Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An ellusive concept

My current supervisor calls me "Sunshine" because I am always bright and chipper on the phone.  I remember a day in college when I was in a particularly bad mood, and nearly everyone I knew kept coming up to me asking what was wrong, acting as if my bad mood was a personal affront to them somehow.  I reasoned their reaction to mean that they always saw me as happy, and why the hell was Ms. Happy NOT happy today?  No one seemed to accept the fact that I was just in a rotten mood for no particular reason.  (My family now realizes this occurrence as commonplace, which, I fear, means I may be turning into a grouchy old woman... who knows..)

Happiness seems a confusing emotion.  When I ask my 7th grade students how they felt after something good happened, and they reply they felt "happy", I immediately tell them to choose another word.  Happy is one of those "old, tired" words we English teachers want our students to avoid.  It is worn out and not very descriptive when you are using it to describe an event.  Elated, or joyful, excited or exhilarated are so much more colorful, don't you agree??  We see "happy" as the elementary word, and we want our growing kids to expand their vocabularies.

If you ask an adult, however, if they are Happy, well, you begin to see the weight of that question almost overtake them physically.  What IS Happy?  How do we define it?  The same word uttered so easily by my 4 year old leaves me in a quandary.  Am. I. Happy?

Is happiness the same as contentment? Maybe.  Am I content?  No, not really. Content means complacency, at least to me, and there is more I want: more security in my life, I want a house with a roof that doesn't leak, I want a job that pays better.. so NO, I am not content, at least not in those terms.

Is happiness the same as fulfillment?  Maybe.. I have a great family whom I adore, and on good days, I can say my day job gives me a sense of fulfillment.  My writing fills me up, my photography gives back to me, so I suppose if you can say happiness equals emotional fulfillment, then yes, I would say I'm happy.

It seemed like an easy subject when I first saw it:  write about happiness.  But I'm not Webster, and this was not an easy thing to define, let alone write about.

So.. how about you?  How do you define HAPPINESS?  Do you dare to answer the question... Are You Happy?


TKW said...

Maybe it's the English teacher in me, but I dislike the word "happy" also. I agree that it's sort of been castrated by over-use.

Funny, people always think I'm chipper...I think maybe I just use the smile to hide behind.

Rudri said...

The things you mention, writing and being with family, those things give me happiness too. I think there are times that I am happy, but I am hit with moments of other feelings too. It is a constant shift in my mind, the end goal, trying to get to happiness. And yes, it can be elusive.

By the way, I love the nickname Sunshine.

SoccerMom said...

After reading all of these posts about happiness, 1) mine was a little outside the box, but 2) I think that the big problem is that people cant just be content with what they have. They are always searching for something to make them happier.

C (Kid Things) said...

Happiness is fleeting. It is not a constant. Which is why we are forever searching for it. Because once we've found a moment of it, we want more.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

As a former high school teacher, I hear you on the "old, tired" words. I think that happiness is becoming one; it's sort of the hot self-help quantity right now, isn't it? I've come to think of happiness as being in the flow, feeling at ease. Not necessarily laughing with joy, but lacking want and being satisfied with where I am. I also think that happiness can be attained, but, as C @ Kid Things mentioned, it's hard not to keep wanting more once we've got some.

Kelly said...

After reading 30+ posts on happiness, I dare not define it! I feel more comfortable describing it, giving a voice to it, but not attempting to sum it up.

What I will say is that I've become more comfortable with the word happy as I mature. Where it used to seem simple, it is now one of the most complex words in my vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the word happy has become very hard to define and a bit overplayed. Kind of like the word, "nice".

And yes, after reading all these posts I see that everyone's perspective on the word is different. There's just no way to define it for everyone. So we just need to find our OWN definition and make it work for us! In little things. Little moments.

Jen said...

Isn't it amazing that a word that is so ubiquitous in our vocabulary is so difficult to define? I think it's because happiness DOES mean different things to different people. To me, it means feeling at ease. Noticing something for the first time. Getting out of my head and into the world. Appreciating what is within me and around me. For now.