Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Importance of Happiness

That beautiful young guy is Nate, the youngest of our grandchildren. Oldest son Steve's great photo captured a sheer joy that cannot be conveyed in words.

A recent blog post took a look at various forms of negative self-talk and their consequences. Simply reducing negative emotion, however, is not what brings access to energy, creativity, and the ability to sustain directed effort. For that, we need well-being: frequent experiences of happiness, life satisfaction, psychological and physical energy, and closeness with others. (For background on the important topic of psychological well-being, check out this earlier post.)

Happiness is a state that results from the affirmation and attainment of our values. Happiness is more than simple pleasure: it is an experience of fulfillment. Much suffering in life comes from the attempt to wring happiness from pleasure. All the food, parties, purchases, and holidays in the world cannot duplicate the experience of realizing a lifelong goal.

There are many ways in which people attempt to counterfeit happiness. Everyone needs some element of challenge, stimulation, and meaning in life. When those are not generated through positive goals and ideals, the drive for life purpose becomes distorted. We become enmeshed in personal problems and squabbles; life's stage shrinks, and we enact petty drama.

Maslow recognized: neurotic conflict is a twisting of the search for meaning, purpose, and actualization. We will always find summits to climb: some authentic, others less so.

Therein lies the appeal and the danger of markets: they can be arenas for self-development and mastery, or they can become battlegrounds for enacting our worst fears, insecurities, and conflicts. They can bring the kind of happiness on Nate's face, or they can bring considerable suffering.