If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there.

~ Martin Luther ~

How Can You Be Happy All the Time?

October 8th, 2011 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 8 secs


How can you be this happy?

Someone asked me this recently. Maybe they were serious. I don’t know for sure. But they wondered whether you could be happy 24/7. I had to say ‘No. You cannot be constantly happy. Nor should you be.

What?” you might say, “How can you be so pessimistic? Aren’t you encouraging us to be happy all the time?

I don’t mean to confuse the issue. So I better explain where I’m coming from…

Firstly, if we are talking about feeling “up” and  “elated” I don’t think it can last too long. Even lottery winners who win first prize gazillions reach low spots eventually. Happy jubilation and thrill run their course as other matters come to hand. For instance, a mass of money isn’t the right tool to fix our relationship issues.

Plus there’s our physiology to consider. Happy excitement means increased hormones like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. As I understand it, elevated levels use up something akin to an allocated allowance. Which explains why immense highs are immediately followed by despairing lows. Using up all the reserves leaves a gap before sufficient levels can be restored (Obviously an endocrinologist would be the expert to talk to on this topic).

Bottom line: euphoria and feeling “excited happy” are physically self-limiting.

If being happy meant feeling constantly on the manic side of the scale, it would actually harm your health. So you need a rainbow of moods to stay well (Which in some ways seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?). Yet I am happy to say there is another side to happiness that offers more.

I’m talking about something like what the Ancient Greeks called “Eudemonia”(not exactly a catchy term but bear with me).  It refers to being happy. Although according to Wikipedia, it should really translate as “human flourishing.”

I love that concept. Aristotle put it another way, describing it as “doing and living well.” For me, this puts a completely different spin on what being happy means, and how we can be happy more often. That’s wonderful!

Being happy of purpose, by desiring to do good and live with dignity, is a beautiful thing with an enduring shelf life. Choose it and you can be happy a lot.

Yet, I wouldn’t consider a well-lived life perpetually pleasing. There are times in a meaning-rich life when we may feel terrible sadness. Occasions when grief and disappointment are the only response. But that’s totally valid. Even necessary. When a lover abandons you, or a child dies, deep loss and intense pain are completely natural human reactions that we need to respect. Life isn’t always good so why paint it otherwise?

Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychologist once said, “The word “happiness” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” In our “take out, have it now culture,” we do well to know that we are in charge of living well. Doing so realizes the happy feelings we get from happy ecstatic pleasure are not a staple to be had constantly…but a treat.

How often do you feel happy?

  1. Naomi says:

    Feeling happy and being happy a great distinction. I love Aristotles definition of doing and living well. Thank you for your writing.