What is Being Happy?

As a therapist, most people come in to see me because they are not happy about something in their life.  This can range from the specific to the abstract.  It can be short-term, or since childhood.  Happiness is defined by each of us in perspective to our own personal life and experiences.  There is no you should or should not be happy. 

For everybody, to a certain extent, happiness is in your genes.  Children are born with genetic set points for happiness that maintain somewhat into adulthood.  Some children are happier than others because they are programmed that way.  The same applies to the fact that some people are born with the capacity to achieve more academically, be more athletic or have a better musical ear.  Since genes are passed through your parents, much of what you are born with a luck of the draw. 

Personality can also be somewhat shaped by genetics.  All this is impacted by the quality of parenting you may get along with what happens to you in the world growing up.  The happier you are, the more you will find happiness in the world around you and the more resilient you will be when things go wrong.  Childhood and adolescence are full of development tasks that go much better when you feel the world is a happy, reinforcing and friendly place to be. 

For better or worse, the world is not ideal.  Everyone is born with strengths and limitations.  What works for one person in their search for meaning in life, may not work for another.  The intervening factors are numerous.  Biological depression, anxiety and addiction can effect life in very significant ways.  Personality and life experiences can have far ranging effects.  The earlier these and other psychiatric problems surface, the more impact in life they will have. 

Therapy can go a long way towards helping build the developmental skills and resiliency that may not have come naturally.  For some, psychiatric medication can help the brain regulate better moods.  Everyone has limitations.  Some may be luckier at the beginning, but that doesn't guarantee a happy outcome.  Happiness is learned and has much to do with expectations.  Being genetically gifted makes little difference if expectations are not met.  No one is immune from trauma in their lives and parenting may or may not be the best. 

Resiliency and social skills with reasonable expectations is what gives people the capacity to be happy in spite of daily problems.  For most this does not automatically happen, but just like with school, learning about yourself and developing the tools for change puts you much more in charge.  Jim Harris, LCSW, CAADC