Image of the gifts of happiness

The gifts of happiness!

Happiness helps you look outward (or forward to the future) with hope and delight!

As I’ve been posting about the emotions one by one, you may have noticed that when I talk about emotions, I almost never start with the happiness-based emotions. It’s not that I don’t like happiness; I do! It’s that the three different types of happiness I identify in my work — happiness, contentment, and joy — already get an overwhelmingly unbalanced amount of attention.

I often say that the happinesses have their own publicist and promotions department, not to mention continual parades and parties given in their honor. The happinesses don’t need any help to be popular!

But now that we have an understanding of the purpose, the necessity, and the gifts of the other emotions, it’s time to look at our friend happiness.

HAPPINESS: Amusement & Possibilities

GIFTS: Merriment ~ Gaiety ~ Amusement ~ Hope ~ Delight ~ Wonder ~ Playfulness

WHAT YOUR HAPPINESS DOES: Happiness helps you look outward (or forward to the future) with hope and delight.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Simply enjoy yourself.

THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What delights me? What makes me feel hopeful?

The gifts of happiness, from The Language of Emotions

The Taoist classic text, the Tao Te Ching, calls happiness the most dangerous emotion – not in and of itself, but because of the way we behave in relation to it.

We chase after happiness, sell our souls for it, and try to cement ourselves into its territory, no matter what else is going on in our lives.

Cover of The Language of Emotions bookThis exploitation of happiness jeopardizes us, because when we refuse to pay attention to any emotion except happiness, our emotional landscapes become stagnant and unbalanced – which may make us chase even more furiously after happiness.

Consequently, we may spiral into emotional suffering, mental confusion, physical imbalance, and spiritual malaise. By chasing after happiness, we can actually create the most joyless lives imaginable.

More to the point, happiness is an emotion that lives inside us, so what are we actually chasing when we chase happiness? Where are we running to, and why?

Recent research has also suggested that we’re absolutely terrible at predicting what will make us happy or unhappy; in his 2006 book Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile, psychologist Daniel Nettle explores numerous studies that show humans to be almost clueless about what will actually make them happy.

For instance, most of us are certain that money will make us happy, but studies of lottery winners suggest that sudden riches are in fact very shocking and tend not to impact winners’ baseline happiness levels at all.

Also, while being poor is certainly detrimental to health and well-being, there is a strong suggestion that, after a modest level of financial comfort is reached (at, say, an annual family income of fifty to sixty thousand in 2007 U.S. dollars), there seems to be very little connection between more money and more happiness.

Yet still we chase after money and any number of other pointless things, when happiness actually lives inside us.

Happiness is an emotion; it’s not a hidden treasure or a reward.

And unhappiness is a lazy word

It’s interesting to note that many people use the word “unhappy” to describe any troubling emotion – as if happiness were the expected and required state, while anything else merely equaled its opposite. Unhappy is a very lazy word, that signals a lack of emotional awareness.

Does unhappy mean you’re sad, angry, anxious, apathetic, fearful, depressed, ashamed, or what? It’s important to know, because happiness is not the opposite of any emotion (though we’ve certainly been told otherwise!).

Happiness is not the opposite of anger, because happiness doesn’t strip you of honor or boundaries.

It’s also not the opposite of sadness, because happiness doesn’t strip you of your ability to ground and relax, let go, or rejuvenate yourself.

And happiness is not the opposite of fear either, because it doesn’t strip you of your instincts or your ability to take action.

Happiness doesn’t exist in some strangely divergent emotional universe; it’s an emotion like any other, and it carries its own unique emotional energy that blends and dances beautifully with all of your other emotions.

Happiness performs a specific function (it helps you look at the world with hope and delight) – but it can only do this properly if it’s treated with respect and allowed to arise in its own way and in its own time.

The practice for happiness

Remember to welcome your happiness on its timetable – not yours. Learn to work with your happiness instead of chasing it down or slapping it away. Welcome, honor, and thank your happiness. Then, let it go.

The key to working with happiness (or any emotion) healthfully is to see it as a momentary passage and not a final destination.

Interestingly, if you give your happiness complete freedom, and welcome whichever emotions you feel before and after it arises, your happiness will tend to arise more often, and in response to more and different stimuli.

The key then, when your happiness flows more freely, is to continue to let it flow – instead of showcasing it as proof of your emotional mastery. Flow is the key!

Happiness is not a reward, and it’s not a sign of foolishness; it’s an emotion, and it has specific work to do.

Enjoy your happiness, thank it, and let it go – it will return when it’s time to feel amusement and delight, or when it’s time to look forward to the future with hope and wonder!

Thank you, happiness!

3 Responses

  1. Angela
    | Reply

    Very inspirational stuff :)

  2. Maureen
    | Reply

    Dear Karla, I just rec’d your new book on The Art of Empathy, and I was like a child at Christmas, saving it for a perfect moment to begin reading it. Thank you for perseverance this summer as it was a real tough one for me.
    Your reader and appreciator,

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Maureen — you got it already? How exciting! I’m so glad you made it through this summer, and I hope the book supports you. Thank you for letting me know you’ve received it!

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