"Why am I not happy?" My psychotherapy client asked himself in session. "I had three sexual hook-ups, all with hot men, and yet I walked out feeling empty and alone."
A second psychotherapy client pondered the same question as she attempted to make sense of her failed marriage. "On the surface, we had everything one could ever hope for. We had a beautiful house with beautiful furniture. He showered me with lavish gifts, exotic vacations, and all the jewelry I could ever want in an entire lifetime. Still, I was not happy."
The pursuit of happiness seems to be universal. We all want to be happy. Yet, happiness seems to be so elusive for so many people.
Perhaps we are looking in all the wrong places.
Maybe happiness is not completely about getting that job promotion or earning that higher salary or having the title of president or director or whatever position it will take to make you feel that much more important. Maybe happiness is not about being just a little bit more muscular or a little more beautiful. Maybe happiness is not about the next best thing.
What then does lead to happiness? I will not even begin to pretend to have the all-encompassing answer to this question. What I will attempt to do, however, is to begin to arrive at some answers. I begin with an observation from my personal experience.
Several years ago, while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, I stood from my hotel balcony that overlooked the beach and ocean below. I looked down and noticed a scattering of local vendors dispersed along the beach, making their rounds and selling their wares to the mass of lounging vacationers. Under the impossibly hot blistering sun, the vendors drudged throughout, carrying over their shoulders the heaviness of the tourist-trap trinkets that they hoped to sellall for the sake of making a menial income. Then an amazing thing happened.
At a specified time, they began to converge together at a central meeting point, formed a circle sitting down, and proceeded to eat their lunch together as one big familyas one big happy family. They laughed, they shared stories, and they truly enjoyed one another's company. Any outsider observing this social gathering would have likely agreed that they looked genuinely happy. What was so striking was that they had neither the material wealth nor the social status and prestige nor any of the other things that so many others assume to be the guaranteed ticket to happiness.
It seems that people who are more inclined to be happy are those people who are appreciative of and grateful for all of life's blessings, as major or as trivial as these blessings may seem. Happy people are happy with what they have rather than unhappy with what they do not have. Happy people are appreciative and not entitled.
It also seems that happy people are optimistic people. Happy people see the glass as half-full and not as half-empty.
Happy people know how to laugh and do not take themselves, others, and life too seriously. Happy people accept themselves in all their imperfections.
Happy people are able to live in the moment. They are not encumbered by the past nor are they enslaved by the worries for the future. Happy people are able to enjoy life.
Happy people surround themselves around other happy people. Through companionship with one another, they bring out, cultivate, and support the best in one another.
Happy people reach out and give to others. Happy people seem to know that the secret is in the giving more so than in the getting.
I end this article with an anecdote from my professional experience. Antoine ( not his real name ) is a gay-identified African-American male who sought psychotherapy because of severe depression stemming from the overwhelming demands of his family, his partner, and his church. His depression was so debilitating that the mere thought of getting out of bed was enough to drain him of his already very limited energy. Still, he forced himself to make his weekly therapy sessions in which, among other interventions, the goal of treatment was to reincorporate humor and laughter back into his life.
Little by little, he slowly began to experience glimpses of joy. He managed to crack a smile even though there was still some sadness in his eyes. Through time, he began to spontaneously share stories of funny occurrences of the past week. Through even more time, we were both doubled over, howling in laughter at the humor that life had to offer. He was being treated for severe depression, but in that moment, we were deeply connected to one another because of the genuine and authentic happiness and laughter that we mutually shared.
Dr. Edward Fajardo is a licensed clinical psychologist in independent private practice specializing in gay-affirmative psychotherapy. He can be contacted at EJFajardo@aol.com or 312-623-0502.