A few thoughts on happiness

Published 9:38 pm Friday, December 12, 2014

By Kermit Hobbs

Every year, from around Thanksgiving until Christmas, I notice the topic of happiness pops up in people’s conversations or stories I read or hear on the radio.

What is it? Where do we get it? Why do some people seem unhappy, even though they seem to have everything they need to be happy? Why do we sometimes feel glum when we “should” feel happy? I have a few thoughts.

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First, I would offer a definition of happiness. It is, simply, being satisfied with life. You might say it is personal contentment with an element of optimism blended in. I’d add that happiness is a long-term quality. That is, it has some degree of resilience that can absorb the good times and the bad times life can bring.

The bad times might bring about jealousy, envy, anger, fear, sorrow or such. Those feelings can certainly take away happiness. Even so, I’ve seen many people who seem to endure a lot of hardships but do not lose their positive outlook on life.

Realizing I have a tendency to oversimplify things, I would offer a theory that answers some of the questions about happiness. Assuming that the necessities of life — food, clothing, shelter, companionship and so on — are present, then I believe happiness is primarily determined by the fulfillment of expectations.

Fulfilled expectations enhance it; unfulfilled expectations take it away.

I can remember hearing my dad talk about what life was like on the farm during the Great Depression, and he often described the closeness that existed among his brother, sisters and parents. They were not wealthy, but under the circumstances, they didn’t expect much. Their expectations were realized, and they were happy.

If a person accepts a job with the expectation of advancing to a higher position but the opportunity never comes, then the person is unhappy with his job.

For kids on a football team, the quarterback might not be satisfied unless he scores a touchdown. Another less-talented player might be thrilled just to be put in the game and allowed to play for a while.

Particularly important to happiness is a person’s view of his or her own performance. We often have assumptions about our individual capabilities, how we expect to handle situations, and where we hope to be at certain points in our lives. Whether or not we realize those goals becomes a measure of our own self-worth.

It is important that we get to know our own strengths and weaknesses and that we understand the challenges we face. That way, we can set realistic but optimistic goals for ourselves. When we succeed, we are happy. If we fail, we understand why.

We have discovered the limits of our capabilities and know where to work to expand our limits. Failure does not have to destroy our happiness. The process of bumping and expanding our limits is a rewarding experience in itself.

It seems to me the happiest people are the ones who are able to approach each day, looking forward to the challenges and the learning opportunities. It’s what I call, “looking for God’s plan.”

Whether we succeed or fail, learning and growing from our experiences can build happiness.

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at khobbs5@aol.com.