Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happiness - By Elizabeth S. Giammarco PhD, LCPC, NCC

Happiness is a warm puppy ~ Charles M. Schultz

A few days ago as I was preparing lunch, I saw a hummingbird fluttering around the back yard deck. I smiled and felt thrilled that this little guy visited. Soon after as I was out in the garden, several butterflies surrounded one of the flowering plants. There also was a little frog sitting upon a lily pad that is part of the small pond I had built. Another smile and a light skip to my step followed. I was happy. This cheerfulness followed me through most of the day. It was only after the multitude of insect bites that were part of my outing had started to itch that my delight of the day turned sour and the happiness that I had felt earlier had disappeared into the night. The happiness that I had experience for most of the day was now a thing of the past - and so it goes. 

Happiness is fleeting but as with other positive emotions, it is essential for good mental health. In fact, there is a theory called Positive Psychology that has as part of its construction the idea of happiness as a powerful force. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, stresses that strengths rather than pathology need to be emphasized in order for those who are struggling with mental issues can move forward. His idea is that many who suffer from psychological problems may be grounded in learned helplessness and that the latter can be changed by looking at the positives of an individual’s life rather than the negatives. Therefore, the concept of happiness is one of those strengths that can help change one’s outlook and motivation. However, happiness is not just for those who are under a cloak of ills but is for all.

Although the concept of happiness is not easy to define, most know what it feels like. However, what allows a person to feel happy and what that may mean can be totally different from person to person as well as from experience to experience. One aspect that is known about happiness though is that it is universal in nature. No matter where one lives or the culture that one comes from, happiness is a condition that is part of the human experience. 

Happiness can be fickle as not everyone feels it all the time nor does the same impetus necessarily bring about the same joyful reaction. For instance, if I continually were exposed to the hummingbird and the little frog, I probably would not feel the same level of delight that I felt initially. That isn’t saying that I would not be happy with their appearances, it just would be different. The latter brings into better perspective why some individuals attest to the fact that they have “everything” – a good job, nice house, good friends and so forth but are not happy. For the most part, if one looks back and remembers each one of the accomplishments, the feelings of happiness probably were there for that time but were quickly forgotten. 

Now this might seem trite but happiness does come from within the individual. Even though the actuality of it is on the outside like the hummingbird, the sense and reactions are from the inner self. It is when one feels what I call a giggle in the psyche that the pleasure of the moment is experienced. Whether one has prepared a great meal or has helped an elderly neighbor with yard work or has seen a grandchild for the first time, the benefits that arise from these moments of happiness add to the strengths that people have -- thus bolstering mental and physical health.

Like laughter and other positive emotions, the state of happiness allows good hormones such as endorphins to flow through the person. It helps raise one’s self-esteem and one’s self-concept and it also allows one to not stay in a holding pattern of learned helplessness. Babies and small children seem to have an innate sense of happiness as they giggle, laugh and coo from early on at objects and people that tickle them from the inside. It helps them grow and to form good connections within their brains.
 According to some research, it does the same for adults. It opens us up to the positive and good feelings that help us heal and to move forward. Whether happiness is a warm puppy or the sight of a hummingbird, catch it quickly and enjoy it. Even if it is fleeting, it will return.

What is happiness? According to lyrics of an 1940’s song, it is a thing called Joe and to Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, it is a warm puppy. Happiness is a concept that is shared throughout the world and means something different to whomever is defining it.

Happiness is just a thing called Joe so goes the lyrics of a song from the 1940’s. Bobby McFarin instructs all to don’t worry – be happy. And Martin Seligman, a theorist who studies areas of Positive Psychology suggests that the concept of happiness based on pleasure, engagement, and finally meaning. Simply stated, pleasure is the feeling part of happiness; whereas, engagement is the area that connects with family and friends. Meaning has to do with being resourceful and utilizing talents and strengths that people have. In fact, many mental health therapists as well as agencies look at strengths that individuals have that will help them throughout whatever they are travailing at the time. These strengths can include support systems such as family, friends, co-workers. They also can be talents such as writing, cooking, working with cars, etc. It is out of the strengths that people have that allow for those fleeting moments of happiness to come alive.
 Happiness is good for the psyche and the body as well. and the concept is universal. The eighty year old woman who lives in the mountains of Peru and who takes great pleasure in cooking a meal on However, what allows a person to feel the joy of happiness is different for each one.

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