While stopping at the red light, I notice that the car in front of me has a bumper sticker saying, “Are we happy yet?”
I feel somewhat annoyed. “No,” I want to scream at the driver. “I am having a bad day, and this whole year has been really hard, so don’t talk to me about happiness ... at least not yet.”
At some point in our lives, it is good to confront that question: “Am I happy, truly happy?” If we come up with a “yes,” we are, sad to say, most likely in the minority. It is true that there are some who seem to have been born happy and good-natured, feeling content with what life shows them. However, I venture to say, most of us struggle to maintain a happy feeling of peacefulness and optimism.
Time magazine recently devoted their cover story to “The Pursuit of Happiness,” pointing out that our nation is obsessed with this pursuit. It is even found in our Declaration of Independence: “We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Notice it does not say we have a right to find happiness, just pursue it. When considering this endeavor, it is helpful to ask, “What do I need to be happy, and are my needs being sufficiently met?
When we were younger, maybe a life full of material rewards, a new baby or a passionate romance, or a better job was all we needed to feel happy. But now, as Boomers and Beyond, we may be hoping to fulfill other needs.
Dr. Abraham Maslow, referred to as the father of humanistic psychology, came up with a hierarchy, a “Pyramid of Needs.”
At the bottom level is where our Physiological Needs are met, the need for oxygen, water, food, warmth and sleep. Often, but not always, included in this category is the need for sex. Without these essential needs being fulfilled, it is very challenging to be happy.
Next comes our Safety Needs, including protection, security, law and order, and stability. If our very life feels unsafe, happiness takes a back seat.
The third category is our Belongingness Needs. We need love, affection and family-like relationships. We were not meant to walk this Earth alone.
Going up the pyramid, next comes our Esteem Needs, including achievement, status, responsibility and reputation. We need to feel good about who we are and how we are in the world.
According to Maslow, as people reasonably satisfy their most basic physical and emotional requirements first, they then become more and more concerned with their personal growth needs.
They may be able to reach the highest level called Self-Actualization ... finding our “full potential” and “living our purpose” is the highest pinnacle of fulfillment. Joyfulness may then permanently reside within.
By the time we have lived more than a few decades, we have learned some things about happiness:
1. Money helps, but you can’t buy happiness.
2. Good health might make us happy, but we often take it for granted and later wish we had paid more attention.
3. Having enough money to live decently (compared to much of the rest of the world) could bring joy, but we believe it is never enough.
4. It is fleeting. As so well said by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
Believing what many spiritual advisers have told us, “Happiness is an inside job” and “The purpose of life is to be happy,” I am lately beginning each day by sitting down in meditation, intending to quiet my mind, or at least listen in a detached way to its meanderings. I set the timer for 20 minutes, and when it goes off, I do notice I am in a much more contented space.
The butterfly may not have permanently landed as yet, but still, inner contentment is a worthy prize for my efforts.
Angelena Craig of Newburyport teaches Wellness Workshops, Kripalu Slow Flow Yoga, and “Sit Down and Move” classes to boomers and beyond. Visit her website at www.thenewagingmovement.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.