Cardboard figure of person with tear and holding broken paper heart

Is happiness a feeling you must have all the time?

In Coaching, Counselling and Personal Development, Insight and Self Awareness, Mind and Movement by LivingNowLeave a Comment

The true secret of happiness is that it is an indicator of a state of being that we are really seeking to achieve, and that is harmony. Now, harmony is not the same as happiness, although it is reflected in the emotional state of happiness.


Millions of people have been pursuing happiness for many years. There are shelves full of books, millions of hours of workshops and lectures, religious beliefs and practices, psychotherapeutic techniques and personal endeavours all focused on the goal of achieving happiness. Although some people have found great happiness and peace, there is reliable evidence that many have not. In fact, the situation is getting worse.

All the tools to create a fabulously happy world have been in place for a long time. We have had positive thinking since Dale Carnegie in 1936. We have had ‘person centred’ therapies since Carl Rogers in 1951. Motivation and self-help have been the buzzwords and available everywhere for more than 25 years.

Fortunes have been made selling the messages of personal power and personal growth. Spiritual awareness and teachings have also had great acceptance and growth. We have had greater access to spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama than ever before. It is the age of Aquarius and the numerological millennium of ‘2’, yet all the statistics show that the world is not getting better. In 1992, James Hillman and Michael Ventura challenged the psychotherapeutic community with their book, ‘We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy: and the world’s getting worse’. There are many who took up the challenge. One of the most successful is Dr Martin Seligman who researched and developed ‘positive psychology’ that is based around the ideas of happiness and developing a person’s strengths.

He tells the story of when he was gardening with his daughter Nikki when she was just five. Nikki was throwing weeds in the air and dancing around, and he yelled at her. She came back and said, “Daddy, do you remember before I was five, I whined all the time, I whined everyday? Did you notice that since my fifth birthday I haven’t whined at all?”

“Yes”, he replied.

“Well, Daddy, that was because on my birthday I decided I wasn’t going to whine anymore. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being so grumpy!” This was the flash of inspiration that changed his direction and focus.

It’s not that everyone has to begin years of empirical research on realising something like being grumpy is not good for happiness. The research that Martin Seligman has done, however, enables us to not only feel that it is a good idea, but to know it as well.

There have been so many ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’ put forward over the last few decades that even some positive ideas and hopeful beliefs have become confusing. For some people the confusion seems to cancel out the benefits. It is time for us to figure out for ourselves that things really work. It is time to be comfortable with an understanding of why things work and to enable us to be the decision makers. In essence, we need to re-open the invitation and re-establish the permission for people to participate in the experience, not just latch on and be taken for the ride. There is no magic bullet that solves everything in an instant and forever more.

A question to ask is simply, what is happiness? More importantly, is happiness a feeling that you must have all the time? Is it healthy for happiness to come and go? Is it a core essence of our being or something else? There is good reason to think that happiness is an emotion that rises and falls as a natural and beneficial part of life. These ebbs and flows are not expressions of our failure to be happy, but as a healthy indicator of the state of our wellbeing and as a stimulus to change our actions.

This is a very important shift in perspective. It is my experience as a counsellor that a lot of unhappiness and stress occurs when people are worried about the fact that they are not feeling happy. They believe that there must be something wrong with them. They believe that they have failed in some way. They are very unhappy about being unhappy. This becomes a self-feeding cycle and more serious things develop, such as depression. More serious things are always lurking around the corner of this path.

The true secret of happiness is that it is an indicator of a state of being that we are really seeking to achieve, and that is harmony. Now, harmony is not the same as happiness, although it is reflected in the emotional state of happiness.

There are some extraordinarily interesting neuroscientists who are helping us understand how our mind and brain work. One of the most interesting is Dr Daniel Siegel who looks at the way that the brain, body and mind are an interactive connection. He calls his work ‘Interpersonal neurobiology’. He has worked with the Dalai Lama amongst others in trying to understand the ways in which we interconnect and interrelate.

One of the most important things he has been able to confirm is that the brain is at its best when a series of conditions is achieved. He calls this F.A.C.E.S. This is an acronym for flexible, adaptive, coherent, energetic and stable. When the brain is functioning in a F.A.C.E.S. way, then the mind is in a state of harmony.

If you are not in a state of harmony, then you are either in a state of rigidity or of chaos. If your thinking is full of words such as ‘have to’, ‘must do’, ‘should be’, ‘can’t do’, then you are stuck in rigidity. Rigidity makes flexibility impossible. When everything is chaotic, then nothing makes sense because it’s constantly changing or is believed to be unreliable and there is no coherence in your mind or your life.

Unhappiness is an indicator that you are moving in a rigid, or alternatively, in a chaotic direction, away from the flow of harmony. The same can be said for feelings of depression as an indicator. Stress is a great cause of unhappiness and depression. Stress is a rigid state. Not knowing what is going to happen and then getting upset, worried and fearful about the future is a chaotic state.

Re-establishing harmony requires creative interaction with your environment. Knowing that you are connecting and integrating in a harmonious direction can be felt as happiness. Fortunately it is not up to happiness alone. That would be far too much pressure on just one emotion. We have lots of emotions and so there are other indicators too. A simple list to go by is to be happy, able, receptive, mindful, open, nascent (that something new is emerging) and positive, yes – H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.

So, the struggle for happiness may not be as important as we have thought. We may have even been making happiness too hard to achieve. Listening to happiness as a guide and responding in a creative way towards a more harmonious state means that happiness is more of a gift than a struggle. Happiness and the other indicators of harmony are the inner ways that we guide ourselves toward an enriching experience of life. As Joseph Campbell said, ‘Follow your bliss’. Now that we know our emotions can give us guidance, we can use our feelings rather than fight them. I for one am truly startled that I found such illumination in the field of neuroscience. Go figure, but go think, too.

Richard Hill is a professional counsellor, speaker, author and performer. His new book, ‘How the real world is driving us crazy’ has been released

Share this post

Leave a Comment