Hope for Happiness

Is there a “talent for happiness”?

And if there is, does it come from genes? Nurture? Willpower?

I came across the phrase today as I grappled with some of my usual Monday blues. Unfortunately, it was used in the context of describing two of my least favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan and Dubya. Yet, I had to admit – each had a positive disposition that resonated with voters and certainly stood them in good stead during tough times. (Bush, though, I would argue had more of a talent for arrogance that gave him that sunny view. Reagan seemed more sincere in his good vibrations, though Nancy said there was a certain inner wall, erected because of his father’s alcoholism and the family’s frequent moves during the Depression, that even she couldn’t penetrate.)

So, pondering the phrase, I wondered: Why don’t I have a talent for happiness? If it is a genetic trait, then I can blame my parents – again? And ditto if it’s nurture? But maybe it’s actually a choice, as many people have suggested. I came across that thought recently when I read about Michael J. Fox and his struggles with Parkinson’s (though I can’t find the source now), though it’s certainly not a new idea.

So if it’s a choice, why can’t I seem to choose it?

The Crisis has often set me thinking (ironically enough) about my though processes, how I react to life’s occurences both mundane and stressful. Too often, I have found myself wallowing in the negative (though I would argue I’m no pessimist, and I love to laugh and make others laugh). I don’t expect to be smiley-faced, buoyant, and bubbly every single day, but Jesus Christ, as many posts here have shown, I am down way more than I am up. No, that’s not true: I just write about the down more often, trying to figure out where I am at, how I can get to someplace better, and what I have to do to stay there.

I know a lot of this is fueled by the impending milestone birthday. And the frustrations with work, and moving, and not being the prize-winning writer I would like to be. I write, in part, because I want recognition, a pat on the back, whatever. I have gotten some of that, but not enough. I thought today, maybe I should start by giving myself some recognition, realizing all I have done as a writer, husband, friend, son, whatever, that has had some positive impact. I don’t deny there has been some. Just not enough for me to feel I have made a difference with my existence.

Some counsel, “More therapy!” And I appreciate that. I also know that after roughly 25 years of various forms of therapy, I am burnt out. Others suggest meds may be the answer. Maybe. Yet I resist that too, other than my occasional lorazepam. I think about a recent NYT magazine cover article about Jung and his personal journal, now being readied for publication. What I took away (was what I wanted to take away, of course) was that he, and some Jungians after him, don’t necessarily think people should be “cured” of their demons, but just acclimated to live with them, function in spite of them, rather than eradicating them. I like that, even if it’s not ultimately, objectively, “healthy.” Because I worry I might be less of a writer, or like myself less, without those demons. Of course, those with a talent for happiness would argue maybe I’d find just the opposite…

I know some of this is the Monday thing. The week goes on and things get better. Though the next Sunday’s anticipatory gloom for the Monday that will follow seems to come earlier each weekend.  I have to find the things that will make me happy. I have to explore who I really want be as the Crisis meanders on. Do I have a talent for happiness? Maybe, maybe not. But at this stage, a mere penchant for contentment would go a long way in making life a little easier.

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~ by mburgan on October 20, 2009.

6 Responses to “Hope for Happiness”

  1. I recently was helped out of my life-long depression (I’m pretty sure it started when I was 7, and didn’t really ever let up until about a year ago) by 2 years in therapy. Yeah, the therapy thing again, but while it was helpful to confront and deal with many of my issues, one of the biggest benefits was that my therapist taught me a lot about the inner landscape of moods, and many tricks and tools and strategies to help me walk a new path.

    I don’t think it is a talent so much as a habit. We can learn new paths/new habits, but it is a lot of work and it takes a while before we have enough of the new path/habit worn into our selves that we can find our way.

    One of the things that has helped me a ton is all the biking (commuting) I do. It took 2 hrs of exercise a day before I finally saw those oft-touted benefits of exercise, and I think it has as much to do with other aspects of biking as the endorphins themselves. Biking forces me to be in the moment, at least some of the time. Derails my negative thoughts, when they have me in their grip.

    Gardening helps. Yoga helps. Photography helps. Picking up poop at the sanctuary helps. Anything, in fact, that gets me in the moment helps.

    I think some people do have chemical issues in the brain and meds are pretty much required for that. But I don’t know if that’s you or not.

    If some of the stuff I said about it being a habit, and about being in the moment sounds interesting/reasonable to you, you might want to check out “the mindful way through depression.” It’s a book, and it has a CD of guided meditations to go along with it. it talks about some of what I mentioned.

    Might help. Might not. Might be worth a try just in case it could help!

    One of the most valuable things I got from therapy, from my therapist in particular, was the belief that I could be happy and free from depression. Took a long time before I trusted it, but it was worth it.

  2. Deb,

    Thanks for sharing that. It’s funny you mention mindfulness, as I’ve been trying to go back to the Buddhist teachings I’ve read over the years and put that into practice. It helps for a time, but the older habits die hard. I used to ride my bike a lot more in Chicago, and that was great, but since our move East I do less of it, because I have fewer places I can go on bike and my mental state makes me less motivated. For me, cooking helps. Writing helps, especially the new history blog, since that gets me beyond me and the Crisis.

    I will look for the book. And I am considering more therapy. I do believe I can become more content, if not deliriously happy (that would probably present its own problems…). But old habits die hard before the new ones take over. And I think the anxiety part of my psyche is really entrenched, though I am much better with it than I used to be. The depression – and I hate to call it that at times, since it’s not so mind-clutching as I imagine “real” depression is – is more recent. But something I have to address, if only for my wife’s sake, so I don’t drive her crazy.

  3. sorry charlie…not a genetic thing…therapy…well you can do it til your blue in the face, but if you are not open to the changes that a therapist might offer..you’re pretty much standing still.and of course finding the right therapist…meds…again, sometimes they are necessary…short term..until you learn to cope. the cooking is probably good, but i think physical activity is a much better outlet.

  4. Well, my case may not be genetic, but I think you could argue that chemical imbalances could be; don’t really know the science of it. And if there is a chemical imbalance, then yes, meds make a difference. I do the physical stuff I like–my bike–though probably not enough of it, I admit. And open to therapists–well, I have benefited from them in the past, that’s for sure. It just hasn’t been enough–yet. I am thinking of trying again.

  5. ah but you forgot to ask how I got so smart….LOL

  6. well…?

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