Searching for happiness


Dr. Margaret S. Karolyi, Special Contributor to The Wood Word

If you are searching for happiness, you are not alone. Some of the 150+ titles found on indicate demand for ‘happy books” The focus ranges from the bedroom to the workplace, from dogs to spouses. Examples include “The Art of Happiness.”,

“Stumbling on Happiness.”, “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling…”

One of three unhappy Americans is estimated to be clinically depressed, their life heavy under the weight of hopelessness. Happiness also can mean different things, including a state of well-being; living a good life; responding to your needs, not to demands of others.

Researchers in psychoneuroimmunology found interconnections between the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Happy people have higher levels of immune functioning. Their blood cells work more efficiently destroying bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders in the body. Increasing feelings of contentment and serenity increases your ability to stay healthy.

A significant deterrent to happiness are conditional statements: “I will be happy IF I win the lottery, IF I get straight A’s, IF I meet my significant other.” The individual places conditions for his happiness on events which may or may not occur. The mentally healthful approach is to focus on the now, to deal with the present before speculating on the future. Whatever is going on in your life now is where to start your search for happiness. The past is history; the future is a mystery, make full use of today.

Some people say they would be happy if “so and so” had not caused them grief or pain. These self-made victims harbor intense anger which prevents good feelings in their lives. The aggrieved person hands control of his/her emotional self to the one who has “done them wrong.” Take charge of your own happiness. Happiness is a choice. Yes, part of being happy is genetically determined, just as some chronic diseases are inherited through our DNA. However, we can develop the ability to be happy.

Increasing your happiness requires practicing an attitude of gratitude. Give thanks for what you have. Do you have food, shelter, running hot and cold water, electricity, math skills, musical talents, people who care about you? Focus on what you have and not on what you do not. We all have unique attributes. Humans err comparing ourselves with others. Compare you to you being the best that you can be at the time.

Thomas Merton is famous for “No man is an Island”. Adult development brings the realization of interdependence. Each of us is but a knot in the colorful tapestry of humanity. We find ourselves in an intertwined fabric pattern visible on top while our knots underneath bind us together in mutual connections. Our actions influence other people due to these interrelationships within this grand tapestry of humanity.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we truly love ourselves, we accept our faults, forgive ourselves for our mistakes and acknowledge our attributes along with our limitations. Happy people love their neighbors the same way with non-critical acceptance. Christian believers hear “love is patient, love is kind,” and many religions preach forgiveness. This fosters sound emotional health. An amazing book, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom, explains how she survived a concentration camp during World War II. She lived with anger until she met a former prison camp guard who killed several members of her family. He apologized, and incredibly, Corrie unexpectedly forgave him. In “A Mind of its Own; Healing the Parasite of Childhood Abuse,” author and Marywood professor John Lemoncelli, Ed.D counsels victims how to overcome their horrendous history. If abused survivors can overcome their negative state and find peace, why can’t the rest of us decide to do the same?

People who describe themselves as happy come to terms with life, with all its ups and downs. When asked about the half empty glass, their perception is that the glass is both half empty and half full. Happiness is a conscious response to both the wonderful and the tragic. Happy people follow their hearts with confidence that in good times and bad, they are able to deal with whatever life brings. When happy people suffer a major loss, they are first totally immersed in their grief and do not deny their emotions. After expressing their sorrow in their own style, they reach a second stage where they begin to use their experience as a life learning lesson. Psychologists use the terms re-casting or re-framing to explain this change in perspective.

Happiness comes from within. Lost your happy? Get counseling help. Robert S. Shaw, PsyD, directs the center in McGowan 1017 that is staffed with people who offer confidential, competent and compassionate advice; phone 348-6245.

Now go do something good for yourself.