Do you remember the ‘Love is…’ cartoon series? They have been running forever and were originally the work of Kim Casali ( a kiwi). As a teenager I thought they just had it all in terms of the answers to that question all teenage girls wonder about of what is love. For some reason the cute couple depicted in the cartoons had worked it all out. If we just did what the cartoons told us, then love would be perfect. Hmm. In reality? Not quite. Well, should I say, it never worked that way for me.
Actually this cartoon series still continues today and in my research I found that “Love is… buying your girlfriend a domain name” and “Love is … letting your girlfriend choose your blog banner”. Again, hmm.
I got thinking about that series when I was thinking about happiness. I had been discussing with some people whether happiness was possible, especially in the middle of mental illness. Now I’m no happiness expert, and I know there are many people who get paid extremely large amounts of money to surmise just what happiness is, so I’m not going to do their work other than to say what it is for me.
My introduction to what happiness is came pretty much from birth. I was raised to believe that happiness was found once I had God in my life. My conscious recollection of this comes from a song we sung in Sunday School back in the early 1970’s. We knew the song as ‘Happiness Is…’
Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord
Happiness is a new creation,
Jesus and me in close relation
Having a part in His salvation,
Happiness is the Lord
Real joy is mine,
no matter if teardrops start
I’ve found the secret
It’s Jesus in my heart
Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that’s worth the livin’
Taking a trip that leads to heaven,
Happiness is the Lord
(By Ira Stanphill)
Even if your personal beliefs don’t fit with these words, have a look at it from the perspective of, say a five year old child.
I understand that I started at Sunday School at three, and so I would have been expected to sing this song from then, but I imagine the words might not have sunk in for a few years. But when they did sink in, they were there to stay. I haven’t actually sung, or heard, this song for probably 30 years but it didn’t take long for all the lyrics (word for word) to come back to me when I started think about it. It would have been one of the earliest songs I ever learnt.
They’re what I would call nice words, but the message I got as a little girl, who had a few issues with self-worth even then, was that as long as I knew God I would be happy. And even if I cried, I had Jesus in my heart and that’s all that mattered. I know it is generalising, but that’s actually what I grew up believing. It became my truth. It was simplistic, but then what would I expect from a young child? My knowledge of children is that they take things literally.
The problem was when things started to turn bad, I was left wondering what had I done wrong if I didn’t have that ‘real joy’ anymore? To be honest, and it’s a whole other post, there were many similar things that left me asking the same question thanks to my years at Sunday School. Eventually I concluded that joy, or happiness, was just not mine to have. I just never was going to be happy.
After far too long of concluding that happiness was not mine to have, I’ve had a re-think and started to think about what happiness is for me. A definition that actually means something to me, and is something that I can achieve. Something that is possible within the midst of mental and physical illness, because I know only too well that feeling any joy in mental distress, let alone constant pain is difficult to identify with, let alone claim for myself.
It’s pretty clear to me that everyone has a view on what happiness is, and I don’t claim to have read nearly enough to have a firm grip on the general consensus. Happiness is defined in the dictionary as:
a: a state of well-being and contentment
b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience (1.)
I found a definition that described it a little clearer for me in the Urban Dictionary. It said (amongst other things):
“happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everyone can see it but only you can feel the warmth”
Futhermore it also suggested such a thing as a Happiness Blip was:
“A moment of brief satisfaction in the midst of an otherwise unpleasant series of circumstances.”
There are mountains of theories about what happiness is. Some say it’s a decision, others say it accepting circumstances as they are, others still say it’s a way of life. That said, the moments of happiness, suggested by the ‘happiness blip’ is something I can live with.
I can have a moment of happiness, for example, when I spend time with my niece L. Even if I am in pain, or depressed or angry, she has a way of lighting up the day for me. Perhaps the real test for me is to take that moment with L and let the happiness last longer than just the time I am with her.
I love seeing the snow fall (it’s winter here) and my mood lifts as I watch the snowflakes fall. The thing is that once I have to get out and clear the snow off paths, I’m not so taken with it. That’s when pain and fatigue kick in, but if I can remember the happy part maybe it makes the whole thing easier.
With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is far too easy to change moods. One minute I might be happy and having fun, and the next I’m angry and hurt. Somehow I need to learn how to take the ‘happy and fun’ and stretch it out. It takes conscious effort but perhaps this is a way to help me even out my emotions.
Moments of happiness are manageable and realistic. I don’t have to be on top of the world but I do have to take notice of what is happening around me. Blink and I might miss it. So I think that a decision to look for happiness in my life is appropriate. Maybe it’s that first cup of coffee in the morning, or a visit with L. Maybe it’s noticing a flower in the garden, or smelling the fresh, cut lawn. They are simple things that make a difference. But I have to be looking for them, and I have to appreciate them when I see them. I hope then that I can carry those things over to parts of the day that don’t seem so good.
I always thought happiness was this permanent state of glee (and I’m not talking about the television programme). It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to find that in the midst of any illness, mental or physical, and so it doesn’t really work for me. I thought God would make me happy, and that with him I’d always have a smile on my face. That didn’t work for me either although let me be clear that I’m not knocking God, just the expectation I was taught.
In writing this post I came across many statements about happiness, but I think only one that really sat well with me. I can live with this:
“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of travelling.”
– Margaret Lee Runbeck
- Sustainable Happiness: Why It’s All About the Day-to-Day (psyblog.com)
- The secret to happiness. i found it, have you? (lif3asiseeit.wordpress.com)