Originally published Sept. 28, 2012 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Are you happy?
It’s a seemingly simple question.
But think about it. Are you happy? Not: Are you surviving? Or: Are you all right? Or: Would your station in life make you seem vulgar and ungrateful if you complained?
Simply: Are you happy?
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. It’s not really viewed as enough of a necessity, is it? I feel like we have this attitude that if you’re not in bed surviving on saltines and Capri Sun, washing your hair every three weeks, you’re A-OK.
According to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of Americans over age 12 are on antidepressants.
That seems excessive. I feel like “depressed” is probably a term that’s used too liberally these days, like “sexual harassment” or “awesome.”
“Happy” might also be a word that’s used not too liberally, perhaps, but too thoughtlessly.
Suffice to say I do not think admirably of the attitude that we need nothing more than the ability to simply survive the day.
I feel I have the right to think ill of this attitude because it’s one I’m trying to adjust in myself. I also recognize that I’m pretty well set for simple survival. But if you’re taking the time to read this column, you probably are, too.
Oh, sure, there are bigger problems in the world than whiny middle-class Americans being “happy.” Congress doesn’t need to pass laws granting our inalienable right to happiness.
But we can give ourselves permission to pursue it, right? It’s in the Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But the right is only to seek it, not to have it. We have to find it ourselves.
I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project.” I’ve only just started, but here’s one thing she establishes right away: She is not someone who, by society’s standards, should be unhappy.
Married with two young daughters, Rubin was living in her favorite city, in the midst of a successful second career, healthy and attractive with close friends and good family ties.
And yet, she writes, she could be happier.
I get that. I have a good job, a loving family, my health, a roof over my head and a man who adores me.
But am I happy? Genuinely happy?
Honestly? Not as often as I’d like to be.
I suspect a lot of you probably feel the same way. And you know who’s probably to blame?
So I’ve been thinking about what I can do to change that. What small things, in my day-to-day life, can I do to make me feel more satisfied? How do I need to adjust my perspective, my routine, my surroundings?
Oh, I’m not looking to become Pollyanna Sunshine. I kind of like my snark, and besides, I’m not looking to change who I am. I’m just seeking to feel a little better.
What about you? What can you do to increase your own happiness? Or, looking at it from another way, what are you doing that is getting in the way of your happiness?
I’ll go first. I have a tendency to want to change the past. I do a lot of “if I’d done XYZ at point 123, I could be doing ABC now.” And it’s a waste of time because, drum roll please, you can’t change the past.
So that’s No. 1 on the list of how I get in the way of my own happiness.
What’s on your list? You don’t have to tell me, just think about it for yourself. But if you want to share, well … see below.