Ask the CHO: What if you suddenly stopped being happy?

Ask the Chief Happiness OfficerRussell Quinn asks a very interesting question in a comment:

I’ve been reading your blog for a while and your career in “being happy” got me thinking.

Can an occupation in promoting an emotion like your own happiness be compared to something like an athlete? and what happens when it’s over?

For example, you can train yourself to be happier and work at improving your own happiness, in the same way as you can train your muscles to be a better runner. You can eventually become known as a “happiness officer” or an “athlete”.

But, in the same way that something unforeseen and out of your control, like a broken leg, can happen end your athletic career, a major trauma could send you into a spiral of depression and end your career in happiness.

I guess my point of this.. is that i was considering these two statements and how the public would react to them:

“I used to be an athlete, but a broken leg meant I had to give it up 5 years ago”, and

“I used to promote happiness, but a period of depression meant i gave it up”

They are both really the same thing after all.

Sorry for going off at a tangent ;)

That’s a great tangent! And I really like the mental image of the Chief Happiness Officer who’s sprained his happy muscle and is now depressed :o)

To me, happiness is not a fixed state – it’s a constantly fluctuating emotion. It’s not like I can make myself happy, and then be happy every moment of every day for the rest of my life.

No matter how happy a person is right this second, something could happen to make that person desperately unhappy. Depression is a great example – as it is a chemical imbalance in the brain resulting in a severely bad mood that may not have been triggered by any external events in your life.

But here’s the crucial point: As Russell writes, you can train happiness. This won’t mean that you’ll always be happy – but that you’ll be as happy as you can be, given your circumstances. And when something bad happens you will be unhappy, but you will be less unhappy and be so for a shorter time.

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology admits that he is not a particularly happy person and that his efforts have taken him from depressive to moderately happy. Which kinda explains why the planet’s foremost proponent of happiness always looks so grumpy :o)

So it could absolutely happen: I could lose my happiness because something bad happened to me – or for no reason at all. And I probably would be forced to quit as the Chief Happiness Officer if that happened because there’s no way you can make other people happy if you’re unhappy yourself.

A large part of what I present in my presentations and workshops is me being happy and full of energy and customers constantly remark on this. They like what I say – and they like the way I say it just as much.

Another important point is that happiness is no less nice, desirable or beautiful for being fragile. Yes, you can build up amazing levels of happiness and lose it all in a moment when some terrifying, unstoppable event takes it all away. But that’s no reason not to be as happy as you can.

Does that make sense at all?

6 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: What if you suddenly stopped being happy?”

  1. Happiness is the mere absence of resistance to pain. Unwavering happiness is attained when there is remainderless cessation of that very ‘resistance,’ no matter how much is the pain.

    The Fundamental Theorem of Human Happiness1
    H1. SATISFACTION = PLEASURE x EQUANIMITY
    H2. FRUSTRATION = PLEASURE x GRASPING
    H3. EMPOWERMENT = PAIN x EQUANIMITY
    H4. SUFFERING = PAIN x RESISTANCE

    – shinzen.org

    When it comes to work, I have observed that burning out is absolutely due to my own resistance to the ephemeral “unpleasantness” of work. This resistance only multiplies the misery for me such that I continue to suffer even after that unpleasantness turns into pleasantness.

    I cause my suffering. Neither my boss, nor my co-workers.

    Think about it.

  2. Ah, but by being a CHO you have the know-how and tools to BE happy again. You know what to do to get yourself back on track, right? I know that’s how it works in my life…
    Aliza :D

  3. Sridhar: “the absence of resistance to pain” – I like it. Because happiness is certainly not the absence of pain itself. It also makes sense because much of our pain comes from our resistance to pain and our insistence that life should be comfortable, perfect and without flaws.

    Jean: I took a look at your blog and I love it!

    Aliza: Exactly. The more I study and practice my own happiness, the more robust it becomes.

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