On Happiness

The other day, I read this passage on Pinterest (where else?), and it has stuck with me…

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life

I really love that. Honestly, what a relief.

P.S. Busted. Twice.

  1. Oh my gosh, YES. This week a fire broke out in my house while I was at work. It’s been…surreal. And I’ve felt this pressure to “get over it”, “it’s not that bad! no one was hurt! it didn’t burn to the ground!”. But I’m sad. Life is not one dimensional; this post gets to the heart of that. Thank you so much. Helped me a lot today (having a sad day about the fire. Gah!)

  2. I don’t disagree with what the author is saying, however, Joanna, your “busted” posts are not what she is talking about! There is a SUPREME difference between gratefulness and happiness. Focusing on being grateful is a spiritual exercise that helps us process difficult things. It is not the same thing as blindly trying to be “happy” when life calls for another emotion. Gratefulness can permeate every hardship, even when you are in the midst of a crushing trial.

  3. So glad I read this blog! So true.

  4. I’m generally quite a happy person, but like everyone, there are days when I just can’t be bothered. Or when I feel really low. And on those days, I always try to think: ‘it doesn’t matter: today is a sad today. And maybe it will be a sad, unmotivated week. But at some point, it will pass.’
    And then I feel like it doesn’t MATTER so much. I don’t start to panic that I’m slipping into some sort of spiral of depression. I just think, oh well.

  5. This was a great post at just the right moment

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I suffered from depression and anxiety a couple of years ago, and I wouldn’t have been who I am today without having gone through a struggle like that. Being happy is great, yes, but knowing that I have come out on the other side of a serious ilness is a constant reminder of what a strong person I actually am.

  7. Gosh Jo, you always find ways to my mind and heart. Thank you for sharing and god bless who wrote this. Your blog is a huge influence on mine and how you cover so many subjects not too much not too little but just enough to make us spark. You let us carry our own fire while you share your own light. Thank you! I’ll share my blog when it’s up and running. :)

  8. There’s something about the idea that happy is “right” and unhappy is “wrong” that has always bothered me. I so wish I had the source for the following quote; all I know is I read it in an article on French culture a year or so ago and I loved it so much that I put it in my phone as a note to remind myself that perspective is everything.

    “Unhappiness, after all, often implies the desire for change – in circumstances or even oneself – and so dissatisfaction with life despite its material benefits suggests a kind of idealism – of intellectual vision of possibilities beyond the actual…”

    I’m not unhappy. I’m just too idealistic, which really isn’t so bad.

  9. Oh, there is a tremendous difference between being grateful and placing too much importance on happiness/fun/pleasure. You’re not busted at all. :)

    I think if we (as a society) were more thoughtfully grateful, we would be a lot closer to being whole. xox

  10. I really enjoyed your post and totally agree that it is wise to seek wholeness. I believe it would help us to compassionately embrace all of life – with its twists and turns. To enter into sadness, despair and disappointment and validate what our longings are and celebrate them. When we get to the longings of our heart we can think of what we can do to bring those longings and values to fruition in our life.

    I do think it is helpful to think of what we are grateful for because in doing so we are reminded of what is good in our life and inspired to bring more of it into our lives. We can also include our tough days in our gratitudes because we may be grateful that we are going to learn something or increase our capacity to be patient, etc.

    Just some thoughts…

  11. Spot on! Right up there with the notion that while having children might not make you happy, it gives you joy, which is a little bit different. As your first comment, said, cultivating gratitude is good practice for wholeness too!

  12. Yes! The whole you have to be happy all the time thing is so annoying! Haha- exactly the opposite of the goal. Achieving big things aften means long periods of hard work. I think of happiness as “a dog laying in the sun.” Not sure where I heard that quote but it shows you don’t really want to just relax and be happy every second.

  13. So true. Although, I would say, more than wholeness, accept that sometimes you will also be broken, and sometimes you will be angry, and sometimes you will be sad, and that doesn’t mean that you are failing at life or that you are a bad person and need to just “get over it.” I am so tired of the “hurry up; move on; think positive.” Allow people to be where they are. Allow yourself to be where you are.

  14. While I think that there is a great significance and power to gratitude, I also think that our sadness and suffering is very refining. It shapes us, and we learn and grow from it. Trying to be happy can shift our focus (sometimes unhealthily. Avoidant maybe?)from hard times, but even more so, I think who we are in the face of difficult things leads to a feeling of wholeness more than trying to pretend those difficult things aren’t there. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. Agreed! What a nice post, Joanna. Thank you.

  16. This is so nice to hear. I completely agree with it and hope I can remember it through future ups and downs. Thank you so much for sharing.

    P.S. You look so beautiful in that photo.

  17. My mother gets really, really mad when adults tell children to “stop crying.” And I think her rationale is aligned with this quote. Essentially, yes, falling down or being told no, or being scared by something is upsetting. And it’s OK to be upset and I’m sorry to see you upset. Yes, come have a hug and let me comfort you. She thinks kids should be allowed to have their reactions and be offered comfort, rather than told that their reaction is wrong or that they should stop. Anyway, the same is obviously true for adults.

  18. I’m no stranger to sadness, so I’ve never been afraid of it. Of course, it would never occur to me that other people might have this fear. What a genius way of thinking of life, “wholeness”.

  19. I’m excited to share this with my boyfriend.. he feels guilty for any emotion that isn’t bliss. What a relief is right Joanna, thank you!


  20. So timely in this world of Instagramic perfection.

    One of my friends begged me to do the “100 Happy Days” challenge and soon after I began I realized that some days just aren’t good days. And sometimes I don’t want to share those few precious “happy” moments each day with the world.

    I like the idea of wholeness and wrote about something similar, that it’s okay to own those bad days, that they make the good ones that much more special. Like twinkling stars set against a darkened sky.

    The Shaded Acorn

  21. I love this!

  22. Also Joanna, if you are not familiar with the work of Brene Brown, you must pick up “Daring Greatly.” She has done a lot of research about vulnerability, shame, and living “whole heartedly.” It’s a must read!

  23. I think this touches on the idea of accepting where you are emotionally. I am prone to mood swings, and I find that if I’m experiencing something intense, if I acknowledge the feeling without judgement, stare it in the face, it dissipates much more quickly than if I try to push it away. Wishing for happiness doesn’t make you happy.

  24. Joanna, I am with you 100%. I hate being sad, like I am right now, and I keep trying to quash it. But I know I just have to let it happen, and then it will stop one day once it has run its course.

    Thanks for this wonderful post.

  25. Love this and you are so right. Wholeness. People often mistake ‘happiness’ for ‘joy.’ JOY comes from the word ‘rejoice’ which is to find great delight in – finding delight in life is different from being ‘happy.’ It’s about gratitude! We should always have joy in our hearts, but we aren’t always going to be happy. Thanks for sharing this and getting my mind thinking this morning!

  26. Such a good reminder, thanks Joanna! I think our society does put so much pressure on us to never be sad and if we are, there’s something wrong with us. All emotions are good and I need to remember that :)

  27. ND says...

    This definitely resonates, though I agree with Meagan’s comment that thinking of three good things from the day helps cultivate gratitude. I think focusing on the positive is important.

    The quote also reminds me of a concept from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project that I liked — “happiness isn’t always about being happy.” For me that meant that sometimes on the way to reach happiness we have to be sad, or stressed, etc. and that’s okay. We don’t need to feel bad if we aren’t happy at all times.

  28. Oh wow.
    I had no idea I needed to read that just now.
    Thank you, sweet Joanna.

  29. Oh wow.
    I had no idea I needed to read that just now.
    Thank you, sweet Joanna.

  30. Oh! Also, here’s one more Brené Brown quote for good measure:

    “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”

    (made me think of your haters gonna hate gif)

  31. I really love this. I finally watched the Charlie Day commencement speech and he says something to the effect of, “Don’t strive to be happy, strive to be great.” It really stuck with me.

  32. There have been a lot of great comments here already about the difference between happiness and joy, which I think is a really important distinction to make.

    This quote is putting down the idea of seeking after happiness – and in our world of instant gratification, pain-numbing and the glorification of the individual, the pursuit of happiness above all else definitely begs questioning. What I think can be dangerous, though, is the idea that we shouldn’t be grateful, shouldn’t seek out the good things in our lives and recognize them. Practicing gratitude can lead us to a deep-rooted joy that exists beyond our circumstances, and which is so very different from happiness.

    One of my favorite authors/speakers/researchers, Brené Brown, talks a lot about joy in her books (Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection) and what long-term power it can really have to transform our lives. Here’s a quote:

    “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience — ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”

    This is from a really short piece that talks about the link between vulnerability and joy. You can find the rest of it here:

    I really really recommend reading her books (Daring Greatly is probably my favorite). They’re a little bit like self-help books for the skeptical, academic mind :).

  33. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joanna! And also, cheers to honesty of linking to past posts on gratitude listing (which of course is a useful exercise, sometimes).

    This post made me think again about what I order my life towards and how I look at myself throughout each day. And sometimes being sad is just so much truer than being happy. We have access to a whole range of emotions–why miss out on the others through the pursuit of “happiness”? And what does that really, truly mean? (I.e., maybe it doesn’t mean feeling happy all the time…)

  34. “Contributing to your wholeness” – a lovely thought :)

  35. Yes! To the poster who referenced Louis C.K.’s statement about kids and cell phones. Its SO fantastic and SUCH a relief.

  36. Growing up, my dad constantly told my sister and I that happiness is a choice. We wanted a bit more sympathy back then, but now as an adult, I finally get what he meant. There are always going to be things going on that aren’t perfect in your life, but you just have to choose to be happy.

  37. I’m guessing what the author is really getting at is that sort of empty hollow happy you see people pretend to be and may sometimes feel pressure to be yourself. And I totally agree that not accepting and respecting the whole range of human emotions is dangerous. People thesedays think they shouldn’t cry or fall apart at funerals or that others will respect them more if they ‘pull themselves together’ even though they might feel like falling apart for a little while. It’s really odd and unhealthy that people even seem to think that medicalising emotions in the first instance in the case of teenagers being very angry or someone feeling sad is the most appropriate way forward. It might be sometimes of course but there is always a reason someone is angry or sad or whatever. Always. Maybe the healthiest way forward would be some proper emotional support not some idiot telling someone who has lost their home, partner, dog, child, or been attacked or in an accident to just be happy! Feeling something like anger first is surely on the route to being happy. Feeling powerless, like a victim, like you can’t even say how you really feel because you’ll upset someone etc. is moving in the opposite direction. Why is being a real whole wonderful sometimes vulnerable human so wrong? Oh yeah, it’s not perfect! But thing is nothing is and nobody is so maybe we’d be better off accepting that. I had better be quiet now! x

  38. I totally agree with this. It is entirely ok to be sad sometimes. Life is sad sometimes. I get sooooo tired of the whole happy all the time mentality. It is not natural to be mindlessly happy all the time.

  39. I love the concept of striving towards wholeness. Yes we want to live happily, but we don’t experience bliss or happiness every minute of our lives, we go through many more emotions that make up who we are. Overcoming sadness and frustration makes us human, it’s how we overcome and face these obstacles that lead to our happiness and balanced life. Thanks for sharing this, I’ll be keeping this passage close too!

  40. Joanna, great subject matter! I grew up as an expat child, with parents from Asia and am now have settled down in Canada… so I’ve got a worldview perspective on happiness. I honestly think that a large reason why so many people go through depression and other mental illnesses in N. America (as opposed to other parts of the world) is because ‘happiness’ and ‘the individual’ are a huge emphasis in N. American culture. The author is bang on about that ‘pursuit of happiness.’ This simply doesn’t exist in the east and, in many parts of the world, people would just find that goal so bizarre. In the east, there is a bigger focus on Honour and family. There is less stress on the individual.

    I love Khalil Gibran’s quote: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” It has been my experience in life that those who have gone through very difficult and sometimes truly awful experiences and persevered/chosen to survive are some of the happiest people out there. I also believe that true individual happiness actually comes from being sacrificial, i.e. using our individual talent/ability to help another human being. And that is the mystery of life to me and how I choose to approach my marriage, my friendships and any soul I believe God is bringing into my life, on purpose.

  41. Everyone has bad days. No one will be consistently happy throughout their life, that’s a given. But if we don’t strive to be happy – to right our wrong – or correct our sadness, how will that ever benefit our wholeness?

    What’s wrong with the pursuit of happiness? Happiness can come in the form of being with your loved ones, seeing those you care about taken care of. It could be in helping others or in working hard and being successful.

    If we don’t strive for happiness what do we strive for? People can wollow in their sorrows, walk around thinking ‘poor me’…is that contributing to their wholeness? On the flip side, maybe the author is referring to a lack of empathy when people are sad and can’t bring themselves to smile.

    In conclusion, if you are having a bad day, perhaps it is, but don’t let this acceptance of sadness into your life mislead you to think you have a bad life. Accepting sadness can be just as dangerous as accepting happiness.

    Thought provoking post, Joanna. Thank you for sharing!


  42. You might like the book The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman (sp?) The basic premise is that our pursuit of happiness is what makes us so miserable. If we let go of the pursuit, we may find that happiness just happens sometimes. Thanks for continuing to address modern women’s mental health on your lovely blog.

  43. I have always felt this way and could not agree more. Realness wholeness is what it’s about not being infinitely happy, Seriously, what does it even mean?

  44. Great quote!

  45. In the same vein, happiness and exercises of gratitude are nothing to be ashamed of. How often do we see women attack eachother for being happy? A 24 year old see’s a classmate who is now married with kids and says “I’m glad my life isn’t over like that.” A 24 year old married mother see’s her classmate travelling the world and says “We all can’t be that irresponsible” The problem are these expectations we have for our emotions – which includes this “wholeness” concept.

  46. Last year I read this Atlantic article about Viktor Frankl, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy”: My husband and I figured out that he is a happiness seeker and I am a meaning seeker, which could have something to do with why I’m generally happier. It’s helped both of us; I am more empathetic toward him, and he is worried less about chasing the elusive dream of happy.

  47. I agree with the write down one thing you’re thankful for thing is overwhelming baloney,

    but I think there’s a bit of a semiotics issue with attacking the word happiness and the pursuit of it because even in a freshman course you learn that for the great old western philosophers, happiness and wholeness are one and the same, the search for self-actualization, the search for eudaimonia, contentment, instead of a fleeting rush of dopamine that a piece of chocolate offers.

  48. I also feel relieved… Wholeness is a very interesting concept. And if a bad day is contributing to my develop as a person… then I feel more optimistic. Trying to be happy all the time is so exhausting.

  49. Ohhhhhh, that quote makes such sense!

    Happiness seems to have become another thing for us to ‘do’, to crave and obsess over. The idea of wholeness is really comforting.

    Thanks for posting this, I love your blog. x

  50. This reminded me of this Louis CK quote:

    “And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

    And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

    And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

    The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.”

    Louis is my spirit animal…

  51. I can’t even tell you how much I agree with that quote. I feel like so much of the time we’re told that sadness is wrong. That we shouldn’t be sad, and we have no right to be. Even worse, we’re told that “happiness is a choice”, so if you’re sad (or depressed) that’s a choice you’ve made, and so it’s all your own fault. It’s such an awful, and in my opinion
    dangerous, lie to perpetuate. Sadness isn’t bad, it’s a normal human emotion and we all experience it. So why make it taboo? How can you say people should choose not to be sad/unhappy, but then turn around and say you wish more people were open/honest about mental illnesses like depression to help decrease the stigma?

  52. I really like that. I think we all have to learn to deal with disappointment, heartache, etc. and it’s learning to deal with these things that helps grow – and appreciate the “good things”.

  53. My husband is Italian and I sometimes find it very interesting how differently we act to the concept of death. I’m Korean and grew up in a rather Buddhist, Confucious family/society while he’s obviously Catholic. I’m not saying I like the concept of death or anything, but I find myself thinking about it as part of life, something that can happen and will happen when the time comes. But for the hubby, I can feel he’s a bit terrified, a completely different take. It was interesting how different we, as individual cultures ourselves, accept and understand such things like happiness, sadness and even death. Made me think, thanks :D

  54. jo says...

    i love this thought so much, and it reminded me of another quote along the same line,
    “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.” -Gordon B. Hinckley

  55. I love where this post is going. As someone who has experienced a lot of sadness and loss this past year I am constantly reminded that God does not waste our tears or our pain. Happiness is great but it does not cover the full depth or beauty of life. I do like your happy posts as well though:)

  56. This is so beautifully said. Thanks for sharing. It seems like we are scared of being sad and not only do we not know how to deal with it, but we also don’t want to deal with it. We don’t want to deal with our pain or anybody else’s pain – so when someone close to you dies, people are always looking for the “right words” to say when at times all that someone needs is a companion to be sad and cry with. The same way we need friends to laugh and enjoy the good times of life with. Hopefully we will want to strive towards wholeness. Being sad is part of being alive and that is a beautiful thing.

  57. I really needed to read this. Thank you so much!

  58. I’ve seen this quote before and thought how wonderful it is! Thanks for sharing it, a much needed reminder.

  59. I was just listening to a podcast about “having it all” and how flawed and totally dangerous that concept is. Thank you for sharing this. It totally fits in with my thoughts of the day.

  60. I like the idea of not feeling like a pariah because you get depressed, angry, etc, but I think he reason we’ve placed so much emphasis on happiness in our culture is because there’s so much fear mongering going on everywhere else. Terrorism, global warming, the failing economy…we have to actively remind ourselves of all the real reasons we have to be happy. I also think that happy people make happiness a priority and there’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know what, I’m not going to mope over (whatever it is today) because I choose to be happy instead.”

  61. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. It was a nice reminder that it really is OK to be sad occasionally…that’s part of life.

  62. So so true!! I’m all for Wholeness!! I really respect (on a side note “respect” is a lost concept these days), that this author had the ooomph to even go there. I feel as though nowadays we are all inundated with the same information over and over again, and it is not allowing us to be ourselves! It’s okay to be sad, mad, upset and/or have a bad day!

  63. The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness
    Some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    Who violently sweep your house
    Empty of its furniture.

    Still, treat each guest honourably.
    He may be clearing you out
    For some new delight

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    Meet them at the door laughing,
    And invite them in.

  64. One word. Jesus.
    You will still have sad or bad days – but you will never feel more whole than living a life with Him.

  65. Oh my word. This is so well said and such a real perspective. Thank you for such a welcome reminder of wholeness.

    xx Katie

  66. I don’t think you’re busted. Gratitude can be applied to sad situations too, and not in a Pollyanna way either. Gratitude for the wholeness they are contributing to, you know? You keep right on being grateful, Joanna!

  67. I find these posts or Pinterest items to be great reminders. The famous Zig Ziglar said (and I am paraphrasing here) that motivation is not permanent, just like you have to bathe and put deodorant on, you need to motivate yourself regularly too.

    I personally think looking for happiness and balance is setting oneself up for failure. I think finding and living with peace is a better goal and achievement. If you think about a seesaw going up and down balance is something that can be achieved when two items weighing the same amount at the same time can hold on … just for a second. So the “balance” we look for is near impossible. And when would we know if we achieved it. I think of happiness in the same way. I get great joys and pleasures from many different things all day long. Often during the day, there are low points and struggles. I believe coming to terms with what your are doing, where your priorities are (and how ever changing they are), finding PEACE with your day and choices brings greater GRATITUDE.

    And with that GRATITUDE creates a peaceful, joyful life.

    Thanks so much for the great reminders!

  68. I find these posts or Pinterest items to be great reminders. The famous Zig Ziglar said (and I am paraphrasing here) that motivation is not permanent, just like you have to bathe and put deodorant on, you need to motivate yourself regularly too.

    I personally think looking for happiness and balance is setting oneself up for failure. I think finding and living with peace is a better goal and achievement. If you think about a seesaw going up and down balance is something that can be achieved when two items weighing the same amount at the same time can hold on … just for a second. So the “balance” we look for is near impossible. And when would we know if we achieved it. I think of happiness in the same way. I get great joys and pleasures from many different things all day long. Often during the day, there are low points and struggles. I believe coming to terms with what your are doing, where your priorities are (and how ever changing they are), finding PEACE with your day and choices brings greater GRATITUDE.

    And with that GRATITUDE creates a peaceful, joyful life.

    Thanks so much for the great reminders!

  69. Thank you for this! I’ve been having a rough time lately because my father’s in the hospital and we’re trying to move him into assisted living (he’s not a fan of this), I’m not having much luck job hunting, and I’m moving halfway across the country in one month! This helps put things in perspective that it’s okay if I’m struggling right now – I’ll be stronger later and it’s contributing to my “wholeness.” You always have such beautiful posts!

  70. I really needed to hear this today…and for all days. Thank you for all your posts. You have helped me in more ways than one and I’m so grateful I can turn to you blog and find good sound advice.

    A devoted reader from Michigan.

  71. This is lovely. But, I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much for your other posts. There is nothing wrong or fake or forced about nudging yourself toward a grateful heart, taking time to notice what’s going well, celebrating the little things that can so easily get lost in the midst of frustrations and failures. I think both are great — cultivating joy and thanksgiving AND acknowledging and embracing the hard things that lead to a deeper wholeness. In some ways the two go hand in hand: because I realize this hard situation will shape me and make me more whole, I can accept it and embrace the present with a thankful heart.

  72. So true, thank you for posting. Reminds me of the verse: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:12. Its a healthy reminder for life as well as for relationships as it takes the pressure off the other person to make you happy. In life, we will be sad, we will be in need, we will not have things that are important to us, nothing is perfect and happiness is not the holy grail. Going through painful circumstances not only makes us more whole, it makes us more suitable to comfort others who are going through the same pain, as we can actually understand it.

  73. Beautifully said.

  74. Amen. I love this quote so much.

  75. wow – what an interesting though. i like the idea of wholeness. i always think it’s not possible for us to be always happy. it’s not human.

  76. I love this! “Wholeness” is such a great replacement for “happiness.”

    x Lily

  77. Wow. Thanks for finding and sharing this. I’m going to be revisiting this thought over the next few days for sure.

  78. Wow. Thanks for finding and sharing this. I’m going to be revisiting this thought over the next few days for sure.

  79. Did you ever imagine that by writing a daily blog you’d inspire people to think differently or be the catalyst that makes them look deeper within themselves? Well, you have. I enjoy your blog so much each day. And yes, wholeness, what a beautiful concept. I like being happy, too.

  80. I started a family tradition where when we get home from work we ask each other ‘what was crappy and what was happy?’ I think too often we focus on the negative, but when you’re forced to name one good thing that may have made you smile or laugh, as trivial as it may be, then it reminds us that it’s not all that bad. As for the passage you posted, I completely agree. What’s wrong with feeling sad? I’ve never understood America’s overwhelming need to be in a constant state of happiness. It’s an emotion, and we feel different emotions at different times. It’s what makes us human.

  81. I love this. So, so true. xox

  82. I love this and it especially resonates with me as a mom of an almost three year old. Not with respect to my own feelings, necessarily, but to his. I find so many adults do not respect children’s right to feel upset, sad, anxious, etc., and immediately try to squash the normalcy of those feelings. I understand that impulse, because it be hard to see your child struggle, but you also need to be so careful to also let them know that it’s OK to feel sad when mama goes to work, or when you can’t have the toy or the treat that you want.

    I once heard an adult say to a very small child, who was sobbing: “There’s no crying at the playground!” which sounded to me like some brutal metaphor for the un-lived life.

    I have to think that respecting and acknowledging those feelings in a child is the best way to help them through them. Anyway, just my two cents.

    Love your blog!

  83. the other day while on a long drive through the middle of nowhere with only one radio station, i chanced upon an interview with the author of a new book “Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”. He has looked into this very topic. It was very interesting! I really want to read it now.

    From Amazon:
    “Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty—the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid.”

  84. Well said.

  85. Wow, I just love this so much. I’ve always felt a strong reaction when people trying (often with good intentions) demand that I just “be happy!” …I think it’s not that easy for some! So much of life’s beauty comes from the deep feelings on both ends of the spectrum. Insisting on being “happy” means losing out on what’s gained from the harder stuff. Thanks so much for posting.

  86. Could not agree more! What’s even more sad is how many people think it can be “fixed” with a pill. Everything in life is cyclical; you just have to hang on!

  87. Yes, this is so true! People won’t even disagree anymore at the fear of being perceived as “perpetually negative,” you literally have to like and love everything all the time and as a women you must be this constantly cheerful person.

    This is not normal, if anything it can LEAD to depression and anxiety. I have this friend Dani, who talks to me on “the real” and let’s me share my thoughts without judgement. She also tells it like it is, everyone needs a friend like this. Love her…seriously. She even helped me come up with the courage to text this guy I like, he texted back but after I didn’t get a response from my second text and I was feeling shitty about myself she was totally there to help me get over it.

    This is BFF material here. :p

  88. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with this happiness state that we feel we should be in at all times. I fully agree with this statement. Life is full of many things, if you are lucky most of it will be happiness but that’s not the whole picture.

  89. I was always taught to seek joy, not happiness. Joy is something inner and a sense of peace that can’t be taken away from you. (I’m Christian, so I believe Jesus died so that we can have peace and joy.) Always seeking happiness is dangerous, it causes people to look in the moment instead of thinking of the long term effects! So I say, don’t seek happiness but joy and peace :)

  90. I totally agree with this! I don’t think “happiness” is a good goal all by itself. It’s too nebulous and different for everyone. Life goals should include hard work, competence, confidence, personal integrity, family, and maintaining love and selflessness in your relationships. I think happiness comes from these things and maintaining a good balance between them. It’s a result of achieving these goals, not a goal in and of itself and it’s not a constant feeling, but a reward.

  91. I have similar thoughts on happiness. My goal is contentment which probably overlaps wholeness to great defree.

  92. I like this…the pursuit of wholeness. It’s really all about balance. It’s okay to be sad, disappointed, frustrated – that’s life. It’s living.

    During the holidays, I decorate early and my husband always says to me, “I don’t think I can be happy for a whole month.” I smile and know exactly what he means, but I still decorate early.

  93. your timing could not have been better. today has been rather bumpy and that passage was the perfect thing. i am having a wholeness kind of day! :)

  94. Thank you for posting about this. The funny thing is that I often beat myself up for not being happier and that actually makes the whole thing worse. It’s definitely good to remind ourselves that it’s okay to let those other emotions come to the front as well. And that maybe letting yourself feel them will actually help them pass over you, instead of sinking in.

  95. Hugh’s book is brilliant Jo – I highly recommend EVERYONE reads it – it truly resonates.

  96. this is great! i would love for you to do a week long session on how to cultivate one’s wholeness..

  97. To me there is a big difference in focusing on things you are grateful for vs. things that make you happy. I think that cultivating gratitude leads to more feelings of satisfaction and peace, versus anxiety, stress and hopelessness, which is always a good thing.

  98. Knowing that it’s ok to not be happy all the time actually makes me happy… Thank you so much for sharing!

  99. After Maya Angelou’s death last week I heard one of her quotes, “My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry…” and that seems to speak volumes about what youre saying here.

  100. So perfect :) and we have to go through the sh*t to grow and to learn and to become who we are. How boring we would all be if we were all happy 24/7! Haha.

  101. Point well taken!

  102. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well’

  103. This really resonates with me – thanks so much for sharing. xo.

  104. Oh, I really like this! I felt pressure in my younger years to be a ‘happy go lucky person – the one that smiles through everything.’ I think I had those types of people in my life growing up and they were talked about so positively so I really tried to be ‘happy and wanted to be well-liked by all.’

    Fast forward a bit, come to find out I am someone that needs to let myself feel my different emotions. I am optimistic by nature, but I try to give myself the space to feel…not that it works all the time. My husband will be like, “you used to be such an optimist…what happened?” :)

  105. What a beautiful sentiment. We should all strive for wholeness and honesty. Happiness is a part of that, but no more important than disappointment, grief, and frustration. So important! Thank you!

    – Lindsay from Dearest Darling

  106. Bravo! It may not save the world, but maybe, just maybe, it will save someone’s day.

  107. Bravo! This perspective is spot on.

  108. I love this! So,etimes you think that no one out there has any new outlooks on life. This was new. I love wholeness. Its true and right. Thank you for sharing.

  109. My grandfather, an orthodox Christian priest, actually wrote a sermon on this years ago. Did you know the word happiness is not mentioned once in the bible (per original translations from Greek)? Many of the passages (happy are the meek, etc) actually say blessed.

  110. Yeah, the constant focus on being happy has definitely made me wonder if there’s something wrong with me, my relationships, etc. since I am not happy all the time. I didn’t see this particular quote (even though I’m on Pinterest all the time), but I’ve definitely seen similar in the past couple years. It’s unrealistic to be happy all the time… and I think I’m finally starting to understand that. I like to think of happiness as moments. It’s easy to have a happy moment even on the crappiest day. When I break it down into moments, it doesn’t seem so bad if I feel crappy overall. For a worrier (and pessimist) like me, it’s quite a relief since I don’t have that always sunny attitude that some seem to be born with.

  111. Hey Johanna! I’m a 14 year old girl who read that quote a couple months ago and actually wrote a paper on the idea. I presented it to a school for high school admission. If you’d like to read it, I’d love to share! So funny that we both saw the same quote.

  112. I love this!

    btw — is that Anton or baby Toby? If it’s Anton he looks JUST like a baby Toby. Just curious. :)

  113. If you like this concept, you should read more about Martin Seligman’s work in Positive Psychology. His new book “Flourish” is a fantastic read.

  114. I actually think that happiness is a disposition more than anything. I say this because my default position is to be happy – the reality of my life has little to do with that. Bad things happen to me, in fact more often than is normal – I have suffered third degree burns, severe migraines, broken my spine and sacrum, almost died from anaphylaxis all alone, and ow I am extremely sick with a life threatening disease, but i am happy despite it all. I feel sadness, of coarse I do, but without trying the silver lining always pulls through. I can be sad and happy at the same time, the sadness is fleeting.

  115. Instead of always striving for happiness I try for peace. To me, that makes more sense with the ups and downs of life. To be peaceful amidst uncertain or stressful circumstances is my goal (it’ll take a lifetime to get there!).

  116. Many people associate happiness with “being joyful”, leading to the belief that the pursuit of happiness is figuring out how to go about with a smile on your face all the time.
    There is actually a whole field of science (yes, science!) studying happiness, and indeed what they are after is a more wholesome concept called flourishing, which consists of 5 components, by the acronym of PERMA:
    – Positive Emotions: what makes you feel good
    – Engagement: doing what you love to do
    – Relationships: the people you spend time with
    – Meaning: what you believe in
    – Achievement: the things you win at
    If you’re curious, look at Tal Ben Shahar’s “happiness 101”. 10′ in, he makes exactly this point, that you have to let yourself be human

  117. I agree, I really love the idea of wholeness over extremes. Thanks for sharing this, it was very well put.

  118. Ha! Love your p.s. and its slight nod (perhaps unintentionally) to snarky comments about revisited content. You are the whole shebang and the honesty in your posts is spot-on.

  119. I love this. And I needed it–to hear that it’s okay that I’m not always happy. Having a rough day (or week, or month) doesn’t make me a worse person, and it’s all part of a full experience of life. Gotta remember that.

  120. I am in tears. Thank you so much. I needed to hear that today.

  121. I remember on Oprah’s Next Chapter a few years ago, Stephen Colbert said that joy is different from happiness. Happiness is overrated and can be really facile, and that he would much rather be sad with the people that he loves, because that’s real. Oprah said something about how “happiness” is an overused concept, that’s really vague, like when people say that they “just want to be happy when they grow up.”
    I thought that was such an interesting conversation and it has always stuck with me!

  122. Peace is what we should be striving for, not happiness. If we strive for happiness it’s a never ending race. We find it, we lose it, we chase it, and the cycle continues. Aim to be at peace with your happiness/unhappiness.

  123. One of my very favorite quotes (and one I turn to when I am feeling sad) is from Carl Jung:

    “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”

  124. This is beautiful. Thank you. I used to work with a Russian couple and they mocked us Americans for smiling all the time which they saw as part of this myth that everyone should be happy always. It’s a problem can actually encourage us to avoid difficult and stressful challenges. I work in a Climate Science Center and can tell you with certainty that our future is going to be hard in ways we are very ill-equipped to deal with. Day in and day out we need to be comfortable enough with that uncomfortable fact that we can stay motivated to do something. Because if we don’t then who?

  125. perfect timing! having a crap day.

  126. Wow, that’s so true.

  127. I agree. I’ve really struggled with this since moving to New York. Everyone thinks that we should be happy all the time because life is exciting! But that wasn’t our goal in moving. Our goal was to take steps to improve our life long term. We’re content in that, but that often doesn’t look “happy” at all. I’ve started to avoid even telling people the truth, because people seem to be so uncomfortable with the reality. Sometimes you can be in exactly the right place at the right time and life is still hard, and that’s okay.
    I do believe in writing down 3 things, but I like to do 3 things I’m grateful for. Gratitude is absolutely worth cultivating.

  128. Thank you so much, Joanna. Again, this is why you’re the only blog I still read. I could write a long long piece on the obsession with happiness in Western culture and its negative effects on the wholeness and richness of our lives.

    I often meditate on this passage from Khalil Gibran’s “On Pain”:

    And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
    daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
    less wondrous than your joy;

    And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
    even as you have always accepted the seasons that
    pass over your fields.

    And you would watch with serenity through the
    winters of your grief.

  129. I’ve long thought that happiness is a fallacy, the holy grail. I think about satisfaction, but I’m not really sure what that means, either.

  130. ::sigh:: After a long day at work, all I can say is yes. Yes to it all. This is perfect.


  131. Thank you! I think our society has a serious problem with acknowledging pain in terms of real life. Gratitude and positive perspective are good things to cultivate, but I think we emphasize too much avoiding struggle and minimizing others’ negative experiences.

  132. yes! loved that. thanks for sharing this. it’s really something to think about.

    happiness to so engrained with the ideas of money, health, family…we need a different perspective on life sometimes!

  133. *our birthright :)

  134. this message has meant more to me than you could ever know.

    thank you for being a constant inspiration – and contribution to my ‘wholeness’

  135. Thank you for posting this. I am so hard on myself about everything,this really put things in perspective for me. :)

  136. I like the wholeness idea a lot – and not fearing sadness so much. But I don’t like the dig on thinking of three things that made you happy that day. Usually people do that to cultivate gratitude, which is part of wholeness, no?