Jeffosophy: a collection of possibly useful things I have learned over the years.



Happiness is overrated - cartoon by Jeffrey

Happiness Is Overrated

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Are you happy? It certainly seems you should be, what with all of the blog posts, magazine articles, workshops and other media listing things you should do to be happier . However, did you know that this movement towards happiness is misguided, absurd and potentially dangerous? Indeed, the obsessive pursuit towards happiness is all too likely to leave you... dare I say it? ... unhappy.

What's wrong with the pursuit of happiness? Three things.

Thing One: You Need to Embrace All Emotions

If you become too obsessive in your quest to become happier, there is a danger that you reject other feelings you have. If you feel anger or sadness or anxiety, you may reject them because they get in the way of your pursuit of happiness. In fact, it is okay to be angry. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to be anxious. It is okay to be unhappy. Really. Accept and embrace all of your feelings. Doing so will not only make you a more emotionally balanced person, but will allow you to enjoy happiness more when you experience it.

Moreover, it is impossible to be happy all the time. You need to experience unhappiness, anger, confusion and other non-happy emotions regularly in order to appreciate happiness when it comes. If you felt nothing but happiness, you'd soon feel something new: boredom. You need emotional balance.

Thing Two: Danger of Contentment

Feeling happy contentment with their lives does not motivate people to launch innovative new businesses, create charities to save the world or climb unclimbable mountains. On the other hand, restless dissatisfaction seems to be a motivator for many entrepreneurs. Anger is a proven motivator for achievement.

And here's a personal story. My father was born on a farm in Strawberry Point, Iowa - a tiny town with a surprisingly large number of mostly unrelated Baumgartners living there. His mother wanted him to stay in the town and eventually take over the family farm, an idea that my father was far less excited about.. Although he loved his mother, he did not like farming and had no desire to spend the rest of his life in a small town. He had a knack for numbers and problem solving. So, he studied hard at school, attained scholarships to attend university and worked throughout university to cover his living costs. He went on to become an engineer and rose up through the ranks of the multinational that employed him. He worked abroad, travelled widely and enjoyed his career. His ability was likewise acknowledged by his employer who promoted him up the corporate ladder. As a result, my father  provided a comfortable, international life for his family. As an added bonus, I discovered I loved international living, thanks to my father.

Had my father been happy and content working the family farm, his life and mine would have been very different. In fact, he met my mother at university. So, if my father had been content working the family farm, he'd probably not have been to University, I would not exist and you would not be reading this! A tragedy for all of us!

Thing Three: The Beauty of All Emotions

Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni occasionally moves me to tears (in part because it brings to mind a personal tragedy). It is also one of the most beautiful pieces of music I know, one I can listen to again and again. Shakespeare's King Lear is one of his greatest plays. Yet, it is a tremendously depressing work. When I am depressed, I often draw or paint. These works are among my best. Apparently, I am not alone in being occasionally inspired by sadness.

Sadness, anger, jealousy and other non-happy emotions can inspire great music, literature and art. Likewise, great music, literature and art can inspire emotions of sadness, anger and jealousy. That's not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. There is beauty in all emotions.

Conclusion: The Road to Happiness Passes a Lot of Unhappiness

If you can learn to accept and embrace all of your emotions; if you can be motivated by your negative emotions to do great things; if you can appreciate the beauty of non-happy emotions, then you can expect to lead a more balanced life; a life in which you are not merely happy, but a rich life in which you accomplish things, experience anger, sadness, frustration, jealousy, desire, confusion, love and, of course, happiness.


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