What I don’t like is this ‘pursuit of happiness’ as an ultimate life goal. It is flawed in design. It is like utopia… it doesn’t exist. You will never find it and the quest will make you dissatisfied and miserable. And yet, it is something in our culture we seem to think is perfectly normal. That we can ‘attain’ happiness as a ‘state of being’ rather than the fleeting emotion that it is. This is what I mean by that…
Pursuit of happiness
Here is the thing. The more you think things make you happy the more you want. The more you want the more you need to be happy. And then you are never happy because you are always lacking… something.
- if only I had a significant other I’d be happy
- if only I got married I’d be happy
- if only I got a career I’d be happy
- If only I got a car I’d be happy
- If only I got a house I’d be happy
- if only I got a promotion I’d be happy
- if only I had 2.5 children I’d be happy
- if I was only healthy I’d be happy
- if there was only a cure I’d be happy
- if only I had…
And so on for infinity and that state of permanent happiness never happens. You’re always striving for more and more and more and more. Happiness is never this thing you attain out there. To be gathered up and consumed like a yummy cookie. And once you have it… it doesn’t ever go away. Happiness comes from within from the things we do and the people we interact with. If you want a life goal for it then find a way to string more moments of happiness together. But this isn’t what we want. The happy train isn’t the way to go. And certainly not with chronic illness and chronic pain. We can’t ride that train.
And that is where we get this whole ‘positivity’ life philosophies. If you’re just more Positive then you can basically make yourself happy. But we know this doesn’t actually work. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect. We try to be overtly positive and then feel like we fail to meet this unattainable standard. We feel ashamed, guilty, worthless. We feel worse. Why can’t we just be positive? Happy?
The fact is, realistic thoughts are far more likely to get you further in dealing and coping with life. And with negative emotions as well. We can deal with negative thoughts by replacing them with more realistic thoughts. Not some fluffy positive unrealistic floof that is just false. So if overt positivity isn’t the path to happiness and the happy train isn’t… then what are we missing here?
Chronic illness knocks us right off the pursuit of happiness train everyone else is on. We may fight to stay on it but soon we realize it just doesn’t quite work. It just doesn’t actually make us happy… ever. It makes us feel worse because unlike others always striving for more and more… we can’t. We have limitations and we have to pace and we can’t. So then we feel like a piece of crap. And it takes a long time to realize maybe, just maybe, the way we live might be more realistic than the way they live. Maybe being content with one’s existence, grateful for what one has, living within one’s limits, and finding happiness where one can… is a good way to go about overall wellbeing. That maybe overall wellbeing is more important that this unattainable permanent state of happiness one will never achieve.
Here is something I learned from depression and from having chronic pain that has caused me a great deal of suffering for the majority of my life:
- Contentment with life is valuable
- Being grateful for what you have is vital
- Overall wellbeing should never be underestimated
- Life will smack you down and it is how you respond that matters
- Seek that which brings you gleams of sunshine. Activities, hobbies, and people that bring you happiness in this life. More happiness is the aim not a ‘state of being of happiness’
- Pain and suffering leads to learning, change, and motivates you. Sucks. But it is true. (just constant pain is sucky in a way that sort of skews this)
- Not everything is possible. We can be limited by many things. We have to find contentment and joys within our limitations.
- Contentment does not mean one does not strive for more. We always strive for more wellbeing. More time with friends and family. More things that Matter to us. Not more stuff.
And we realize we can be happy and in pain. Happy and suffering. What seems like a contradiction to others makes sense to us. And we also know the value of doing small things (like our hobbies) that give us a sense of purpose, bring our passion, engage us, bring us joy, are just for us… and are really good for wellbeing are worth making time for.
Like is a rainbow of emotional states and at the end of the rainbow isn’t emotional bliss. Maybe contentment, or emotional satisfaction, or acceptance.
Mood and Life Satisfaction
Being happy in the moment isn’t this ultimate happiness the happy train people seek. So what do we mean? What is this true happiness, anyway? Well, Mood is not Life Satisfaction. And life satisfaction is what they Mean, even if they seek it the wrong way. To mistake the two is how we end up on the Quest of Ultimate Happiness. Happiness is a mood in the moment, in your life. And we can encourage it to be welcome more often, yes. But it is not Life Satisfaction. Life satisfaction is about being happy About Your Life
Life satisfaction has to do with are we:
- satisfied with who we are as a person? (self-esteem)
- do we have a good sense of self-identity and value who we are?
- do we feel like we contribute to society, or our family, or our personal lives in a way we value? (productive in a way that we value)
- do we feel like we contribute a positive experience to those around us- family, friends, co-workers? (positive social relationships)
- do we fear the future? Or look forward to it? Prepared for it? (sense of control)
- How is our overall mental, physical, and mental wellbeing?
- How is our quality of life?
- Do you feel there is meaning or purpose to your life?
Among other factors. And life satisfaction can vary at different times in our lives. And it can be things we can strive to work on… like I strive to work on wellbeing and quality of life. And I have talked about a lot of these things because with chronic illness and chronic pain some of these factors can be really hit hard. We can really be knocked down in them. And it is hard to find our sense of self again. So what do we do to improve our life satisfaction?
What does science have to say about how we can improve life satisfaction?
- Have close friends- “Having more close friendships was associated with a 19 percent greater life satisfaction and a 23 percent greater sense of optimism. – Richburg 1998” Having a healthy social life. Even liking your neighbours “Positive feelings about neighbors have been found to be associated with a 16 percent greater life satisfaction and a 25 percent lower likelihood of experiencing feelings of loneliness. – Prezza et al. 2001”
- The story we tell ourselves- The meaning we create from life comes from the story we tell ourselves about our lives. “People who wrote about the history of their lives were 11 percent more likely to feel happy with their lives and 17 percent more likely to feel optimistic about the future. – Yamada 2000” Are you into your family history or genology? “People who were interested in their family and ethnic histories were 6 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives. – Mowrer and McCarver 2002”
- Goals- people who have goals are 20% more satisfied with life. “People who could identify a goal they were pursuing were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves. – Krueger 1998” And if you’re passionate about something, well, scores across all factors are higher on psychological indicators. And this doesn’t mean something massive and major- “Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments. – Orlick 1998”
- Nope not the money- money doesn’t increase life satisfaction. “Among participants in one study, those whose values were the most materialistic rated their lives as the least satisfying. – Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001” Meaning is more important than wealth- “Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. – Debats 1999”
- Growth- Change over time is a good thing. “People over forty who could identify at least one change in their viewpoints or behavior in recent months were 8 percent more likely to feel hopeful about the future and 5 percent more likely to say they were generally in a good mood. – Grossbaum and Bates 2002” Continuing to read and learn is a good thing- “People over the age of fifty who said they continued to learn about topics that interested them were 18 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 43 percent more likely to feel vital. – Helterbran 1999”
I, like everyone, want more life satisfaction being disabled. It is difficult when I have become limited in my choices in this life. Having to have made sacrifices. Having to have made compromises. Having to give up my career. We feel the lack in our lives keenly. So we have to work a little more on life satisfaction but I think This, my friends, is a worthy goal for us to strive for. I think the factors listed above are things we should think about in our lives. What do you think? Any area you would add or consider to improve your life satisfaction?