I had a recent discussion with a friend, who framed the notion with recognition that this isn’t relevant in all circumstances. In overwhelmingly terrible situations, the problem is the situation, not someone’s happiness skills. From there, the scale slides, and the fewer sources of misery there are, the more scope there is to apply happiness skills.
There is a knack to finding joy in things. You have to be looking, and alert to the small moments of beauty, wonder and loveliness that are around us all the time. Those things still exist, even in awful circumstances. However, if you’re having to make your happiness out of tiny things while surrounded by significant sources of distress, that’s a lot of work, and it feels like starving while eating crumbs. No one can sustain themselves that way forever, but at the same time, any small comfort is well worth having.
Not all problems can be fixed by the person afflicted by them. Many of the reasons for unhappiness in the world are systemic and cultural and it takes a team effort to challenge it and to change things.
Happiness is a skill best shared. When we make our small joys available to each other, we increase each other’s scope for delight. I greatly appreciate the many friends who use social media in this way, simply putting things into online spaces that might improve someone else’s day. When I’ve not been well enough to go outside, those thoughts and images have helped me a lot.
Seeking out small good things to share will in turn help you be more alert to the little joy sources around you. Putting things out there that will lift and cheer others is an affirming process in its own right. I know that when I’m able to cheer other people, I feel better about myself and that can in turn help me overcome depression at least a bit. Laughter is medicinal, making someone else laugh also works. When your own depression weighs heavy, it can be hard to think about what would help with that. It’s a lot easier to think about comforting and cheering other people, often. By heading that way, we can build ladders to get each other out of whatever holes we may have fallen into.
Approaching happiness as a skill is a way of feeling more in control of your life. Rather than being at the mercy of events, it gives you something to push back with, and that’s also empowering. This is not about the kind of toxic positivity that insists it’s all about having the right attitude. Shit happens. Awful shit happens that can put you on your knees. You won’t be able to magically turn everything around. But when you seek to cultivate happiness as a skill, you can at least make the best of anything halfway decent that comes along, and that helps.
Being human isn’t easy at the moment. Any joy that isn’t a form of cruelty is well worth seeking.