The Search for Happiness –
Judd Apatow’s last comedic film, “This is 40”, received praise for providing frank, if not crude, insights into married life and parenthood. Through a series of evolving conflicts, the film tells a story of a married couple struggling with the types of stereotypical conundrums (debt, declining sexual intimacy, ornery children) we’ve come to expect from Hollywood’s portrayal of the middle-aged. But woven into the fabric of the film is an underlying question of what it means to be happy – independently, in an intimate relationship, and with family and friends.
At one point in the film, Leslie Mann’s frustrated character, Debbie, exclaims: “let’s just get happy” – as though happiness could be willed by sheer mental force. What follows is a series of shots of the couple attending doctor’s appointments, quitting smoking, quitting cupcakes, swimming in a hotel pool, and more generally trying to be “productive” and “healthful” adults. Although maybe good in theory, the succession of attempts to do what “happy and healthy” couples should do, ultimately leave the two frazzled, angry, and far less connected.
This may be the most insightful message of the entire film. The more we try to be happy, get happy, and unfortunately sometimes buy happy, the more deeply unhappy we seem to become. Unfortunately, this truism is often eclipsed by the self-help industry espousing “five easy steps” or “the quick and simple solution” to everlasting happiness. We are also inundated by massive marketing campaigns encouraging people that happiness can be achieved through purchasing the right house, car, clothing, technological gear, etc. But the data is clear, despite experiencing ample wealth, opportunity, and advantage, American’s report lower levels of positive emotion than citizens of other less developed, wealthy, and powerful nations. In fact, the United States ranks a dismal No. 33 on a list of “happiest” countries (Clifton, 2012).
Well-Being as Opposed to Happiness –
What the psychological community has tried to address over the past several decades is that happiness is an ongoing process and a skill to be practiced. At the present time, Dr. Martin Seligman, esteemed researcher, professor, and founder of the positive psychology movement, is currently leading the field to a more nuanced and practical understanding of what it means to be “happy”. With his recent publication: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (2011), Dr. Seligman outlines what he believes it means to be happy. However, the word “happiness” is importantly not utilized, instead in its place is the term “well-being.” Seligman argues that although positive emotions such as “happiness” are a part of the human experience, our search to feel content is better explained as a process of searching for overarching “well-being.” Over the next several weeks, this blog will be updated with a post exploring each of the five elements Seligman believes contribute to well-being. These include:
(1). Positive Emotion
(4). Meaning and Purpose
Here at Equanimity Partners, Inc. we work to incorporate such important aspects into our own lives and we will be taking the next five weeks to practice the same skills that we discuss with clients. Therefore, each blog post will discuss one of Dr. Seligman’s elements of well-being and will offer some practice exercises to help you explore the elements in greater depth. We hope you will follow along with our blog posts and take this “well-being” challenge with us.
– The Equanimity Partners Staff