In my study of happiness and human nature, I’m always striving to identify fundamental principles.
For instance, I identified the Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.
The First Splendid Truth is: To be happier, we have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
The First Splendid Truth accounts for a paradox I noticed within happiness: sometimes, happiness doesn’t make us feel happy. (This is the kind of statement that a scientist couldn’t say, but I can.)
I was reminded of this paradox during a conversation with a friend.
“Are you going to your mother’s house for the holidays?” I asked. “Looking forward to it?”
“Yes, I am,” he said, “but I’m not looking forward to it. I’ll be doing all the work, because no one else can be relied on to do anything, and I don’t really like spending time with most of my family.”
“So why do you go?”
“It’s important to my mother, she wants us to have these times together,” he said with a shrug. “So I do it, even though it means passing up invitations to spend the holiday with my friends, which would be much more fun.”
Right. Because sometimes happiness means living up to our values, even when it makes us “feel bad” to do so, or doing things to promote other people’s happiness, even when it doesn’t make us “feel good.”
My friend is willing to “feel bad” by being bored, annoyed, overworked, and unappreciated with his family, and to give up the opportunity to “feel good” by having fun with his friends, in order to “feel right” about his relationship to his mother and family.
We’re happy when we know when we’re living up to our values for ourselves. Even if that happiness doesn’t make us feel happy.
Can you think of examples from your own life when happiness didn’t make you feel happy?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Toa Heftiba.