Happiness, Part xx1

 

Part xx1, because it’s a topic that has already been a loosely disguised recurring theme in many dozens of posts. It will continue to be so, in a more direct way.

 

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I wrote recently that what most of us really want is just to be happy. So simple, yet how that happens, how we define it, and how we get there is the subject of volumes, and still nobody has really figured it out. I have always said and believed that happiness comes from within…but…why? How? Can we really control it?

The elusive feeling seems to stem from the result of a vague triangulation on three characteristics: Perceived Situation, Choices, and Genetics.

The debate about how much influence one’s circumstances has over happiness has raged for years. Evidence suggesting the child of wealthy parents, who has every material thing in life, will be happy, is sketchy at best. Many studies have been done, and about the only clear conclusion is that a person needs a combination of enough money to take care of basic needs along with a feeling of belonging, or being loved. Beyond that, things like more money, more membership, etc. may contribute, but the results get a lot murkier. It’s pretty safe to say that aspects of one’s situation has some impact on happiness. How much is unclear.

The choices we make clearly result in outcomes that have profound impacts on our ability to be happy. This breaks down into three constituent areas itself. There are the choices themselves, and the outcomes/situations/circumstances they lead us to, plus the component of how hard we work at those choices (our engagement), and then finally our ability to manifest a feeling of satisfaction from the work, or from the act of making a choice in and of itself.

Satisfaction may arguably be another choice we make. Do we decide to be satisfied (if so, why?), or do external factors drive how satisfied we are with a given outcome? A higher degree of engagement and work toward the outcome tends to produce more satisfaction, but that’s not always enough, especially when we don’t live up to our expectations. Or sometimes just the act of making a tough choice believed the be the ‘right’ one can produce satisfaction (with ourselves), and thus a degree of happiness. These characteristics are elusive and seem interdependent on one another, as well as another elusive characteristic that we could probably refer to as our disposition. Our disposition is…often…affected by how happy we feel… (Catch-22)

Studies have shown that genetics play a role as well. In fact, given the somewhat circular nature of the points above, genetics may actually play the pivotal role. A person with higher or more easily raised levels of serotonin is likely to feel better about most circumstances that arise, and may well have an easier time navigating to and getting engaged in things that ultimately lead to more satisfactory outcomes. A self-fulfilling prophecy or sorts.

So our fates are sealed in a way. There’s not always much we can do about our perception of our situations, yet the actions we take as a result are in our control. But remarks along the lines of, “don’t worry, be happy” come off as insulting and insensitive by those who may be struggling for one reason or another. Our circumstances are what they are, and while we do have some control over them through our choices and actions, our inherent ability to find the good in all of it seems to be under the influence of genetics, or at least chemistry. Bypassing the idea that drugs are the answer (they can be), can we find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions?

To be continued…

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