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Is Life Supposed To Be Happy?

A couple of months ago, my blog buddies and I had some discussions about happiness that were very interesting and thought provoking.  In fact, I’m still thinking about it.  Gretchen started the discussion during a book review on her blog, averageinsuburbia, when she asked the question, “Is life supposed to be happy?”  I wrote a responding post, and then Angela wrote a post on her blog, Mind Margins.  Angela asked another intriguing follow-up question: “What is happiness?”  I thought these would be great Query questions!

The overwhelming majority of interviewees said that life is definitely supposed to be happy.  But many people felt that “supposed to be” are (as my sister said) loaded words.  

What I found most interesting is how many people said that whether we are happy or not is up to us.  I think it’s important to keep in mind that, as with all the Queries, people are giving their answers off-the-cuff; they don’t have time to really delve into this complex issue and formulate a thought-out opinion.  What’s intriguing about that is how many people expressed both the opinions that, “Life is supposed to be happy,” and “We make our own happiness.”  

In other words, they believe it’s our responsibility to work toward being happy in life.  Happiness is meant for us, but we choose whether or not to pursue it.

Another notable theme is the opinion that happiness does not come from stuff.  Those who had quick and definite answers to “How do you define happiness?” most often referred to family, friends, accomplishment and companionship.  Contrariwise, it’s fascinating that so many of us believe that life should be happy, but we can’t put words to what it means to be happy.  We know we want to be happy – think we should be – but are not at all sure how to achieve it.  This answer stands out:

 It’s impossible to be happy, you always want more.  You’re never satisfied with what you have.

Is that it?  Are those of us who are struggling with happiness simply pursuing the wrong things?  Perhaps looking in the wrong places?

The bottom line is that the questions surrounding happiness and how to achieve it are too big to truly answer here.  We’ve written three posts and too many comments to count, and still we have only scratched the surface.  But I think that’s okay.  I think it’s good to keep talking, keep thinking, keep scratching.


Here is what some other people said:

Lynn:  Yes.  Because I think that even in a bad situation, you can get past it and turn around and be happy again.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Lynn:  I don’t know…cause I’m happy mostly all the time.  It’s very rare that I’m not happy.
—Michelle:  How do you manage to do that?
Lynn:  I don’t know.  I guess I just…
—Michelle:  Do you think that it’s just built in, to your personality?
Lynn:  No, cause I didn’t used to be like that.
—Michelle:  When did you start changing, to be like that?
Lynn:  Probably when I lost my brother, when he died.  Then I realized that life is way too short… and you just kinda gotta deal with it, get over, get past it and move on, but don’t let it always damper your moods.
—Michelle:  So now you’re mostly happy.  But you don’t know how you would define happiness?
Lynn:  I don’t know.
—Michelle:  But how do you know that you’re always happy?
Lynn:  I don’t know!
—Michelle:  Is it just a mood…
Lynn:  There’re things that will happen that will upset you, that maybe you’re unnerved about, but…it doesn’t make me not happy.  I’m maybe not happy with that situation, but as far as my spirits go, I’m still a happy person for the day.

Aleisha:  Yes.  Because if you’re not happy living your life, then what’s the point…of doing it.  You’re supposed to be happy, and if you’re not happy, you’re not gonna be around to enjoy it.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Aleisha:  Defining happiness…  I’m always an angry person; I’m trying to think…
—Michelle:  Are you an angry person?
Aleisha:  Yeah.  I’m the angriest creature, seriously.  Outside of work, I’m…I have my moments, yeah.  Seeing (my daughter) Malina makes me happy.  She’s the greatest thing, and that’s the only thing that honestly thrills me right now, just keeps me going and makes me want to be better, better myself.  That’s really sad, that I can’t define happiness.
—Michelle:  That’s okay; (Lynn) couldn’t, either.  Neither could I.

Jessica:  It’s supposed to be, but it’s not.  It’s impossible to be happy, you always want more.  You’re never satisfied with what you have.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Jessica:  I don’t know, just the way you feel.  But it doesn’t last.  You’re only happy for a certain amount of time.

Rebecca:  “Supposed to be”, those are loaded words.  That’s like saying, “should have,” or “would have,” or “could have”.  So, is life supposed to be?  I don’t think life is supposed to be anything.  It’s the person, and what they hammer out.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Rebecca: Steven Paige.  That’s my definition of happiness.

Steve:  Of course it is; it’s what you make of it.  I think life is what you make of it, so it’s much happier – or a better life – when you go through it being happy.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Steve:  Family.

Glo:  Of course!
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Glo:  Happiness…  That’s a hard question.  How do you define happiness?  For me, it’s contentment; it’s synonymous with contentment.

Sharon:  Yes.  That doesn’t mean it is.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Sharon:  Being content.
—Michelle:  That’s what Glo said.
Sharon:  Really?  That’s funny!
—Michelle:  But, when you say content…what makes you guys content?
Glo:  Achieving your goals.  Or if I make another person happy, I’m happy.
—Michelle:  I’m thinking that, for women, a lot of times, even if it’s not going necessarily right for you, if your family is being successful, then you feel good.
Sharon:  Right.
—Glo:  Happiness is being positive.  If you’re always thinking negative, then you’ll never be happy.  To achieve happiness, you have to have positive thinking.

Grandma:  Yes.  You make your own happiness, I think.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Grandma:  Feeling good.  Sometimes feeling great.

Doug: Yes.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Doug:  Day by day.

Ieisha:  No.  Because you have to…the whole point of life is to go through different trials and tribulations.
—Abena:  I think life is supposed to be happy.  But happy is a relative word. 
Ieisha:  If it was happy all the time, it would be boring.  You wouldn’t appreciate it.
—Abena:  You are supposed to find happiness in every situation.
Ieisha:  You wouldn’t know what it means to be happy if you didn’t go through things.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Abena:  Being at peace with yourself.
—Ieisha:  Finding things that make you smile. 

Tina:  Absolutely.  There’s no guarantee, but that’s the ultimate goal, right?
—Jessica:  No doubt about it.
Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
—Jessica:  I think my love for the sun, and my religion, which is wicca.  We worship the sun, and that’s where I find my happiness.
Tina:  I don’t know.  I don’t know the answer to that one, how do you define it.  It’s a level of elation, I guess.  Like right now, I’m happy, when everything falls into place the way it should, unexpected or expected.

Logan:  Yes, I think it should be happy.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Logan:  Just do things you love, be around the people you enjoy being around.

Michelle:  You make it as happy as you can.
—Me:  How do you define happiness?
Michelle:  Defining happiness is a snuggle with my daughter.  That’s what makes me happy.

Nadia:  Wow, that’s a hard question.  I think it…that’s a really hard question.  I mean, I guess you just assume that…  I think your goal in life is to be happy, but it’s not a requirement of life.  You’re not born, and you’re like, “Oh, my life is supposed to be happy.”  It’s what you make out of it.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Nadia:  Definitely not by material things.  It’s just what you’re content with.  Finally, when you’re satisfied with what you have and who you’re with, you should be happy.

I also had an opportunity to interview my nephew Peyton and a small group of his friends.

I’m always interested in what the younger set has to say, and I’m never disappointed.

Angel (16):  Yes, I think you’re supposed to make life as happy as can be with your own decisions in life.
—David (14):  I guess.  You can’t always be happy; life has its ups and downs.
Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
—Angel:  To have no regret in life, to never feel like you were unsuccessful in something.
David:  I’d have to agree, and to have a lot of people you can trust with you at all times.

Fez (14):  Yes.  Happiness is not only for the rich.  Happiness is for everyone.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Fez:  I guess it’s not really something to define.  It’s more feelings…like…happiness is something you can’t capture, but you know when you’re happy.  It’s not something that can be defined easily.

Joey (14):  Life should be happy; it’s not supposed to be happy.  I don’t define life as ‘you have to be happy to be fullfilled’.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Joey:  I can’t really define happiness, because people say that they’re happy, but I don’t think that they’ve truly felt happy.  I mean, they’ll feel like a little rush inside of them or something, but they’ve never been truly happy.  I don’t think you can be until you’re older, when things start working out for you, when you get your first good job and get married and stuff.

Chuck (14):  No.  It’s supposed to be miserable.
—Michelle:  Is this a serious answer?
Chuck:  Yes.
—Michelle:  Why is life supposed to be miserable?
Chuck:  Because that’s the world society made it.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Chuck:  I don’t know.

Caleb (13):  As long as you do good things…I don’t know, kinda like karma.  Do good things and good things will happen.
—Michelle:  But I mean, is it supposed to be happy?
Caleb:  It depends on the type of person.  If you’re just a bad person, like a thief, you know, somehow you’re going to end up in jail, and that’s not gonna be a happy time.  If you’re a do-gooder, you should have a great time.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Caleb: Homestyle cookin’!

Deion (15):  Yes.  Life is supposed to be happy; you’re supposed to be able to enjoy life while you live.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Deion:  Happiness is what you find inside of you.  You have to let happiness come out of you, so you can enjoy life.

Peyton (14):  I think it depends on whether or not you make the best of what is given to you.  I think you can be happy at certain points in your life.  But I think you can also be miserable.  And you can stay that way unless you get up and actually try to be happy.
—Michelle:  How do you define happiness?
Peyton:  I think happiness is the time you spend with family and friends.  You always feel better when you’re with family and friends, and you’re always active more and you’re always doing things with your family and friends.  And if you’re not, if you’re just alone – I could be here sitting on the computer doing nothing important and…
—Deion:  That’s what you’re doing now!
Peyton:  I’m with friends, though!

I’m still pondering some of the questions that came up in our earlier discussions about happiness, like “what does happiness really mean to me?”.  We touched on topics that I question, like finding happiness within ourselves, acceptance, settling, who I am vs who I was meant to be (and what does that even mean?).  If you’re interested, here are the links:

Items of Interest:

Who Said Life Was Supposed To Be Happy?  (averageinsuburbia)

Is Life Supposed To Be Happy (me)

To Be, Or Who I Was Meant to Be: That Is The Question (Mind Margins)

Baby, You Were Born to Be Something (Mind Margins)


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think we could start an entire blog on the topic of happiness (and I’m sure many have done so). It’s probably the topic of our lives!

    July 11, 2012
    • You know, you’re right, it probably is the topic of our lives. Even if we aren’t actively pursuing happiness, it is in one way or another a theme in our thoughts. Whether we realize it or not.

      July 11, 2012
  2. I agree, and I think there is a disconnect between what our culture tells us happiness is and what our hearts tell us. Perhaps it isn’t the right question, really. When you go through truly dark times in your life there isn’t much to “be happy” about. But if you are true to your inner being, authentic, moment -by- moment, one day you emerge and find that joy is sitting on your shoulder smiling at you. Also, of course, there are “top of the mountain” moments of happiness, and day to day contentment…..and then there are the moments stuck behind left-lane bandits…..LOL

    July 11, 2012
    • I think that’s one of the things, is that there are so many different kinds of happiness. There is the kind of happiness of relief and re-realizing that there actually is happiness in the world when you come out of a bad situation like you described. There is the aching, overwhelming kind of happiness when you look at someone you love – and even that kind of happiness feels different depending on whether you’re looking at your child or your parent, your spouse or your friend. There is the lightness of being, the simple happiness that you feel when you have a really great laugh with someone, when you’re having FUN! There is the happiness you feel when you accomplish a task, or just when you’ve put in a good day’s work. There is the happiness of pride when you see someone else accomplish something; there is happiness in seeing someone else achieve something they desire. There is the happiness in giving, in receiving.

      There is even a kind of happiness born of negativity – happiness in taking away from others, gossip, stomping on someone else’s feelings, seeing others fail, making others feel small. It is not a pure emotion, but it could be called happiness.

      Emotions are complicated, huh? That’s what I like about the Queries, it opens up a small window into a subject. We get to peek in and see a small bit of how other people think.

      July 11, 2012
  3. I’m glad you brought this up again because just this weekend I was reading a book about Christianity in America. The author spends a chapter talking about the God Within theology an example being Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Love, Pray. He feels this philosophy has seeped into our culture without us realizing we have bought into it and it is this source of the idea everyone is supposed to be happy.
    This got me thinking of ‘the purpose of life’. It seems now we are ingrained to think life is all about us. The “me generation” and all that stuff. I think previous generations didn’t have the luxury to worry if they were happy and the idea that people would sit around worrying about being happy would be crazy.
    Michelle, I wish I were you because I have a lot to say but don’t have the words! If you could only pop into my head and type it all out for me I would be grateful!
    By the way, I kinda agree with Caleb- happiness is good home cooking

    July 12, 2012
    • My answer to the first part of your comment was way too long, so I made a page for it: Click here. You can go read that if you want to see just how much I don’t know about my religion.

      Okay, part two – “we are ingrained to think that life is all about us.” and ” previous generations didn’t have the luxury to worry if they were happy”. I absolutely agree with you on both those points. I think “What Is The Purpose of Life?” is another good question, with only opinion for answers. I would be interested in seeing how people answer that one, and I think the results would be like this one. I think there would be a lot of similarity of ideas, but all viewed from a different perspective. Also, I think you would get a good idea of where that person is in their life – what’s on their mind and heart, what they may be worried about for their life – in how they answer that question. I may do that one after some time has passed.

      As far as the rest, I don’t know that I would be a big help to you there. That post about the Inner Harbor took me a month to put up, because I had mental pictures and feelings that I could not put words to. I have the words, but I simply could not make them come for that post. I have often had the same thought as you- if only I had a computer chip in my head that could read all these thoughts and feelings and express them for me – not only in a way that I mean, but in a way that other people would understand.

      Finally, those kids pretty much amazed me. There was some kidding and laughter, but they really had opinions. They said what first came to their mind, same as everyone, and it was brilliant. I was in blogging heaven!

      July 12, 2012
      • You know, I think I’m not getting notified about some of your posts. They NEVER show up in my reader and sometimes I don’t get email notification either. I didn’t see one about the inner harbor which I will have to look up because I want to go there so bad…
        Meanwhile, I am going to UNFOLLOW your blog, then tomorrow I am going to FOLLOW it again. Maybe that will correct the issue about me not getting notifications.

        July 14, 2012
        • I’ve seen a lot of people comment on other blogs that some bloggers they follow never show up on the reader. I rarely use the reader, mostly because I like being able to cherry pick through my emails. I can choose photo blogs or bloggers who write short posts when I just have a minute, or during lunch break. Every now and then it seems like I miss something, but not often.

          If I go back to the inner harbor, I’ll take more time. I wouldn’t mind doing the aquarium again, and I want to go one time and hit all the ships! If you decide to go, let me know and maybe we can say hi in person!

          July 14, 2012
      • I’m now reading a book about a woman in the mid 1800s in England-it is a true story- who was miserably unhappy with her marriage and her life in general and wrote a diary expounding on her yearning for a male friend. Her husband found the diary and divorced her and it was a huge scandal. So, there goes my theory that people years ago didn’t have the luxury to worry about being happy. She was very rich, however, so maybe she DID have the luxury.

        July 14, 2012
        • I keep seeing that book come up. Was it published this year? I feel like I’ve seen it reviewed on blogs or in magazines somewhat recently.

          I think wealth and available free time are factors in whether or not people had the luxury to worry about their happiness. It’s been a theme in literature forever, really. But the nature of the worry has probably taken different shapes. For example, she couldn’t have divorced him, I don’t think. So how she contemplated her unhappy marriage then would have been different than how a woman might contemplate her unhappy marriage today – including their thoughts on how to remedy their unhappiness.

          July 14, 2012
          • Mrs. Robinson’s disgrace : the private diary of a Victorian lady is the one I’m reading. It was published in 2012.
            So true about it being a theme in literature. Unhappiness is not a new invention I guess!

            July 15, 2012
          • That’s the one – I must have read/seen reviews on it in the magazines at work (I peek at them during my lunch break).

            July 15, 2012

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