Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happiness: A Process… or an Outcome

I consider it reasonable to assume that most people are seeking happiness – especially in their love relationships. A good question, however, is “What is happiness?” By and large, happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction.

In my pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway, I suggest that:
“Happiness is not a station you arrive at – it’s a manner of traveling.”

In my recent pop-psych book, Mom and Dad's Pearls of Wisdom... You Gotta Love 'Em, I discussed how and to what extent:
“Happiness is a by-product of effective living.”

And in my self-help book, Adult Loving Relationships, I addressed the balance between actively moving in directions that may maximize one’s happiness and enjoying the process of looking:

There is nothing wrong with staying off shore

looking for a perfect wave.

Be careful, however, that cross currents and outgoing waves

don’t turn you over or push you out to sea.

Ride a good wave once in a while,

they keep your skills toned.

Surfing is what you’re out there for anyway,

and good waves give meaning to the perfect waves

if ever one should come along.

Question: Based on your experience, to what extent is happiness an outcome or a process?



Anonymous said...

This is really sad. I just don't feel a lot of happiness.
Mostly I feel numb..
Guess I should work on that.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi H&B,
My bet would be that the numbness is probably protecting you from some of the real stuff that is buried (e.g., anger and pain). My sense is that when you’re ready, the numbness will slowly subside and then you’ll attend to the buried stuff. (And for the record… been there, done that and have the t-shirt.)
My heart goes out to you.

DH said...

Happiness is an emotional state. Sometimes it seems to just happen with no apparent "cause or effect". I can sometimes wake up just feeling happy or just feeling "down". It is somewhat puzzling to me. I could wake up thinking and thanking God "what a beautiful world, my life is amazing..." Why do I feel down? I guess it is more of a process with the outcome being a degree of happiness. I think it depends on how I process/interpret the information in my life. I guess no one wants to be sad, but without knowing sadness...would I have any idea when I was happy? Knowing the levels of sadness I have experienced leads me to believe that the exact same "levels" of happiness are out there...and that is awesome! -DH

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I have *always* struggled with happiness. I think happiness is a choice, except when you throw mental illness into the mix, then it gets tricky. I don't think anything can make you happy (relationship, money etc...) but that it comes from within, with practice, by focusing on the positive etc.....

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello DH,
As you clearly say, how we look at things in our lives indeed has an influence on our happiness (you may recall what I wrote about regarding “perception” in a recent Post). Part of happiness also involves not knowing about it or nor anticipating it… jeez, that would be akin to planning a spontaneous experience. I also believe, nonetheless, that “expectation theory” also is an influence – if I anticipate that I’ll be happy about something, chances are that I will; however, if I anticipate not being happy about something, chances are I won’t (the old self-fulfilling prophesy notion).
Very interesting to say the least…

Dr. Bill Emener said...

I also tend to embrace the philosophy that happiness is a choice (primarily because that suggests that I have some responsibility for it and can have some influence on it). However, when you throw mental illness, addiction, and other types of bio-chemical considerations into the equation, it really gets tricky (to say the least). Yet, as you wisely say, there are things we can do to influence our chances (e.g., practice, focusing on the positive, etc.).
Thanks for the visit and sharing,

Anonymous said...

I think happiness is both an outcome and a process. Happiness can be the outcome of something like hitting a home run, a nice dinner with your spouse, etc. - something momentary that provides happiness at that time.
It can also be a process. I think many people don't feel happiness because they won't allow themselves to do so. Maybe it's out of fear that the happiness won't last. Maybe it's out of guilt because a loved one is unhappy and therefor they too should be unhappy. Maybe they have low self-esteem and don't feel they are good enough to be happy. Regardless of reason, the process of working on the issue could build and allow happiness.
Of course, in the first scenario, you could argue that the home run is the result of a process to learn how to hit. You could also, in the second scenario, argue that happiness would be the outcome of the work.
Hell, now I'm even more confused! I hope you're happy with yourself:)

insideout said...

I ordered:Mom and Dads Pearls of wisdom. Briefly I belive that you can have more bad expieriences than good in a certain amount of time, but if you choose to embrace the good expieriences than over all the time you spent was a good one. Being happy or sad I think follows along the same lines.. If you embrace the sad times in general you will be sad on the other hand if you live with the sad and embrace happy times in general you will live a happy life. that came from tony words of wisdom. not in print!!I/O

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Maconole,
Thanks for the excellent illustration of not only the process aspect of happiness and the outcome aspect of happiness, but the interrelatedness of them. Yes, they are synergistic and dynamic closely associated. Your examples are excellent groundings of these features of them.
And in case you chose to be hard on yourself regarding “being confused,” I’ve been studying and working with people in loving relationships for over almost 35 years and (speaking tongue-in-cheek) on a good day I feel confused! But you know what… I’m making progress and happy about that.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi I/O,
I hope you enjoy Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom. If you get half as much out of reading it as I did writing it, you’re in for a treat. Let me know what you think.
Yeah, I hear ya… if you approach life with a “the glass is half empty” attitude, that’s what you’ll tend to see, but if you approach life with a “the glass is half full” attitude, then that’s what you’ll tend to see. What’s that old expression…“If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
I’ll look for “tony words of wisdom” … sounds interesting.