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Learning to be happy

Posted Aug 27 2008 10:11pm

Harrison Ford“Being happy is something you have to learn.” Harrison Ford

Ford certainly has known plenty of unhappiness. He was shy as a child, bullied at school for not “fitting in.”

According to Laura Silva Quesada, in her article A reminder from Indiana Jones, “Every day, they’d tease the future Indiana Jones, beat him, and roll him down a hill… Though furious inside (an anger he would hold onto for years), he kept up a ‘Gandhi-like’ policy of non-violence — not fighting back and enraging his tormentors even more.”

Later on, he “studied English in college, and hated it. It was soon afterwards that he started showing symptoms of depression — he’d sleep for days on end, finding it more and more difficult to raise himself.

“Once, he remembers, he awoke after a 3-day ‘nap’ and decided to attend a class. When he got to the classroom and was unable to turn the classroom door handle, he turned around and went right back to bed.”

She goes on to quote Ford: “You have to experience the darkness before the dawn can come. It’s about positivity despite everything crashing down on you.”

But is Ford right, that happiness is something we learn? It is, of course, a somewhat vague and ambiguous term. There are different perspectives on what it is.

A Yiddish word for happiness is “naches” - also translated as “joy.” That may be one sort of happiness, but it is a much more ephemeral experience.

Honu - green sea turtles - are considered Hawaiian symbols for long life and happiness, because they do live so long, and seem so serene.

And maybe serenity is really what happiness is about, not peak raptures and ecstasies.

The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt, PhD is author of the book The Happiness Hypothesis, with a cover featuring another seafaring animal, an unexpected elephant.

In a ShrinkRapRadio interview, Haidt notes the original title for his book - before being changed by the publisher - was “Twelve Great Truths: Insights into Mind and Heart from Ancient Cultures and Modern Psychology.”

He summarizes the happiness hypothesis he explores in the book as the concept that happiness “comes not from within, but from between. That is, happiness comes from getting the right kind of engagement: between yourself and others; yourself and your work; and yourself and something larger than yourself.”

That quote reminds me of a description of the emotional state of “flow” as described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

From my article Creativity and Flow Psychology.

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