I have been thinking recently about happiness. What is happiness? Is happiness laughter? Is happiness physical pleasure? Is happiness derived from social interaction or a sense of belonging? Does happiness come from knowing that you are in a social majority? Does happiness come from a belief in God?
I will endeavor to answer each of these questions. Is happiness laughter? I feel happy when I have a good laugh. I believe laughter is good for the soul. However, unless I can forget about everything else in my life, laughter does make me happy and it probably contributes to my overall happiness, but it is not the sole source of happiness itself for me. I do know that I could use more laughter in my life.
Is happiness physical pleasure? This is one area where I obviously must hesitate to share as much as I would like to, but I will say that, being a man, seeing a lovely woman does make me happy. The more I get to see, the happier I become. However, while this may be a source of much happiness, I cannot say that I would be able to enjoy a full measure (like my mo jargon?) of happiness if my life consisted of nothing outside of this (although I would be willing to give it a shot, for the sake of science, of course ;)
I have also discovered that I feel loved when I am touched. Touch, to me, is the ultimate form of feeling love and happiness. It has been difficult for me to come to realize that others feel love and happiness through means other than touch. My wife feels love through what she sees. Others feel love through what they hear. The words, "I love you" are the most meaningful to them. We tend to give the most in the area of love that we want to experience because we want to receive that form of expression in return. In my opinion, this is a common area of discontent in intimate relationships (i.e. communicating that you love your partner in a different fashion than they would like to receive).
I'm also pretty sure that love and happiness are two different things, but I think one cannot have happiness without feeling loved. I also realize that many like to break up physical pleasure and love and claim they are two different things, however, I would argue that physical arousal and pleasure is such an important part of love that it cannot be taken away and still be considered love. Love is a hard word to nail down though. It is a huge umbrella of emotion that is much too broad to tackle in this post.
Is happiness derived through social interaction or a sense of belonging? I really think this is one area where I have suffered somewhat since I have stopped attending my regular Sunday meetings. I really enjoy my time at home during that 3 hour stretch on Sunday, but I do feel somewhat selfish. I think selfishness can contribute to happiness, but I also think it comes with a price and can be hollow. The best advice I have heard given to post-LDS is that we go out and give of ourselves to diminish selfishness (*Not that I am ready or willing to do this so much right now, because I am selfish, but I can spout it with the best of them - I am at least trying to be sincere). But I also wonder if there can come a point where we are giving so much that it doesn't bring us happiness anymore. I don't know if this is an excuse I use to not give so much or if it is the way it is. I know there have been times when service became a drudgery and stopped being fulfilling. The trick, I guess, is to get out (of the service project) just before (or maybe just after) this feeling comes. I also believe strongly that we can be happier when we are doing what we enjoy. And doing what we enjoy can sometimes be viewed as being selfish, but that is OK.
Social interaction and feeling of belonging is the major reason that religious people in the US, it is claimed, are noted to be happier than the non-religious. I think there is something to this. We are social creatures and need social interaction to not only survive, but thrive.
I am really not sure that I know what true happiness is. Maybe I am not capable of feeling as happy as I would like. I thought I knew what happiness was when I was a believing member of the church, but now I'm not so sure. I think it came from having everything about my existence packaged in a nice little box I was handed at church. All the answers were in the box. There was never any need to venture outside the box. Now that I have ventured outside the box, the world is so big and kind of scary, but really not so much all at the same time. I feel tentative and like I am looking for happiness but not really finding it. I almost think that I am not as happy as I once thought I was...or was I really that happy? Maybe ignorance truly is bliss and bliss is truly happiness? I guess I would rather be smart and unhappy than ignorant and happy, but sometimes I have to wonder. Happiness feels to me right now like it is fleeting and I cannot grasp it. But I also understand this is likely more due to my current circumstances, which contribute to insecurity, than a belief in the divine would cause. I wonder if my definition of happiness has been warped and permanently damaged by my disaffection from the church.
My dilemma as of late is that I see many people in the church who appear to be genuinely happy. I wonder why this is? I know they are trapped in a delusion, and yet, they seem to be OK with that. Many seem to be more than OK with it. The one thing they have in common, though, is that they either don't know much about the history of the church (outside of the correlated history that is) or they know some of it but refuse to fully acknowledge it or pursue it. Is having a mental roadblock to certain information a key to happiness? It appears that it can be.
Sometimes I find myself wishing that I could put the genie back in the bottle and just go back and forget everything I now know and have decided about the church. Things would be so much easier for my family, for my status with those that I see as my peers in my community. However, I can't just forget. I can't just flip a switch and make it all OK. Why did I have to question? Why did I have to insist on finding the answers I thought I wanted? Why can't God just answer my friggin' prayers and make everything right again?!
I have been very fond of the quote that says that happiness is not a destination but a mode of transportation. I used to think this quote was great, but I feel like it has lost some meaning. I have heard some say that happiness is a decision and it is as simple as that. That may be true after all, so what am I deciding?
Does happiness come from knowing that you are in a social majority? This is a very interesting theory that comes from studies that show that the happiest people in the world are found in Denmark. In 4th place (for overall happiness) is the Netherlands and in these northern European countries the religious are not in the social majority. It could be drawn that the correlation between happiness and religion in the US may stem more from the idea and comfort of being in a social majority (and having ready made avenues for social interaction through church) than from anything contained in the teachings of religions themselves. However, it may also have nothing to do with religion and more to do with the fact that the governments in this region place more emphasis on providing and taking care of the social needs of the people (such as health care, unemployment, vacations and retirement).
Finally, does happiness come from God? Honestly, I have to say that I do not know the answer to this question. However, I do not believe that believers in God can really answer it with evidence any better than I could. They would have to acknowledge the constant presence of guilt that a belief in God creates and I think guilt is a destroyer of happiness. I think this is why Jesus is so popular, He can remove guilt. Just wipe it all away. It's all gone. Jesus is so nice.
This goes back to what I have said about subjective evidence in an earlier post. I don't think any objective evidence can be found that definitively places God as the source of happiness. For all I know, God may be the source of all happiness in the universe, but this same God hasn't given me enough information (that I can classify as objective) to be able to say so one way or the other. For some, the studies that say religious people are the happiest is enough. And it may just be that simple...or it may not be. The problem with being a skeptic is sometimes you just don't know stuff, but I am OK with that and regardless of what any believer may say, I am happy with that conclusion. I wish I could convey that thought in a way where people who believe in God could actually accept it, but here we are, just trying to get along and pursue happiness wherever we may think it is found. I wish we were more tolerant as to allow this (speaking of myself as well as those who may disagree with me).
As I have thought about the source(s) of happiness, and my happiness in particular, I am convinced that happiness may not be experienced all the time. But that we may be genetically disposed to the level of happiness we have. Happiness appears to come from lots of different sources, but the biggest indicator of happiness is how well we listen to ourselves to figure out what will bring us the most happiness. I think even those that claim to receive that insight from God, are actually receiving it from themselves (and they would claim that I am actually receiving it from God), but it does not matter which of us is right. It only matters that we listen and not give up seeking, and recognizing, our best happiness possible. Stay happy my friends.