Journeying Toward Wholeness

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“Why Can’t I be Happy?” — Is Happiness the Goal?

April 9th, 2019 · why can't I be happy

“Why can’t I be happy?” is such a dynamite question. The goal seems so simple — and yet it’s so elusive! What are we to make of it?

why can't i be happy
Do I have to do something EXOTIC to be happy?…
Poets, philosophers, theologians, statespersons — have all struggled with the question of abiding happiness. Yet the answer seems to be very difficult to find. Why do we find it so hard to be solidly, consistently happy? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

The Problem of Happiness

One of the basic problems that we face when it comes to happiness, is figuring out what it even is. Clearly, it can’t just mean being in a happy mood all the time. Human moods vary greatly, and no one can expect to be in a positive mood always

And yet, in our culture, we’re all continually bombarded with the message that that’s exactly what we should expect. Whether it’s advertising for automobiles, pizza, new homes or even toilet paper, the message is that we should just be happy all the time — and the implication is that buying XYZ product will help us get to that state of continual positive mood.

When we reflect on how realistic such implied messages are, we can’t help concluding that they don’t correspond to the realities of human life — we know that. Yet the continual bombardment by such messages has a subtly persuasive power. We can easily end up feeling that our lives ought to look like that, and that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t.

Chasing Phantom “Happiness”

People can and do devote themselves to chasing the endlessly elusive will o’ the wisp of being in a perpetually good mood. Sometimes this takes the form of unending pursuit of the right possessions, or the perfect travel experiences, or the “just perfect” home. There are billions and billions of dollars spent in the advertising industry to foster the desire for this eternally elusive goal, and to keep us pursuing it through getting the right product or right experience.

Over the years, I’ve had quite a number of people sit in my office, and earnestly ask themselves the exact question in the title of this post: “Why can’t I be happy?” And what they meant by that question was, why can’t I have that buoyant, wonderful, “feel good” moment — all the time? The tragic aspect of this is that we can spend our whole lives searching for this eternally elusive, ephemeral state — and miss out on things in life that are attainable, which do bring us genuinely good things, and we may end up mired in anxiety and depression.

Often people going through major life transitions find that this question of happiness takes on great importance. When we’re forced to look at the path of our lives in very significant ways, the question of what it’s all for can become crucial.

Lasting Value — What Really Matters

Fulfillment in life is not normally found in in chasing those eternally elusive “feel good” moments. It’s rooted in things that are deeper and more lasting, and that may take quite long time to cultivate.

C.G. Jung emphasized the importance of finding meaning in life over transitory happiness, as in his famous statement,

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

~ C.G. Jung

Elsewhere, Jung wonders whether there is any objective thing that can be called happiness, or whether it is entirely subjective. On the other hand, the “positive psychologists” such as Martin Seligman stress that “happiness” doesn’t consist of simply having a positive mood, but rather that it is a state of well-being that encompasses a life of quality, where there is a strong sense of meaning, and of deep satisfactions. What is striking, though, is that you probably couldn’t find two more different psychologists than Jung and Seligman and yet they both stress this need to cultivate meaning and satisfactions that run deep in life.

Cultivating what is meaningful and full of satisfaction is an endeavour we can all embark on. Beginning to stop listening to the voices of others and the media that tell us what we “should” do, and beginning to find those satisfactions and meanings that matter specifically, uniquely to ourselves, is a wonderful place to start. The beginning of a meaningful answer to the question, “Why can’t I be happy?” will likely start with getting to know who I am, and what is meaningful to me, much, much better.

As you explore this vital area, you may find, as I did, that you need concrete help to find what you need on your journey to wholeness. This may well involve working with a depth psychotherapist who can help you explore yourself, in both your conscious and unconscious dimensions, enabling you to move toward clarity about what depth, satisfaction and meaning are for you.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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