The Limitations of Happiness

We human beings like to think that we are the masters of our destiny – that we are able to shape the circumstances of our lives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. We may be under stress because of our financial circumstances. We may not be satisfied with where we are in our professional lives.  We may experience hurt (intentional or accidental) at the hands of others – even those we love. We experience disappointment when things that seemed promising at first do not turn out the way we had hoped. We may be lacking that special relationship that we so deeply desire. Our future may be uncertain. While all of this may seem a little bleak – it is all just a part of the reality of life – some of the ups and downs that make up a very human existence.

This sometimes stressful reality can create negative emotions. As much as we would like to think that we can shape and control our feelings about our life circumstances, this is not always the case. No matter how hard we try to remain upbeat, there are always going to be things in life that make us feel unsure, insecure, afraid, angry, hurt, disappointed, or lonely. At the same time, messages all around us tell us that all of the people around us are happy. We see their smiling faces on our television screens, in the pages of magazines, on billboards. They tell us all about how happy they are – having just purchased some special commodity, or having had some wonderful experience, or having been fortunate in any number of different ways.

If this were not enough, we get spiritual messages as well. We are told that truly spiritual people are happy – even joyful. They are certainly calm and serene. We definitely know that they are attractive and skinny – because the yoga magazines show us the proof of this on their shiny, colorful covers. It is clear to us that if we only meditated enough (and properly, of course), got enlightened, did our yoga poses correctly, ate food that was pure enough, and emptied our minds of negative thoughts and feelings – we would surely be happy.

While we are working hard on these difficult skills, life goes on. Our challenges go on, our weak human state continues. Our emotions rise and fall in response to our life circumstances. We may judge ourselves for being so continually human – wishing that we were more…. sublime. As the challenge of living a consistently happy life eludes us, our negative judgment of our lives (and our inescapably human state) increases.

While happiness may (at least at times) elude us as a life-goal, there is, however, a different option.  An option that allows us to elevate our lives even in the midst of our weakness, our limitations, our humanity. A way that allows us to deal with ourselves (and others) using compassion rather than judgment. A path that is available to us even in the most challenging of times and under the most constrained of circumstances. This choice is in our control at all times, in all situations, hand in hand with all of our challenges. This is the choice to live a meaningful life. Living transformationally is one very powerful way to live a meaningful life.

Next week: What it means to live a meaningful life

Miriam E. Mendelson, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Transformative Development, Counseling, Consulting and Mediation and is available for speaking engagements and business and private consultation. Click here for a complete list of all Miriam Mendelson’s articles. Column feedback and questions are welcome:
  1. Very insightful article
    Life will present challenges and opportunities.
    We need to appreciate the good times and make every day count.
    When faced with Difficult circumstances which may stimulate reactive responses, grief,
    Anxiety… But may be an opportunity for us to be proactive, compassionate, loving…
    I try to take the high road, but how do you handle a soon to be ex who lies, cheats
    And manipulates?
    I’m interested to hear more
    Is there a book on this?
    Thank you

  2. Dear David,

    I’m going to answer your question in a full column, as I think it cannot be easily addressed in a sentence or two. Thanks for the comments.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *