I’ve always been interested in happiness. Even when happiness seems like a rare and fleeting moment, I still know intuitively that somewhere in each moment is an opportunity to be happy. Regardless of what is going on around us, we can allow for a thread of light to lessen our load and lift our spirits. As I ponder the concept of happiness and what feeds or inhibits being “happy”, I am reminded of the poster above that a friend gave me many years ago. I no longer have the poster, but I still find it amusing and quite accurate. Depending on the circumstances and our mood, we all can be a pessimist, optimist, spiritualist, realist, or a combination of them. The various aspects of our psyches can present attitudes that influence our mood and steer us toward or away from feeling happy. How do each of these aspects manifest in our awareness and influence our happiness?
Pessimism: Expecting the worst. Not only is the glass half empty, but the beer is flat and stale. A pessimist will focus on lack and find whatever is missing. Research shows that when we have a belief, if we are shown 99 things that counter our belief and one thing that supports it, we will filter out the 99 and grab the one supporting thing. A pessimistic attitude justifies a deficit of well-being. Abundance is overlooked as one dreams for a perfect future that holds the solution to our happiness. In reality, pessimism is driven by fear and a lack of trust and faith that who we are and what we have is enough. Many may cling to the delusion that the fear is justified due to safety concerns, but true power and safety do not come from chasing a guarantee or “perfect” view of reality. Pessimists avoid facing their authentic selves by clinging to a foundation of fear. Life is dull, stale, and flat leaving little room for happiness.
Optimism: Expecting the best. The glass is half full with a nice foamy top. The optimist notices what is present as opposed to what is missing. Certainly, hoping for the best or nurturing gratitude can foster happiness. However, I think there is a shadow side to optimism as well. An overly optimistic attitude can ignore reality. Notice that the half full glass also has no foundation. One can easily foster denial of reality by clinging to a rosy picture of what is. Optimism can be the flip side of the same coin as pessimism. Denial and avoidance of aspects and underlying feelings of fear and doubt can still thrive. Ultimately if optimism is not grounded in reality, then it is unlikely to support genuine happiness.
Spiritualist: I define this as an attitude that sees the big picture. Broader viewpoints can help us to soar above the mundane and rise above what life is offering. I think expanding our awareness to include spiritual perspectives is crucial to being happy. However, just as with the other attitudes, a spiritualist attitude can support either an authentic self or a denial of reality. Cultivating a broad view is only useful if one also allows for the importance of ego, personality, and physical realities. The details of our lives still need to be tended to. A floating awareness and desire to rise above life conditions need to be grounded in day to day reality in order to support genuine happiness.
Realist: This is my favorite. Just drink the beer and enjoy it. Of course there is the possibility that we may not enjoy the experience, but that is not the point. If we are to foster happiness, then we try to accept reality by opening to experiencing our selves and our lives fully. We attempt to be present and mindful instead of utilizing attitudes to avoid and deny. We are the beer. We drink, digest, and release. On the flip side, a realist can still lose grounding by overemphasizing the practical and ignoring multidimensional awareness. To me, a happy realist includes a spiritualist!
Happiness is not something that comes from attitude, although attitudes can encourage or discourage us to pursue happiness. I think that being happy comes from an awareness and acceptance of all that life has to offer. Understanding that life offers experiences of all kinds – stale, flat, foamy, and delicious – we open to tasting whatever life serves up. We can drink it in or toss it out. We can order something that we hope to enjoy, but there is no guarantee that we will like it. Being genuinely happy acknowledges that is it our response to life that matters the most. We taste life, drink life, and move on. Cheers!