Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Obstacle On the Road to Happiness: There Can Be Only One

Although one’s joy may be achieved by avoiding two seemingly simple mistakes, the heart of the matter is very personal. It has been said that everyone is his or her own worst enemy. In an effort to fit in, one defaults to society’s definition of happiness: material gain. When that does not work, some may shun the norm and try their hand at completely ignoring negativity. In either case, one must accept that the heart is swayed by the mind. Therein lies the answer; each person is their own handicap.

Often, in the pursuit of happiness, one’s ideals can be skewed by what one thinks society begs of them. This impression places them in a position to follow all steps laid before them by others that may seem content. Thus, society has subversively tricked individuals into chasing its ideals. In fact, concentration on one’s career in the pursuit of material gain under the guise of happiness, as this is often society’s goal when addressing the workforce, has proven to have the adverse effect. As senior researcher, Alan Thein Durning of the Worldwatch Institute wrote,
Yet far outpacing growth of the consumer class itself-the 20 percent of the world’s people who earn 64 percent of world income is the spread of its underlying cultural orientation, consumerism. That term, writes British economist Paul Ekins, refers to the belief that "the possession and use of an increasing number and variety of goods and services is the principal cultural aspiration and the surest perceived route to personal happiness, social status and national success." But even as, over a few short generations, more than a billion of the world's people have become car drivers, television watchers, mall shoppers, and throwaway buyers, social scientists have found striking evidence that high consumption societies have not achieved satisfaction. . . .[T]he real sources of personal happiness are elsewhere. (Durning 1)

In a survey taking place over 25 years, involving over 60,000 participants, Bruce Headey of the University of Melbourne found that those whose greatest attention switched to their families and communities enjoyed heightened happiness. However, participants who continued to place higher regard on society’s consumerist mentality were steadily drained of joy (Hamzelou 1). In concentrating on the constant need to spend money, one needs to make money. It follows that the members of the survey that fell prey to this way of thinking set a high priority on their careers, as well (Hamzelou 1).

Of course, keeping an eye on the prize can also cloud one’s surroundings, thus greatly limiting the ability to achieve happiness. If a person cannot find joy in the everyday happenings around them due to a set of mental blinders, their true happiness may never become evident. Likewise, they miss opportunities to improve themselves. Take, for instance, the female freestyle skier, Jennifer Heil, who took silver in the women’s moguls competition during the 2012 Olympics (Atwan 83). Her goal was first place, but in concentrating only on her failure to attain the gold medal, she lost the opportunity to enjoy second (rather than third.) In fact, she did not even acknowledge that she placed at all. In her frustration, she passed on the chance to learn from the experience; to possibly gain the gold medal in future games. Her determination made every other small joy along the way mute. Meanwhile, Shannon Bahrke, who won the bronze, was simply glad to have placed at all (Atwan 83). She did not let her mental blinders affect her glee.

While acknowledgment of achievement is an excellent step toward finding true happiness, a complete refusal to accept any negative stimuli can adversely affect one’s bliss. Although this can be an effective way to find cheer in the moment, it is not everlasting. By suppressing anger or sadness in a bid to avoid becoming pessimistic or disagreeable, one may very likely concentrate more on the negative than they realize. Daniel Wegner, PhD conducted a study resulting in the “rebound effect of thought suppression” (Salters-Pedneault 1). This study draws a parallel to loss of control. If one cannot successfully suppress thoughts or emotions, then control over the negativity may reverse, putting the negativity and thoughts thereof in control of the host.

If one were able to successfully suppress their emotions, what good could come of it? Ignoring the balance that negativity brings to positivity will surely dull the joy one experiences each day. While psychologists’ opinions differ, the article “Eyes on the Prize” by Lauren F. Friedman for Psychology Today has a two-to-one vote against avoiding negativity for the sake of happiness. In the article, psychologist Todd Kashdan is quoted, “Trying to make happiness your objective in life is problematic. Your mood can be thrown off by the weather, circadian rhythms, and other external factors, but you can pursue your passion, for example, which gives you the power to boost your long-term well-being” (Friedman 1). Similarly, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky claims, “It’s fine to want to be happy - as long as it doesn’t slide into an obsession” (Friedman 1). Alternatively, Yuna Ferguson says that happiness as a goal can make the transition to happiness smoother. Simply deciding to be happy, says Yuna, can be the push one needs to gain that elusive happiness (Friedman 1).

When all is said and done, it is clear that outward forces may have some bearing on one’s grasp of joyful well-being, but each individual takes those forces and does what they must with them to create their own happiness. In the end, we are the makers of our own ecstasy or downfall.

Works Cited

Atwan, Robert. America Now: Short Readings from Recent Periodicals. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.

Durning, Alan Thein. "Long On Things, Short On Time." Sierra 78.1 (1993): 60. Science Reference Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

Friedman, Lauren F. "Eyes On The Prize." Psychology Today 46.1 (2013): 9. Science Reference Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

Hamzelou, Jessica. "Happiness Is Yours For The Taking." New Scientist 208.2781 (2010): 01. Science Reference Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

Salters-Pedneault, PhD, Kristalyn. “Suppressing Emotions: Why Suppressing Emotions Doesn’t Work.” N.p. 30 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

~The preceding article was my first, graded, college English Composition paper. I hope you enjoyed reading it! What did you think?


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  2. Looks like an "A" to me.

  3. Thank you, Navigator. It was, in fact, an "A" paper. I find that writing research papers is much more enjoyable than I remember. Of course, that may have to do with the fact that I want to be in school, now. It also doesn't hurt that I have a stellar professor. *^_^*


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