Happiness is not all it’s cracked up to be….

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The Jinn, or Genie, and the magic lantern story leads children to think, “if I had three wishes, what would I wish for?” Some logical and clever young minds answer with the definitive statement, “I wish for unlimited wishes”, thus immediately lifting the pressure of coming us with “the answer”. Not as logic-minded as some children, I remember coming to my own imperfect 6 year old version of the answer, “I wish to always be happy”. Seemed to solve the problem for me at the time.

Little did I know what a vexing answer this is was to be to me, even today.  Many people in service to vulnerable people say that the gauge for the success of a particular effort on behalf of their clientele is the happiness of such people. Nowhere is this more evident than in efforts towards the well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I have no doubt that this perspective must be closely tied to our stereotypes that “They are always happy” or  “They don’t really experience anything deeper than “happy” and “sad” – and so are shallow and un-nuanced, simple beings”

SRV leader Joe Osburn meticulously described the problem with the happiness issue in his 2009 article, “The happiness issue: a brief elaboration on a common obstacle to Social Role Valorization”, so I direct those interested to that excellent piece of thinking and writing. In the meantime, I am reflecting on happiness in my own life and those I know. Seems to me that happiness is only taken in fully with a certain measure of suffering. Happiness does not reach the depth of ‘full and rich’, those times that define our lives, help us discover our own capacities, and reveal our purpose and best selves.

As some wise person said, happiness could be said to be having a full box of chocolates, and sadness is when that box is empty. In my own experience, some of the most important moments that define my best self and my hoped for self are those that are deeply uncomfortable, or even contain a measure of pain and suffering. The period of my mother’s illness and passing was, for me, a period of richness and great sadness, and was undeniably transformative. Happy, no, but I would not have missed it for the world. Watching my children ‘become’ has been a source of abiding joy, intense stress, and great fear, alternately and at the same time. Traveling alone for long periods of time is terribly lonely, and also greatly fulfilling. Happiness and sadness come and go in all those life experiences, and in the grand scheme of things seem unimportant and transient.

So, when we talk about how ‘happy’ people are with the services they receive, or how ‘happy’ they appear to be while in our services and program, I try to keep this in perspective.  Happiness in others makes us feel good, particularly when we feel we are responsible for their happiness. This should give us all pause. Rich, full life, made up of freely given relationships, a sense of belonging, a good reputation, growth and learning, and opportunities – now these things count in full measure towards what I want in my own life. I’d like to think they matter more than happiness.

People with disability are fully people, with the complexities, nuances, full range of emotions, drives, and contradictions that reside within all humans. Happiness seems to me to be a transient state and not always worth wishing for, in our own lives, the lives of those we love, and the lives of those we want to stand by, with and for.

 

 

Reference:

Osburn, J. (2009). The ‘happiness issue: A brief elaboration on a common obstacle to Social Role Valorization. The SRV Journal, 4(2), 33-41.

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About elizabethneuville

Executive Director of The Keystone Institute, the educational institute of Keystone Human Services. At the Keystone Institute, we focus on creating educational events and forums which promote ideas to advance the possibilities of vulnerable people accessing the good things that life has to offer. I also serve as the Director of Keystone Institute India, and educational institute on disability, community and innovation, and currently divide my time between India and the US.

One thought on “Happiness is not all it’s cracked up to be….

  1. I agree with you. The concept of happiness varies from time to time, by circumstances, and most of all based on personal perception. To give you few examples from own life; the rigorous training of Navy was the most painful time but we recruits used to laugh at each other’s misery and laughed. Later those memories became source of immense joy. The second story is tragic where marrying off a orphan girl provided intense joy to self and wife but turned out to be tragic experience we have to live with.
    Therefore happiness and sadness is purely transectional. Its two side of a coin being tossed. Tossing is transection (life). One who learns tossing the coin without looking at the face of the coin rises above happiness – state of bliss. In this state nothing makes you happy or sad and there are many examples like Mother Teresa. She did not cry at the plight of destitutes she served. Neither she showed great emotions while accepting Noble peace prize. She was above these transections but kept tossing the coin of life to bring happiness for others without indulging herself.
    It’s said that democracy should not be imposed. Same goes with happiness. But here steps in the” belief”. As long as I believe I am doing the right thing and doing it well it gives happiness. That’s how the world has progressed so far. Here again the dictators, capitalists, liberals, terrorists, police , human right activists, exploiters, exploited, play their part to their best ability. And life goes on…

    Like

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