At No Fallen Heroes we are concerned about mental health issues. We are especially concerned in regard to how mental health problems affect the incidence of suicide among veterans. Looking at this simply, we would like folks to be happy instead of sad, positive about things instead of depressed and negative, positive about the future instead of always bathed in doubt. Perhaps if we were all just happy things would be better and, especially in the case of veteran suicide, people would not seek to harm themselves. But just what is happiness versus mental health?
The Definition of Happiness
Happiness is one of those things that we recognize when we see it. However, what we are seeing may be amusement, contentment, joy, mere pleasure, practiced cheerfulness, or pride in achievement. Those who have made a study of happiness usually use “subjective well-being” as a reference point. In other words, you ask someone how they feel. How satisfied are they? How is their balance of positive versus negative emotion? How is their sense of purpose and meaning? A description offered by author Sonja Lyubomirsky is that happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” The reader will note that all of these are relative terms.
How Are We Conditioned to Think About Happiness?
Sociologists tell us that what folks think of as happiness depends on where and how they were raised. People who grow up in societies that believe in collectivist ideals (Japan) typically think of harmony and contentment as equating to happiness. Societies that embrace individualism (USA) equate joy and exuberance to happiness. Something else that sociologists tell us is that when folks who live in groups that are happy (based on the society’s version of happiness) they themselves tend to be happier. When considering how much being happy affects decisions like whether or not to hurt oneself, a pertinent question is whether the subjective state of happiness is normally part of one’s daily life or something that is transitory.
Having a well-paying and satisfying job, a happy family life, a more-than-adequate income are generally things that we would think would make a person happy. However, some people are so driven to achieve that no matter what they have, it is not enough to overcome feelings of inadequacy or self-loathing. Here is where we are typically surprised as well as saddened when we hear of a suicide by a friend of colleague who appeared to have a happy life.
What Is the Recipe for Happiness?
As a rule, happiness does not just fall from the sky and land on our lives. People are born into wealthy families and are unhappy because of the expectations laid upon them. Others who are born into poor families are satisfied with their lot in life and their opportunities for success. Some in the military go through traumatic situations and come out stronger and others are emotionally torn to pieces. How do we achieve happiness? How do we keep it when we have it? Is there a recipe? Healthy relationships are one of the building blocks of personal happiness. To find, keep, and strengthen healthy relationships there are three useful approaches.
Start by always imagining that any relationship will go as well as possible. Expectations are a big part of happiness. When we expect to be friends with someone, we tend to act in ways that will enhance their friendship toward us as well as our feelings toward them.
From time to time think about what your life would be like without the people you live with, work with, and associate with. We often tend to take others for granted without realizing the key roles that they play in our lives and how they contribute to our happiness every single day.
Spend time with the people you care about. All too often in life we become engaged in the tasks of life and tend to forget about the purpose of a task. For example, a person takes on extra hours at work in order to get a better position and better pay so that they can take better financial care of their family. Along the way their most important relationships suffer from neglect. Those around them think that they do not care when, in fact, they care so much that they are sacrificing their happiness for the greater good. When this is the case it is useful for the person to imagine their relationships going well and to consider what life would be like without those relationships. This approach tends to help bring life back into better balance.