I write a column in The Northbrook Tower called, “Happyology” and at the end of the column is a paragraph that says that I’m attempting “to shine light on the happiness and positivity in the Northbrook community.” I also have the word “happiness” in the name of my company. So, you might conclude that I’m interested in promoting a the-sky-is-always-blue-and-the-sun-is-always-shining concept of happiness. Or that I subscribe to the adage, “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.” Or, in the face of bad news my advice would be, “Put a smile on your face, think positive thoughts, and everything will be just fine.” That’s not the case. The subject of happiness and, more specifically, positive psychology is more complex than that. And while the tragic loss of a Glenbrook North student is on my mind, I wanted to share some thoughts about the kind of happiness I hope will invade the young adults in our community.
Here is the best description of happiness that I’ve encountered: “The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing of circumstances and the most adverse environment. It is the kind of happiness that survives when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which dwells deep within us and gives us inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.”
The author of that description is Billy Graham and whether or not you share his beliefs or his politics, I hope you will agree that it is a powerful, meaningful statement. I believe that this description of “happiness” articulates what we want for ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, what parents in Northbrook want for their children. Here is what I love about this definition:
- It tells you what happiness isn’t—a superficial feeling that is dictated by a person’s circumstances. As human beings we regularly convince ourselves that a small change in circumstances will lead to a significant boost of emotion. In fact, research has shown that a change in circumstances affects only 10% of a person’s happiness. And very often, that boost in happiness is fleeting.
- It’s honest about the fact that life has ups and downs—that life doesn’t always go according to our best plans and the lows can be distressing. Too often we think that life has to be linear: you graduate high school, go to college, work, attend to graduate school, get a better job, and then enjoy the life you’ve created. But there’s no harm in taking a circuitous path. In fact, that’s often where we grow the most.
- It specifically draws attention to the fact that happiness shouldn’t be affected by our successes or failures. The young adults in our community are blessed with opportunities to celebrate their successes—in the classroom, through athletics, on stage, etc. But their happiness shouldn’t be a byproduct of their accomplishments; rather, they should derive happiness through the process of discovering their calling and pursuing their passions.
- The emotion generated by this mindset isn’t simply pleasure. Yes, pleasure and positive emotion are important to feeling happy, but a person with this perspective on happiness finds “inward relaxation, peace, and contentment”—feelings that are far more valuable and important to a person’s overall mental and physical well-being.
Young adults in our community can achieve the kind of happiness that “stands in need of no outward stimulus” if they are given the chance to explore and understand who they really are—their passions, interests, strengths, and values. Once they know themselves better I’m convinced they will make more honest choices and live more authentic lives.
Shouldn’t that be the goal for the young adults in our community? To help them live authentic lives? I hope that it is.