This is a question that we get asked a great deal. The short answer is "no" but if you have taken the trouble to click here I think you deserve a little more detail.
This question arises, partly because there are people on various forms of social media and websites that, in order to sell whatever product they are pushing, will lead you to believe that it is possible to be overwhelmingly, continuously happy. It also arises because, especially in the developed western world we seem to be directed towards happiness as a goal and also as an expectation and a right.
Let's start with our feelings
To start with, happiness is one of the core feelings that we are born with. We have six essential feelings that have evolved in our system to help us feel, express and survive. They are; happy, sad, angry, shame, hurt and fear.
Please read those back and pause as you read each one to let their impact land. You will notice that out of those 6 core feelings only one of those is perceived as positive. This is because most of our evolution has been about protecting ourselves and we needed feelings that helped us interpret the emotional landscape and act accordingly. They are all, in proportion, healthy and helpful even if they do not feel that way at the time.
They all exist and statistically, at least, there is only a one in six chance that you are going to feel happy at any time. Interestingly, if you want to reduce the odds of feeling happy then suppress, ignore and continually avoid engaging with your feelings at all. That may be an instinctive reaction for many of us that helps us deal with emotional pain and suffering but in the long run it is a recipe for overwhelm and mental health challenges. To quote CG Jung “...the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Back to the one in six chance of being happy. If you take care of your emotional health then you will increase the odds of feeling happy more of the time with the caveat that you will not, I repeat, will not feel happy all the time.
Our Emotional Health
Every aspect of our emotional health is linked to our feelings. Here at My Internal World we help people understand and take action to improve and maintain their emotional health which in turn supports their mental health. We have a model that helps you examine each area of your emotional health and then work on those areas that matter to you.
Everybody gets stressed. In fact we all need a certain, minimum amount of stress to feel alive and a little more stress than that is responsible for improving our motivation and our performance. Of course, if we are experiencing increased stress levels for too long or at too high an intensity then stress becomes the opposite of helpful and can harm our health.
Stress is linked to the fight or flight part of our nervous system and as such is related to fear. So it makes sense that if we can develop a healthier relationship with stress then what we are actually doing is becoming more comfortable with fear and as such will be able to deal with it and move on to better, happier, healthier times.
We all have a past. Some of us have had a harder, tougher past and a few of us, too many, have had traumatic incidents in our past. Those will be linked to sadness, hurt, shame and fear and will often be expressed as anger. If you have had issues in the past and have not had help in healthily processing them, then the likelihood is that you will not be as happy as you could be.
The art of looking on the positive side. We can practice optimism all the time even if we cannot be happy all the time. In my experience, and a great deal of research supports it, the practice of optimism supports how I feel and my health and wellbeing. Let's be clear though, this is not the "click your heels together Dorothy and make a wish" type of optimism. This consistent, disciplined and focused training of ourselves to look for the positive. There's more about this (and everything I mention in this article) inside My Internal World. Optimism won't necessarily force you into a state of happiness but it will increase your chances of feeling happier.
Sometimes those things we think are meaningful to us turn out not to be so when the chips are down. Many of us, me included, have invested too much in our careers and the accumulation of wealth and money only to discover that it does not reward us with the levels of happiness we thought it would. There is a subtle art in making sure that we have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. The pursuits, routines and commitments we make that give us meaning change over time as we change. Being aware of this and taking care of this area is to avoid obvious issues with feeling down (sadness) and worrying (fear) that life is leaving us behind.
We have been getting public health messages for years about looking after our physical health. The connection between this and our emotional health is only really being realised now. Not all of us, irrespective of how we take care of ourselves, have perfect physical health and this can impact how we feel (fear, hurt, sadness and anger). What we do know here at My Internal World is that to give ourselves the best opportunity to enjoy life as well as we can, taking care of both our physical and our emotional health is important.
How highly we value ourselves has a huge impact upon our emotional health. Being able to self validate rather than rely upon others to feel good about ourselves is an essential survival skill in this modern world. To rely on others for affirmation is to be at the mercy of social media and marketing. Messages that are often specifically designed to undermine us and get us to spend our cash in places that may not be helpful, but appear to be so as they play to our self doubt. When my self esteem is not at the top of its game I am easily hurt, easily scared and can end up in unnecessary conflict. None of those support the desire to feel as happy as I can.
As you are reading this the message is clear. We are complex beings that are excellent at building systems and incentives that appear to help us and give us a boost in the short term but which can actually do us harm in the long run.
So, can we be happy all the time? No. Can we through paying continuous attention to our mental health maximise our opportunities to experience happiness? Yes.
Focussed, continued attention to your emotional health will help you feel happier and that is a pretty good result to aim for.
If you would like to look at your mental/emotional wellbeing and improve your levels of happiness why not start by giving yourself the gift of a subscription to My Internal World. Click here to see the subscriptions options and what great value you get