Primary Emotions Series: How Happy Got Away

Most people aren’t seeking help for too much happiness. Unlike all the other emotions that are typically regarded as “negative,” this one seems to be in a class all its own. In fact, the benchmark or goal of therapy is oftentimes some sort of happiness or contentment. It is so in demand that at some point, everyone of us have bartered for it: what I wouldn’t give for a little piece of happiness.

Is it because happiness is in short supply? Were we born into a world with the scale of joy already tipped towards misery? For some, it seems as if we were born with the predisposition towards gloom. Perhaps it was pre-ordained into our DNA to perceive the world with the broken lenses and maybe there are a few missing serotonin receptors here and there. And yet there seem to be people whose baseline remains upbeat and undeterred by the provocations of life. We look so longingly at them, wonder what is the secret?

Interestingly, studies seem to suggest that the happiest people in the world aren’t those whose every desire have been fulfilled. You see, even people who win the lottery and get everything their little heart desires, will return to their baseline. We cannot be happy forever, we were not designed to feel these emotions indefinitely–just like other emotions–imagine how exhausting it would be.

The constant quest for happiness or even the belief that we are incomplete unless we are happy can cause existential anxiety and discontent with our lives. This is a paradox: the search for happiness may in fact make it more elusive. So what then, shall we sit and wait? Eastern philosophy teaches us something about the art of happiness–instead of seeking directly, we lure happiness with appreciation of the present (pun fully intended). Mindfulness is a skill that is used in meditation and recent studies confirm its effectiveness in therapy to increase feelings of well-being. Even more, there’s evidence that meditation can slow down cellular aging via telomeres (implicated in aging) by reducing cognitive stress.

How have we gone from happiness to the fountain of youth? It isn’t so surprising is it? After all, laughter is apparently still the best medicine but meditation is not far behind. Even if we were born with penchant for tragedy, nature has very graciously given us the mechanism to remedy it.