Feeling Happy

Feeling Happy

When we are growing up, we are usually not taught to create the goal of being happy. These are not all the goals, but we are encouraged to be educated, to be responsible, to be clean, to make friends, to be successful, to be loved, to be attractive.

Because of the increase in depression and suicide, more reflection is being given to the lack of happiness. Universities, including Yale and Harvard, have been teaching courses on happiness for a long time. They have found that happiness is inextricably linked to strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself.

The increase in depression and suicide became very noteworthy during the pandemic. People were sheltering-in-place: school and work became virtual. Ergo, social ties diminished. As I have said in prior articles, people need to be together.

Teachers and students discovered that it was more difficult to learn when not in a classroom. That is tied to being around people, picking up cues we are not aware of from others, and the need to interact. Our moods are affected when we are isolated. The same was true for workers as virtual meetings led to far less brainstorming and participation.

When we do not interact with others, there is a diminishment of paying attention to or acting on larger issues. We thrive on discussions with others about what is happening politically, environmentally, or socially. We are more inclined to be motivated to do something to be helpful or participatory to issues that matter to us if we are accompanied by others. And, doing this leads to feelings of happiness.

Students in the college classes are given assignments, which include deleting social media, doing daily meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, and investing time in loved ones. Social media can be very distracting and aggravating.

For younger people, too much bullying and the spreading of rumors can be damaging. Daily medication can diminish anxiety and stress and contribute to relaxation. A gratitude journal encourages a focus on what we do well, rather than our tendency to be self-critical. And investing in loved ones feels good.

I encourage people to pause and ask themselves what will make them happy. It is a question we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves. I ask people when they last felt happy, and usually it takes some time for them to recall. It is not unusual for the response to be, “I don’t remember.”

Think of something you can do just because it makes you happy. No other explanation is necessary.

<i>Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.</i>