Believe in nothing, no matter who says it, even if I say it, if it does not agree with your own experience and your own common sense ~ Buddha

Recently there’ve been a lot of fashionable  blog posts on how goal setting if suddenly bad, or at the very least, ineffective, and can actually depress you, etc, etc, and so forth.

Obviously, this is a case of different strokes for different folks, and so when shit gets trumpeted as truth for a while, there’s an inevitable backlash once enough people figure out that the latest panacea doesn’t really match how they think of work. But what I was most interested was the focus on “happy”. I know we’ve talked about this before, guys, but I am really getting interested in this.

My first thought was, why is happiness the point of goal-setting? Did you ever stop to think about this? I’m a goal-setter from way back, but I can totally see why goal-setting would make you unhappy; constant improvement does seem to imply a basic dissatisfaction with the status quo. Similar to how positive thinking is actually damaging to persons with low self-esteem, I can see how goal-setting would really set you off if you saw too many things wrong in your world.

Which brings us back to the point of goal-setting. Happiness. I’m a basically happy person, and as far as I know, it has nothing to do with my circumstances. My relationship with goal setting has nothing to do with improving my baseline happiness; it’s simply a way of challenging myself. I think it’s fun. It doesn’t imply that I don’t measure up in some way. But without the challenge of goal-setting to amuse me, to give me direction and purpose, I’m just plain bored.

What about people who aren’t naturally happy? Who supports those people? Who tells them they’re ok just the way they are? I find this situation tragic. I find happiness a seriously overrated project to undertake. I know, I know, who am I to talk? I’m never not happy.

But seriously; we no longer (well, we shouldn’t) beat introverts about the head for not being extroverts. Why should naturally morose or saturnine people be expected to be happy-go-lucky or else? Why should we shove it in their faces all the time, tell them it’s what they want, what they need? That’s cruelty.

I’m not arguing against happiness, if that even needs to be said. I’m arguing against imposing impossible, possibly undesirable, model after which to stucture their lives. WHO THE HELL ARE WE?

And what would we do if happiness wasn’t the point? I’m asking. Please, share your thoughts.


Comments on: "All the Lonely People" (13)

  1. I am totally taking credit here for being a subversive influence on you. Why, I might even do the Snoopy dance in celebration.

    • Are you referring to the subject matter, or the fact that I’m using lyrics for my titles? Please, do expound on the ways you have dragged me into the vile pits…. ;P

  2. I personally, would rather be self aware than happy – at least according to my definitions of each of those words

    I started out wanting to be self aware in *order* to be happy until I realized there was so much more of me that operated outside of the range of happiness to know about that i would have to only be selectively self aware to accomplish that goal.

    I find sadness and poignancy and grief satisfying to feel sometimes
    some people like pain
    I know enough angry or sad people who care very deeply about whatever thing their focused on that not being happy isn’t relevant.
    artists, scientist, monks – the kind of people who are on life paths that are so consuming that things like ‘i need to be happy’ just take up energy that could be used to cure cancer or find god.

    and i know people who are angry or sad and *feel* like they need to be happy *before* they can reach their goals or do anything at all – i’ve watched them fight and fight the monsters of their feelings putting everything else on hold – and then i’ve seen them have a moment of getting some insight personal to them and drop the fighting and do this thing that i call ‘giving the emotion a job’ – they give that sadness a purpose – and let happiness come when it comes if it comes.

    the big problem is in thinking of it as though you’re happy or your unhappy. if you’re not happy then you are automatically unhappy. and in that system – who wants to not be happy? except when you stop and pay attention. When you’re not happy there’s a whole crap load of other stuff you might be feeling that aren’t unpleasant at all.
    I tend to be pretty happy – but i love me a good grumpy stormy mood – something about all that agitation running through me is satisfying in the way pushing your body for a sport can be a pain that hurts so good.

    another interesting thing to me is that energies like passion, sexual energy, creative impulse, desire – people who aren’t used to them often feel them like aches and stings and stabs – pain.

    happiness is the watered down version of the more intense good things- passion without the burn, creativity and desire without the ache – and also with less of the power. and on it’s own it can be an inadequate sense of fuel – but dipping into those other places feels like abandoning your success (or any hope of it) to wallow in some pit. so people cling even when it’s failing to be enough or to be attainable…

  3. I was going to leave a comment, but I think Erin just pwned everything I could possibly say. But I’ll try anyways.

    There’s a power in reclaiming sadness and anger and other “unhappy” emotions, just like there’s a power in reclaiming (or acknowledging and owning) one’s own weakness and imperfection. I don’t know if anyone can be utterly happy for every moment of their lives (even you, my dear Shanna); shit happens. Grief happens. Anger happens. Shunning those emotions and constantly striving for happiness feels like, to me, shunning parts of yourself that are no less valid than the parts you happen to like.

    No light without shadow; no shadow without light. That whole deal.

  4. @Erin — I actually find that a large part of the problem is that people define “happiness” incorrectly, in my view. As you say, if you are not “happy” you are, by definition “unhappy” which is manifestly untrue.

    I guess @Ty, that’s what I mean when I say that I’m a happy person; it’s actually that I’m so rarely UNhappy that I must, by definition, be happy. Defining it by its negative.

    But this is all because of a naturally sunny outlook. I consider myself a realist in that I can easily see both sides, but you can only focus on thing– and I focus on the positive. But that doesn’t make me better, or more successful than someone who sees the opposite.

    In fact, although my subjective well-being and most likely my health will be better, there is some evidence that evolution favors those who are consistently discontent– they tend to be the ones to shake up the status quo. However, our tendency is still to belittle them and demean their contribution as a the tiny, morose contribution of a man who could not even sustain dinner conversation.

    Erin, I love your point that people who have a purpose higher than (or perhaps outside of, would be a better term) happiness simply do their work, and never pay any attention to the concept of happiness.

    Although, I suppose that if you transposed all the literature on “finding happiness” to “finding your true purpose” I don’t really think the substance would change much.

    I’m reminded of the fact, only say, a century ago, that simply doing your duties, well and cheerfully way as much as you could hope for in life. How far have we come, yet conversely, how much happier have we gotten?

  5. “Although, I suppose that if you transposed all the literature on “finding happiness” to “finding your true purpose” I don’t really think the substance would change much.”

    Interestingly, the people I was thinking of (archetypically speaking) wouldn’t spend much time trying to ‘find’ their purpose either – and maybe that’s the difference I was sensing.

    it’s the act of trying to find something that is either available or not at any given time and not possible to find by seeking. makes me think of the saying ‘what you are looking *for* you are looking *from*’ People who are immersed in the work/expression/embodiment of their bliss, purpose, creativity – don’t go looking for it – and the mystics I have read about had this way of living with the agony of having the peak experience leave them for a time – even when they knew what it *could* be like, they didn’t step outside their tasks at hand in order to go searching for it.

    • Yeah, I know, the lucky few who run outside of the hamster wheel of life don’t *need* to go searching for it; in their own way they’ve found that thing we call “happiness” I suppose. If that’s really what we’re looking for. Probably, we don’t really know, but someone told us happiness is “where it’s at” and so we follow like lemmings.

      hmmmm. That sounded bitter. I wonder why it seems so repulsive to eschew the quest for happiness. Seriously. It feels almost morally repugnant, like admitting a fondness for acts of brutality.

      • I always have a feeling like: with all this happiness pursuing what is being…ignored.

        I’ve also been in conversations with people striving to be always positive in some way where i felt very policed and judged for things they decided were negative –

        so, off the top of my head, my response is a kind of defensive reaction to the feeling I have had in the past that pursuing happiness in this particular way divides what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ along inaccurate, harmful and arbitrary lines.

        also – there’s the whole ‘naivety’ factor…

        I don’t think it sounded bitter – it’s a valid question. is ‘happiness’ a linguistic placeholder for something no one has really defined for themselves but still wind themselves around? hmmm…

      • I certainly didn’t intend it as bitter; I actually think it’s just that you know me well enough not to interpret my words that way. A Random wandering in from google is likely to be a little worried about me though (poor Randoms)

        I think it is a valid question. Worth contemplating by nearly everybody, I would think.

  6. Shanna, I think “finding happiness” and “finding your true purpose” can be two fairly distinct paradigms, the former being self-centered and the latter being purpose-centered.

    Living for a purpose free from one’s emotional self-interest is the stuff of heroes, in my opinion; and by heroes, I include those who are content to “do their duties” cheerfully, as you pointed out.

    This is a rich vein, isn’t it?

    • Rupa, I know! Isn’t it fun? I’m practically wallowing in it, like a piglet in her favorite muckhole. Lalalalalalala!

      I like your distinction too. I’ve often thought myself that that “do your duty group” was a bit dry and dull, but the more I see people wear themselves out chasing their tails, I wonder…

  7. Been away a few days and look!

    Funny, this topic was in today’s Wall Street Journal with a headline of “Is Happiness Overrated?” The gist of the article is that research is indicating that happiness may be based more on having a purpose rather than the pursuit of happiness.

    The article (if the link works) :

    • The link works for me! I like the semantic discussion. Words are such important clothing for the concept that we must choose them carefully. It’s so true that what we call “happiness” might be more properly termed “Fulfillment” or possibly “well-being.” Happiness is a misnomer at best.

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