Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Happiness is only temporary – being content is the way.

This is the extended January 2015 column from the York Press.


Happiness is only temporary – being content is the way

Two topics came to mind for this New Year column.
  1. Happiness
  2. Procrastination.
Given the nature of procrastination, I will defer that subject until next month and write about happiness.

Most of us have spent the past few weeks wishing a Happy Christmas and Happy New Year to friends, family and people we have met randomly.

The sentiment is genuine, but what do we really mean by ‘happy’? Each of us will feel happy for different reasons. We can be suckers for the advertiser’s dream of happiness. Sooner or later, what can follow from a purchase is disappointment, a dashing of expectations.  If we base our happiness solely on material gain, the outcome often wears off quite quickly. There lies one of the roots of addiction too.

In a positive thinking list I read recently, it stated. “Life is meant to be easy, beautiful and overflowing with moments of joy and bliss.”  The latter sentiment I’ll agree with, but certainly not with the former.  Life is hard at times, that’s normal. A problem highlighted by head teachers is that too many children are being over protected by well-meaning parents. One day, life will be hard for them and if the child is ill prepared, it’s going to come as a shock and difficult to manage. Over protection isn’t a good idea and nor is always rewarding difficulties. I’ve known adults unable to manage day to day living, due to expecting rewards when difficulties arise.

This is the list I have mentioned. Some helpful, some not so. Make up your own mind.


A true sense of achievement comes when a task or experience has been hard and challenging. Otherwise how do we learn? 

I prefer the word ‘contentment’ to ‘happy’. It’s a deeper experience. Happiness isn’t a constant state, it can’t possibly be. A minute, hour or day, but rarely longer. So often we can miss those moments too, not realising how special they were at the time.

"I just want to be happy". That statement must be one of the most commonly heard by therapists and doctors. Anti-depressants can be known by a most unfortunate and incorrect label, 'happy pills'. 'Happy pills'? Not working in many cases, are they?

Problems can arise if when we are presented with difficulties and either,

a) believe that the past can be changed, which is impossible. People remain unhappy, while continuing to chase an impossible fantasy.

b) believe that someone else or something else will make us happy. When this doesn't happen, we don’t look at ourselves for a solution, but blame others.

For simple moments of happiness, I like counting blessings and enjoying simple pleasures, especially the ones provided by nature. I also think that happiness is so often a bittersweet experience. As a woman once said to me, "It's like childbirth. A great deal of happiness, but a whole lot of pain too.”

I wish you a well-balanced 2015.

While this column had been written around Christmas time, I heard AL Kennedy talking about the subject, more eloquently on Radio 4 in the New Year.