Our Tyranny of Compulsory Happiness
I was recently asked by a friend to comment on a quote from a TV show;
“Hi Tim, I am curious for your comments on this quote…”Not everybody has to be happy all the time. That's not mental health. That's crap.” … I don't know the TV show though so not interested in the context.”
Happiness as purpose
The following is distilled from my conversation with him.
It's an interesting question isn't it? You do get people insisting that the purpose of life is happiness, and they imply it should be like this for everyone. I disagree. In the first instance, who wants to have the purpose of their life set by someone else? Why can't the purpose of your life be something you choose else like, say, service to others, sacrifice, or honour? Why couldn't the purpose of life be the creation of art or music even if it doesn't make you ‘happy' exactly, but rather is something you have to express?
Further, there is one emotion we are mainly predisposed to by evolution.
The evidence is overwhelming that this emotion isn't happiness, but fear. From this, we can conclude that the biological purpose of life is the continuation of life.
Don't miss the point
I think there is no one thing you are meant to be all the time. If you are happy at a funeral you might be missing the point, perhaps even disrespectful for those in pain.
If you're happy at work all the time you might frustrate your co-workers because they aren't happy. If you're happy all the time when people you care about are sad / unsure / serious / guilty then they won't feel like you understand them or respect how they feel.
The bigger question is “what's so wrong with feeling anger / fear / sadness? Why are these inappropriate things to feel?' If a person isn't able to tolerate or respect the validity of these other feelings then there is a part of human existence that they aren’t comfortable experiencing – and to me that is hard to equate with happiness. We seem so tied to the myth of negative emotions.
The richness of being sad
I think being sad can ultimately add a richness and depth to your life that is hard to get elsewhere. But we are not encouraged to get emotional as our emotions often upset other people and threaten to open up the fear / sadness / anxiety they keep under control most of the time.
For me happiness seems like a by-product of other things you do. If you aim for it directly, it's hard to hit. Much better than you aim to be someone that you admire – this will bring you more happiness than trying to make yourself happy.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about Patience and the Pursuit of Change.
– Tim Hill
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