Sundays are for reflection, for going inward, and maybe for attending the church of your choice — be it a quaint New England Community Church, a grand cathedral, or the great nave of nature. Succumbing to some irresistible human propensity for arbitrary polarity (e.g., people who are focused versus people who are unfocused), I want to explore a dichotomy I’ve observed between worried people and happy people.
Facebook is a great bucket for sifting these two types. You know them. They’re on your Wall, too. Here you’ll find plenty of alarmists: “Oh, no! Why do I never learn?” whose posts are followed by 28 concerned queries and paltry platitudes: “What’s wrong?” “Hang in there! It only gets better!”
Then there are “issue” people, who post along themes (politics, social issues) and evangelize, be it political, social, cultural or religious. They’re grinding an axe, not out of love or joy, but from a defense posture. “There are things wrong with the world — just look how wrong!” Not that these claims are untrue or inaccurate, but they belie a lens, an attitude, a perspective, a worldview.
Lately, I’ve witnessed (and experienced) something new: increasing outbursts of sheer, pointless happiness, illustrated by this recent thread:
I just noticed, once again, how happy I am in this moment. And this one. And this one. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I seem to enjoy myself. Right now, for instance, I’m enjoying my coffee, my cat, my work, the quiet stillness outside and inside. But what’s most enjoyable is my noticing the enjoyment, and noticing that it seems to be my predominant experience. I can remember times in my life when this was certainly NOT the case. And I’m wondering if this is true, too, for any of you?
- I like how my enjoyment of you enjoying yourself has me enjoying myself more.
- I was just writing something sort of similar to this the other day. For me, even when it’s not an “enjoyable” moment, noticing that it’s not and remaining fully engaged with it is somehow enjoyable.
- YES YES YES! For me it is JOY — most of the time. Whether eating my poached eggs, or working or relating with friends, so many moments of unbridled joy and gratitude — how blessed we are!
- Happiness is breaking out all over!
Looking for some negative examples, I couldn’t find any this morning. I guess I’ve cleaned up my feed pretty well, blocking from view (as opposed to unfriending) the Negative Nellies to keep my own vibration high. My cousin posts last night, and again this morning:
- [Last night] Traverse City Microbrew Music Festival tonight. The. Most. Fun. Ever. My first Silent Disco experience. Maybe it was my posse, or the fine local craft brew. I dunno. I’m just happy, happy, happy….
- [This morning] Sunday yoga is the answer. I forget the question.
Her external circumstances are, and have been for a while, nothing short of terrifying as a single mom in a rough economy. But here she is, searching for reasons why she’s just so happy, happy, happy. Maybe she just is.
If any of this sounds fake or fabricated, it may be because there are, and have been, people who feel they should be having this experience, fooling themselves (but often not others) with words and expressions of joy to paper over underlying fears and anxieties. It’s the posturing that feels gooey and queasy and inauthentic and mockworthy. But, I know the authors of these threads. Experiencing “unbridled joy” for “no reason whatsoever,” and equanimity in the face of dire circumstances, is a real milestone in one’s developmental life. And worth the pursuit, let me tell you.
Recent books on the brain and consciousness indicate that happiness is an innate disposition, that we are born with a happiness set point that we revert to even after major setbacks. If you’re normally overcome by waves of woe, it might not just be your external circumstances or a poor mental attitude. It might be your internal thermostat. That thermostat can be raised to a higher happy quotient.
But how? There are many ways. Fully experienced, joy and fear are actually very short-lived moments. Sadness, panic, anxiety, and depression persist when fear is prolonged, and are fueled by mental chatter and neurobiology. Regardless of the “causes” of suffering, there are many ways to raise the set point. We’ll explore them in subsequent posts, and, in general, on this blog. Follow along . . .