Happiness is something that humans think about a lot. At least I do.
For years now, I have been saying that “happiness is a choice and it’s a choice that I make (almost) every day.” That’s still true, of course, but sometimes that kind of thinking gets away from me.
Look, there’s no two ways about it: The world is currently not a happy place.
There’s untold chaos, which isn’t exactly anything new, but now that chaos is complemented by a particularly hairy situation in the country which I call home: the United States of America.
In case you are living under a rock, our president of just under 100 days is not well liked by people like me… You know, basically anyone with a brain, an appreciation for science, the environment or any kind of diversity. As an American citizen and immigrant, I am not a fan and I truly wish that the American public hadn’t elected this racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic pseudo-tyrant into office. But it is what it is, and I for one certainly plan to spend the next four or so years resisting.
Enough about my politics though… This post is about happiness. About why we seek it and how we find it and, most of all, how we recognize it.
And that’s the key word: How to recognize happiness.
I honestly think that is one of the hardest things about “being happy.” It’s not that we are clueless about what happiness means, but I do think that we have much higher expectations for it than we possibly should. And that’s part of the problem: our expectations.
Recently, a video titled “An Algorithm for Happiness” made the rounds on Facebook. When I watched this fascinating video, something clicked in my brain and reminded me how to be happy.
The truth is, primarily because of what is going on in the world right now and the election of President Orange Cheeto Dumpsterfire (my all-time favorite moniker for #45, since I can’t actually bring myself to say or type his name), I haven’t been my usual happy self.
Sure, I’ve had a lot of happy things going on in my life: I bought a car, celebrated mine and my partner Adam’s 31st birthdays and I’ve had some pretty great successes in my career. But in general, I have been angry and grumpy and sometimes what I jokingly call an “angry feminist.” And those feelings are totally okay, of course, because we must acknowledge and honor our feelings.
But… at the same time, being an unhappy bitch sometimes can be mentally taxing and ultimately harmful to our overall selves.
A week ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my last relapse in recovery. You see, I’m an alcoholic. I entered rehab in July of 2015 and I have been working on sobriety ever since. It’s been a mostly successful and occasionally bumpy road, but I am proud of the progress I’ve made.
How does that relate to happiness, you ask?
Well… Although I no longer attend meetings, I don’t remember getting to know many addicts who were happy. Which makes sense, of course, because if you’re happy, why would you need to dull yourself with drugs and alcohol? You don’t, and that’s the point.
As I watched the video talking about the algorithm for happiness, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned through recovery, primarily the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, which strives to teach you how to think differently about your issues.
To be honest, I was never a fan of AA or NA meetings, but I did thoroughly enjoy Smart Recovery – and cognitive behavioral therapy is exactly why. When I went through one-on-one- therapy for my alcohol addiction, it was with a CBT therapist too, and it’s a system that has really worked for me.
The reason that CBT has worked for me in terms of my alcoholism and happiness is because I learned how to reframe my thinking. In this video, the Google executive uses the example of a glass to demonstrate how we think about happiness.
He argues that happiness is looking at the half-full side of the glass and being grateful for it and looking at the half-empty side of the class and asking “Can I do anything about it?” and, if not, “Can I accept it?”
This kind of thinking is absolutely critical to understanding happiness and how it works in your life.
He goes on to explain that happiness isn’t actually about how much water is in the glass, but what you think about how much water is in the glass. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!
When I watched that, I realize just how much my happiness had to do with CBT and recovery and how much it had to do with the current state of the world and my thinking about it.
Adam recently pointed out that I am not the same happy-go-lucky girl that he met almost a year ago. And in a lot of ways, it’s true. Although I reasoned that there’s many, many reasons for it (most of them beginning with the man currently sitting in the White House’s main room), some of it is also my thinking about what is currently going on.
To be honest, it made me feel bad that the world has come to such a dark place and it’s made me feel even worse that I have lost some deep down belief in hope and the goodness of people because of the current situation.
But that’s not fair to the world, and that’s not really fair to all of the people who are doing good work now. I strive to be one of those people and, after watching the video below, I realized that there is more that I could be doing to help make the world a slightly happier place.
The first part starts with me. It starts with reframing how I view the world – even just a little bit – and recognizing that there IS still hope and there IS still good here.
To be honest, it’s a lesson that I expect to have to learn and relearn for the next four years. But you have to start somewhere, right? And I choose to start with being happy today, and happier than I was yesterday.