What does it mean to be happy?


It seems every couple of weeks a new book or article is written about how we can ‘achieve’ happiness.  A quick browse of these titles tells us that happiness is a ‘skill’, something we can learn if we take the right ‘route’ or follow certain ‘steps’.  It is unsurprising then that clients often come to counselling saying ‘I just want to be happy’.  

I wonder if this ‘happiness culture’ is creating unrealistic and unhelpful expectations around what is means to be human.  May we come to see ourselves as somehow deficient if we don’t feel happy?.  May we be tempted to resist our emotional pain through fear of becoming ‘unhappy’?.  And are we more likely to attach unhelpful and negative labels (bad, harmful) to those experiences which don’t make us happy?  Perhaps accepting emotional pain as part of life, rather than striving for an idealistic notion of happiness, is an ultimately more beneficial approach.  

I often find that supporting clients to ‘be with’ difficult feelings helps to build resilience around the messiness and complexity of life and can lead to abundant psychological benefits.  The more open we are to our experiences of pain and the more wholeheartedly we can live through them, the more open we can be to experiences of joy and yes, ultimately happiness!  


Caroline O'Keeffe