It’s a provocative question, and certainly one that tarot won’t answer for you, at least not definitively.
This week’s card is the Ten of Cups, and in this week’s newsletter (click here to view), we discussed all sorts of ways to be thankful for what we have, count our blessings, and what it means to “be happy” like that family pictured in the card.
The question remains, then: what the heck is happiness, after all, and how do we get it and hold on to it?
Or maybe, we’re asking the wrong question altogether. Should we even try for happiness at all? Is it even possible to control our feelings, circumstances, and should we even make this a goal?
Obviously there aren’t any clear-cut answers to these questions, but I do think (and find often with some clients who say they want to “be happy” or “have a happy relationship”) that the word happy has lost its value and in our Western society we hold up the value of whatever “happy” means as a measuring stick for whether or not we’re doing good in life, doing right in life, and that somehow we’re supposed to be happy or entitled to be happy.
After all, the US Declaration of Independence, the very document with which the founding fathers built a country as democratic experiment, states boldly that citizens have an inalienable right to the “pursuit of happiness.”
How are you pursuing happiness?
Is it in helping others? Adam Ferguson, who is sometimes called “the father of sociology,” was a Scottish philosopher and historian in the 1700s, and in his treatise An Essay on the History of Civil Society, he wrote:
If, in reality, courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character.
Is it in the emerging field of “positive psychology”? Martin Seligman, one of the founders, said:
But the upshot of this is that the mission I want psychology to have, in addition to its mission of curing the mentally ill, and in addition to its mission of making miserable people less miserable, is can psychology actually make people happier? And to ask that question — happy is not a word I use very much — we’ve had to break it down into what I think is askable about happy. And I believe there are three different — and I call them different because different interventions build them, it’s possible to have one rather than the other — three different happy lives. The first happy life is the pleasant life. This is a life in which you have as much positive emotion as you possibly can, and the skills to amplify it. The second is a life of engagement — a life in your work, your parenting, your love, your leisure, time stops for you. That’s what Aristotle was talking about. And third, the meaningful life. So I want to say a little bit about each of those lives and what we know about them.
Is it about a daily gratitude practice? Mindfulness? Meditation?
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Is it about other practices, like ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy/Training)?
“The word ‘happiness’ has two very different meanings. Usually it refers to a
feeling: a sense of pleasure, gladness or gratification. We all enjoy happy feelings, so it’s
no surprise that we chase them. However, like all our other feelings, feelings of happiness
don’t last. No matter how hard we try to hold on to them, they slip away every time. And
as we shall see, a life spent in pursuit of those feelings is, in the main, unsatisfying. In
fact, the harder we pursue pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from
anxiety and depression.
The other meaning of happiness is ‘a rich, full and meaningful life’. When we
take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, when we move in directions
that we consider valuable and worthy, when we clarify what we stand for in life and act
accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a
powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeting feeling — it is a profound sense of a
life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable
feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear and anger. This is
only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”
-Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap
I don’t have the answer to the title of this post. What I do know is that life is cyclical, and the Universe seems to be continually given opportunities for growth. It seems to me that as soon as I make some progress on an area in my life that was challenging me, new opportunities (some might say challenges or downright difficulties) arise which I believe help me to learn more, do more, grow more, and live a life with more conscious engagement.
Tarot is a practice that helps me engage life. I don’t believe happiness should be a goal. But rather, engaging the process fully, learning all you can about yourself and the world around you, having compassion for shared humanity, and being grateful for the good. It’s not a Polyanna vision of life: it’s a strategy for living life to the fullest.
What are your thoughts? Should “being happy” be a goal? What can help?
Share in the comments!