A Mardi Gras Talk About Happiness

Happiness can be elusive.

Ask people what they want from life, and the answer usually is: “I want to be happy.” Then, ask them how to define happiness, and you get a polyglot of answers.

I write this because I went to a really fun Mardi Gras party Saturday night. Amidst the masks, live jazz and cocktail chatter, our party of four couples sat down for dinner. One of the late-night conversations focused on: “what is happiness?”

Now, it sounds like a simple question, but as we got into it, I found for me that it wasn’t. Happiness can be commingled with things like: satisfaction, joy, accomplishment, and contentment.

Also, happiness is often concurrent with negative feelings. For example, I was happy when our children were born. But, I also was simultaneously feeling relief (everyone was healthy), stress (man, it’s the middle of the night), the jitters (hoping that I will be a good father), etc.

Moreover, as one friend mentioned, happiness is a multi-variable situation. You may be happy with your job today, but also, squabbling with a family member. One day you’re feeling great about your mother, only to find that you’re also feeling not so great about your father.

So, I pondered all this during dinner and the next day. And, I asked myself: “What makes me happy?” No, not just feeling good about things, but deep, unshakable, and spike-the-football happy?

For me, I am happy when two things happen. First, I feel that I am “on the right track” in my life. It’s hard to explain, but I know when I am on track or off. When I’m “on,” everything in my life is in sync: professional, personal, physical, spiritual and emotional.

Second, and, it’s hard to explain in one post, but I think happiness comes from being to able to find joy in suffering. In other words, finding meaning when things aren’t going well. If you can ascribe personal or spiritual meaning to suffering, then a new consciousness arises.

I believe this is what Buddhists call “transcendence.” Christians call this “joining your suffering with Christ’s” (cf. Col 1:24), something about which I’ve been thinking as our family preps for Lent.

A fun night.

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2 thoughts on “A Mardi Gras Talk About Happiness

  1. Jo, I had the fortune to work with this brilliant person, Matt Killingsworth, at ProfitLogic many reincarnations ago. Matt now has his PhD from Harvard and is now at UC Berkley in the Greater Good Science Center. His focus of study? Happiness. His vehicle for gathering research? An iPhone app. Here is his TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment.html
    Perhaps you have seen it? Not really about how to gain happiness – more like how not to slip into unhappiness. You VC types are always talking about keeping in focus…

    1. Thanks, Marni. Will check it out! Based on the TEDTalk write-up, it sounds like he is emphasizing mindfulness.

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