Degrees of Happiness

by | Mar 11, 2015 | Reflections on Happiness |

Okay, okay… a few weeks ago I said that I intended to post a lot of the epiphanies I’ve had recently, and then I went silent. While my intention has been – and continues to be – to post those realizations, I discovered that most of my insights are going to require more time to process. I also learned – through painful experience – that I couldn’t force myself to share what isn’t ready to be shared. I wound up with one of the worst cases of writer’s block I’ve had in a long time, and then I was reminded of an expression that most of us have heard: “Everything has its time and place.”

I’ve certainly been guilty of repeating that phrase ad nauseam, but it wasn’t until recently that I understood how those words apply learning and sharing. I may have been ready to learn certain lessons, but I wasn’t yet ready to share those lessons. I had to have more hands-on experience. I needed to really feel them, to understand them, and to practice what I learned so I could better articulate myself – both as a student and as a teacher.

One lesson I’m ready to share is this: Happiness isn’t an absolute. I know that sounds strange, but stick with me. When you hear the word happiness, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Smiling faces? Laughing children? Family picnics? What behaviors do you associate with happiness? Laughter? Smiling? Cheering? Those images and behaviors are the obvious ones that come to mind for me, and those who know me usually find me in some state of smiling or laughing – so much so that when I posted a selfie to Facebook of me looking tired and cranky, the reaction was surprising. “What happened to Happio?” was the theme of the comments. I hadn’t realized just how much of the happy me people see.

Appio MiserableThat got me thinking about the degrees of happiness that I – and most human beings – experience. I didn’t even realize that there was a happiness scale until I started giving the matter some thought. For most of my life I believed that happy is happy. Period. And as someone who has had a lifelong relationship with depression, I categorized any mood that didn’t place me in a dark, joyless void as happy. Then I started paying attention to my feelings. What I learned was eye opening.

First and foremost, our default setting is happy. I’m certainly not the first person to say that, nor will I be the last, but what I hadn’t explored in detail is what our default setting feels like – probably because the concept eludes verbal description. It wasn’t until I tried to explain my idea of “default happiness” that I discovered how imprecise language is… and I’m not just talking about English. I also speak fluent Portuguese and Spanish, I’m proficient in French, and I speak a smattering of about a dozen other languages. Even with such a solid linguistic background, I struggled to find the words to describe what “default happy” is.

The best explanation I could come up with is this: “Default happy” is a feeling of peace, contentedness, and bliss. You have an absolute feeling of knowing that life can be anything you want it to be. You have no doubt that the people in your life have your back. You just know that no matter what decision you make, or what direction you choose to go, the journey will be one filled with passion, joy, and fun. You exist in a state of gratitude and humility. You feel connected to everything and everyone around you.

As far as I can tell, “default happy” is the baseline, the bottom of the happiness scale. From there, happy just gets better. One can feel upbeat, delighted, thrilled, excited, joyful, ecstatic, giddy, and even intoxicated (on life). Those words are certainly descriptive, and virtually everyone can relate to them, however they’re still imprecise. One can only really experience happiness and know when they’re in that zone. We recognize default happy and the varying degrees of happiness because those feelings are embedded in us, they’re part of our DNA.

That’s not to say that we don’t experience contrast, or the opposite of happiness. Of course we do. I’m intimately acquainted with feelings of depression and sorrow… and I’m not talking about temporary episodes. I’ve been very open about the relationship I’ve had with depression and the associated mental health challenges that come with it. The relationship only changed when I changed how I looked at depression and how I approached it. When a depressive episode hits, I face it head on by acknowledging my feelings, expressing gratitude for what I feel, allowing myself to experience a full range of emotions without fighting them, going for long walks, reminding myself that the feelings are temporary and that they’ll pass, looking for what I can learn from my feelings, forgiving myself for being human, and loving myself completely and unconditionally.

Happy 07When I go through those steps, it’s like pressing the reset button. I soon find myself back at “default happy,” I’m able to move forward, and I place myself in a position to feel every degree of happiness. If you don’t believe me, then try those steps for yourself. You’ll discover what I mean, and you’ll find that what I once called my coping mechanisms are, in fact, thriving mechanisms. You’ll discover your own state of default happy, and you’ll set yourself up to thrive and experience every degree of happiness imaginable.


About the Author

Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and self-described champion for living joyously. He facilitates conversations with groups and individuals about how they can be authentic and experience community, connection, and alignment every day. Appio is also co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.

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