Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?
No; let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and bless’d are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well comingled
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
HAMLET (Act III, Scene ii)
I sat at a Starbucks making small talk with a friend yesterday, we talked about the usual nothingness, then for no apparent reason I asked her "Are you happy?" She got stuck in her tracks. What did I mean? Physically? Socially? Sexually? Financially? Professionally? Economically? Ergonomically?
When you tie all these elements together they are all connected to the same simple core root cause and effect, which is were her achievements greater than her expectations ?
I asked her, "We have known each other through good times and bad, when we were out of work, struggling to make payments and when fortune smiled on us and we were rolling in cash. But tell me honestly, today, as we are successful, healthy and have all our faculties, are you happier today than when you were struggling to get here". She smiled. "Of course I am happier now".
But as the converstion went on, it became clearer that happiness is not the opposite of struggle. Being easy is the opposite of struggle. The opposite of happiness is sadness. But when we are struggling to make ends meet, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we are too hell bent for leather to achieve a goal, to realise a stated purpose. And even though the struggle is hard, when we get out of such a bind, are those not the most satisfying moments of our lives?
When we accept both fortune and misfortune with the same openess, we are no longer slaves of passion, or caught up in the whim of luck and chance. When we attach our sense of identity and self worth to either our good times and our bad times, then we are like ships in a storm, out of control, liable to sink in the ocean of our own desire.
Being intense is not the same as worrying about something. We can focus intensely on something far more easily when we are confident and calm, than when we worry. Because when we worry, we are distracted, our energy is dissipates without meaningful cause.
Professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has done more in this space than any psychologist I know. His work on Flow is pioneering, both for its simplicity and also how it gets to the heart of the question of happiness. I don't often make recommendations for books to read because so much of what is out there is reguritated crap. And in six years of bloggin this is the first for me. But i would highly recommend (if you have not already) that you purchase and keep reading and re-reading, Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, or any of Mihaly's subsequent works on the same topic. https://www.amazon.com/Flow-The-Psychology-Optimal-Experience/dp/0060920432
In a nutshell, what Czik discovered through his research was that our sense of fulfiment, what in sports they call being "in the zone" or in music "in the groove", or in art "in rapture" or in mystic spiritualism "in divine grace"... these moments of optimal experience arise when we are fully engaged, when the challenge in our environement matches our capacity.
When our capacity or readiness (converted potential) is too low, we feel overwhelmed and when the challenge is too easy, we feel bored and distracted. Flow sits in the convergence of arousal and control, it contains the essence of both anxiety and relaxation. It is neither of these, but above both of them.
Thus we are happiest when we struggle to achieve meaningful goals. It really is a simple as that. The difficult thing is figuring out what those goals might be and willingness to put up with the suffering, not for sufferings sake, but the suffering that is at the root of our happiness.