Jul 15, 2015, 06:38AM

What Makes Us Happy?

It’s a trick question.

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I’ve been recovering from a physical trauma for several months, and often find myself depressed and thinking, what would make me happy? Since I can’t indulge in many of the physical activities that would have increased my happiness in the past, I’ve had to switch gears.

Happiness is a tricky thing. People often believe they’ll be happy when they find the perfect person, get the degree, buy the bigger house, publish the novel… the list goes on and on. The fact is, when we finally acquire those things, we find we aren’t any happier than we were before

So what makes us happy? You’d think the answer would be easy considering the help that’s available to us. Americans buy around $800 million worth of self-help books every year. Most colleges and motivational programs now offer classes in positive psychology. In fact, the Harvard course, “How to be Happy” attracted more students than any other class enrollment in the University’s history.

There’s a difference between overall and immediate happiness. Right now, with my health challenges, it’s tough. But if someone asked me if I was happy, I’d say yes. I have a loving family, eat good food, no one dear to me is suffering from an incurable disease and overall, things are good. I’d like to ditch the car and buy one I really love, but research shows that buying more and better things doesn’t secure happiness. It only works for those people whose basic needs aren’t being met. So if we take money out of the equation, I think it’s easier to make decisions that bring you happiness.

But what if we find ourselves in a bad spell? Can we still be happy? It’s not easy. There’s no quick fix and doesn’t have to be. I find with my recovery, there’s a lack of acceptance from people to my negativism. Sadness, anger, depression and all those emotions are part of being human and I give myself permission to feel that way. While we don’t need to be a slave to negative feelings, we can accept them and be flexible.

How can I be happier? Eating a hot fudge sundae, spending extra time with my children, being with a friend who makes me laugh until I snort. Engaging in nature, in relationships, in our work and in our everyday connections all help. There is life above zero.


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