’s true, how can you explain the fact that for me, certain types of antidepressants work, while others don’t? And why do none of the newer, more “modern” drugs have no effect on my brother’s problems, yet MAOIs (some of the oldest meds available) work for him?

Happiness vs. Contentment

Anyway, as Arlo Guthrie used to say, “That’s not what I come here to talk to ya about.” I come to talk about happiness and contentment.

I recently saw contentment called the underachiever version of happiness. If that’s true, I guess I’m an underachiever. For me, happiness takes to much energy to maintain over time. I don’t do happy on a regular basis. Sure, I have bursts of happiness, even of joy sometimes. But happiness as a long-term emotional state? Sorry, I just can’t spare the energy to keep it up. As Brooke McAlary says on her blog at Slow Your Home,

“I don’t aim for happiness. Instead I aim for quiet, constant contentment. Things don’t
need to be great, but if things are good most of the time, I’m content.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with happiness! Far from it! When Stacey gives me a birthday card, I’m happy. But there’s a bill in the mail, so that puts a damper on the happiness. However, that doesn’t detract from my contentment. That’s still there, and it’s a constant.

Sometimes my depression gets the better of me, and I find myself crying for no reason. Obviously, I’m sad. But experience has taught me that eventually, I’ll stop crying, and the sadness will lift. That’s a painful lesson I’ve learned, but it gives me hope during the darkness. And so I am content to know that I will survive.

Back in 1971, Baba Ram Dass wrote his seminal work, Be Here Now. But more than just the title of a book, be here now is a way of living. And given the latest psychotherapeutic approaches, I think it’s safe to say that Baba anticipated mindfulness and mindful thinking by a few decades, even if all he did was repeat what Christ said a couple thousand years ago:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Luke 12:25-34, Holy Bible, King James Version)

Or to put it to music: Three Little Birds.

And that’s really all I have for today, except to wish you endless days and nights of contentment, punctuated now and then with joy, happiness, and yes, even sadness.

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Filed under depression, mental health

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

“The fact that you’re reading this sentence means that you are richer and more educated than 99.5% of people in human history. It means you have almost immediate access to over half of all of the information and data ever created by the human race. It means you have the ability to educate yourself on subjects people previously spent their entire lifetimes to learn.” http://markmanson.net/shut-up-and-be-grateful

And despite all of this—or maybe because of it—we’re unhappy. We have an amazing standard of living in the United States. Don’t believe me? Then I suggest you watch the opening minutes of The Lion In Winter, Anthony Harvey’s excellent drama about Henry II of England. Specifically, the scene where Henry (masterfully portrayed by Peter O’Toole) gets out of bed, crosses to the washstand, and plunges his hands through the ice that overnight has formed over the top of the washbowl.

Right. When was the last time you had to do anything like that? But you were camping, right? But Henry was in his bedroom in his castle! Just be happy you’re living in 2015 and not 1183 like Henry. Especially be happy that unlike Henry, you’re probably not going to die at the age of 52 from a bleeding ulcer.

Or consider a later Henry. Henry III was an unhappy man because none of his 6 wives produced a satisfactory heir. Today we know that it was his own fault; but in the 16th century, science hadn’t evolved to the point where the role of the sperm-donor was recognized. And regardless, his wives did present him with three heirs, all of whom at one time or another occupied the throne (the most notable of whom was Elizabeth I).

And yet both of these men were kings of a very powerful nation. You’d think that would be enough to make them happy. Rich, powerful, handsome. What else is there? Oh, right: Henry III even started his own church and made himself its head! Indeed, my own grandparents were adherents of that very same church.

But what, exactly, is happiness? At this writing, I’m finding it easier to understand unhappiness than happiness: it’s the 4th day of April, some two weeks after the first day of spring, and I just looked out my window to discover it is snowing. And yesterday the temperature was 68°F/20C°!

So yeah, right now, I am NOT a happy camper! But what would it take to make me happy?

And as Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub!” As wisdom as well as age creeps up on me, I’ve come to realize a painful truth: there is nothing that can make me happy. But there’s another realization that goes hand in hand with that: there are lots of things that let me be happy. And to my way of thinking, that’s the same thing.

When I write, I’m happy. When I read your (rare) comments on one of my posts, I’m happy that what I had to say touched you. And since it’s snowing, I’m happy that there are two layers of window between the snow and me!

I’m happy that I can brew a fresh cup of coffee whenever I like. I’m especially happy that writing and good coffee or tea seem to go hand in hand; at least I can’t imagine one without the other.

The Battle of New Orleans, which every American schoolchild of a certain age learned was the decisive battle of the War of 1812, was actually fought after the treaty that ended the war was signed. The main reason was that no one knew the war was over. It took upwards of 3 months for new from Europe to reach across the Atlantic. Today, all I have to do is click on an icon in my blogging program and less than 3 seconds later, this post is available to anyone in the world with an internet connection.

And yes, I’m happy about that, too!

So it isn’t so much that things make me happy as it is that I let myself be happy.


Filed under Blogging