When my almost 18-year-old grandson rang me recently he said he was unhappy with his life and wished he could be happy like other people, meaning some of his cohorts. As it was one of the few times he seemed to have time to spare, I spent a long time talking to him about goal setting, happiness, how happiness is transient, and how we need to identify what makes us happy and do those things; provided they aren’t illegal, immoral or adversely impact on our neighbours.
I spoke about internal locus of control, an identified psychological state of mind of people who believe they have control over what happens in their lives. Conversely, we discussed external locus of control, the opposite — everyone and everything else is to blame for what happens in our lives. We spoke of pessimists and optimists.
I asked him why he didn’t ask his friends if they are happy and if so, why. That way, I said, he could do what they do and hopefully share in the happiness.
However, as anyone over 18 should know, neither happiness nor unhappiness is a constant state (unless you’ve been smoking mood-altering substances, but we won’t go there).
According to United States celebrity media personality, Tucker Carlson, “There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people”.
I thought that was a good start to understanding happiness, however, it’s reasonable to suggest that, like me, other people have moments of happiness and unhappiness and also longer periods between when we neither feel happy nor unhappy, but are content. We are simply idling along and at any time during that period our state of mind could change immediately, for numerous reasons.
Although he wouldn’t admit it, I sensed that my grandson’s drop in spirits was brought about by his impending Year 12 exams. The fear that he hasn’t done enough work to get a good result and the challenge of transitioning from school into the desired apprenticeship is foremost in his mind at present. I felt no different when I was leaving school more than 50 years before him and no doubt you who are reading have doubtless shared the same experience.
When I taught Emirati women in the United Arab Emirates, I used to tell them that every morning when they get out of bed, they could make a choice: choose to be happy or unhappy. The ball was in their court. I told my grandson the same thing.
The truth is, that to think you can live life in a constant state of euphoria isn’t realistic. Neither does one wish to live in a constant state of depression. The answer is to foster a positive, optimistic outlook and find things to fill in your day that please you. Barring the medically identified reasons for depression, this should lead to a reasonably decent life with enough happiness to be content.