what is happiness?

I don’t know how others do it. I mean . . .  We’re all different, I get that. But some people can churn out blog post after blog post no matter what else is going on in their life. I’m not like that never have been. When I’m “down,” I shut down. I can’t write about something I’m not focused on.

This would be true even if I had a blog about cooking. Or knitting. Or cycling. I mean, who cares about power meters or crème brûlée when your personal life is falling apart?

In a recent TED Talk, psychologist Susan David of Harvard Medical School says society has trained us to either judge ourselves for having so-called ‘bad emotions’ things like sadness, anger, or grief or to actively try to push these feelings away. “Normal, natural emotions are now seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and being positive has become a new form of ‘moral correctness’ . . . People with cancer are told to ‘just stay positive.’ Women, to ‘stop being angry’ . . . But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

A friend of David’s who recently died of cancer put the problem poignantly this way before she passed: “What it starts to do is implicate me in my own death, like somehow I’m culpable for not thinking my way out of ill health.”


. . . Well, okay. But you’re not dying of cancer, Jess. (Sheesh, Jess. Get a grip!) And outlook is everything, right? Like I stated in my last post, how you see yourself and what you put out into the universe is what you get back, right? There is always something to be thankful for.

Well, yes. And yes, and yes, and yes. But can you do all of these things and still remain true to yourself? Is it possible that sometimes your best self is the one that’s sad because something didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped? The one that’s disappointed because you didn’t get the position you applied for? The one that’s grieving because your relationship ended? Life isn’t all cupcakes and roses.

I suppose I’m often silent because I feel I have to choose between writing something positive and not writing at all, and because the last thing I want is to either a) appear to be looking for sympathy (we’re all going through something), or b) to hear, “Cheer up!” or “Hope things look up for you soon,” or “Tomorrow is another day!” Because folks, no. The only thing that’s guaranteed is now, and like it or not, happiness is not a goal. Happiness is a byproduct of living according to our values and striving to be our personal best through the good and the bad. Happiness is showing up and working through life’s problems authentically, recognizing that life is rarely if ever ideal but that there is beauty in its fragility.

Ironically, then, happiness doesn’t always mean being happy, just as courage doesn’t mean being without fear. I liked the way David described courage in her talk. She said, “Courage is fear walking.” I would even take it a step farther and say that happiness is courage. Incidentally, then, it is also within our control.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and know I did the best I could to leave the planet a better place. Lately I’ve worried about whether or not I’m achieving that goal, but in this world of false positivity, David’s words give me hope. “Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

With courage, I will find the light at the end of my tunnel. Happiness is my authenticity and the torch I’ll take with me to show the way.

The above is a preview of David’s TED Talk. The full TED Talk, which is less than 17 minutes, can be found here. She also has an interesting free Emotional Agility quiz, which you can access here. It takes less than five minutes to complete and aims to help readers make everyday choices and live their lives with more intention and insight.