Are you allowing yourself to be happy?

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“Money buys contentment”, a newspaper article said last week, right above a story from the other end of the earth headlined “Millions avoid the curse of happiness”. The curse of happiness? Isn’t happiness a desirable concept? Not to some people, apparently.

The ‘contentment’ story arose from a national study in the UK that reported that “our happiness” is growing as the financial insecurity of the past few years begins to abate. Financial security is more important to Britons than good health, the Office for National Statistics survey reported.

Seventy-seven percent of people over 16 in the UK rated their life satisfaction at seven out of 10, or better. That’s extraordinary, if you think about it. Three-quarters of the entire population finds life whatever 7/10 equates to: not bad, pretty good; somewhere in that range.

The report also described British people as “increasingly frustrated with their lack of free time and despondent about their social life”. People are drawing greater happiness from family life, the report concluded.

National mood often matches the state of the markets, and now is one of those times. Things are looking up, prospects are a little brighter, but one’s social life is often a cause for gloom, regardless of economic conditions.

So much for the good news. The second report, from researchers at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, said that “millions of people actively try to avoid feeling happy because they fear it will make something terrible happen”. I’m not sure how one actively tries to avoid feeling happy, unless one spends all day thinking about tax and spiders and Kim Kardashian. If you do that, it’s too late: something terrible has already happened.

“Some of the beliefs about the negative consequences of happiness seem to be exaggerations, often spurred by superstition or timeless advice on how to enjoy a pleasant or prosperous life,” said the reporting psychologists.

Let’s get real here, friends. Yes, good times will, sooner or later, be followed by bad times. We wouldn’t know they were good times if they were permanent; they’d just be times. But not enjoying today because it might mean an awful tomorrow is worse than dumb; it’s denying yourself the chance of ever having a good time, of ever enjoying a moment of happiness.

Don’t do that: one day, eventually, you are going to meet your maker, and he (or she), more than anyone, would have wanted you to enjoy yourselves whenever the opportunity presented itself. Which, Lord Knows, is rarely enough.

‘Don’t worry, be miserable’ makes no sense. We laugh; we cry. We win; we lose. The French have a saying: c’est à rire, it is to laugh. The whole business of living must be appreciated when the chance comes. There is no Evil Eye to bring a worse tomorrow. There’s just life. It’s going to end one day. Until then, make the most of it.

Your hour is up. The Doctor is going off to enjoy himself. He recommends that you do the same.

One response to “Are you allowing yourself to be happy?

  1. What the researchers are describing seems to be a form of Stoicism. The Stoics were more interested in avoiding pain than experiencing pleasure. By not getting too comfortable with the good times, the bad times will supposedly not be as disturbing. Like you, I don’t find the argument convincing. It does have a long and well-respected history, though.

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