Happiness is that “feeling good” feeling, that lightness and joy that we feel when things are going the way we want and would like them to go.
Yet why do so many people always say they want to experience more happiness? That they are un-happy now? That they wonder if they will ever be happy all the time?
It seems as if happiness is elusive- out of our reach, transient and short-lived. And so it should be… Let me clarify:
I think that a lot of people perceive happiness to be in the external “stuff” of their worlds – like in the new car they just bought, or the job promotion, or the cute guy who just called.
What’s actually happening is their body is registering a frame of mind that is being reinforced by an external event. Let me explain this a bit more.
Perception of Reality
Each of us has a very different perception of the world – of reality – based on how we were brought up, the people we learnt from in life, the experiences life sent our way, the type of school we went to, historical events we lived through etc.
So we each end up with a very different way of perceiving. Thus our perception of the world influences how we then see it, and how we then react to it.
Map vs. Territory
Taking this the next step, we could compare our perception of the world to a map of the world, where the world is the territory.
If you think about it, the map is not the territory- it is just a representation of the territory. The piece of paper with the drawing of the roads is not the actual roads.
So our perception of reality is not reality itself.
Now to navigate through life, the more accurate our map is, the easier we find it to get around, and get to destinations. If our maps are inaccurate, or missing information, misrepresenting the territory, dirty etc. then we will find it much harder to get to a destination, or to find our way around.
Where emotions come in, is they are our body’s way of registering how accurate our map is.
The more accurate our map is, the closer it is to the actual territory, the more “positive” our emotions are that we experience. However, the more inaccurate our maps, the more “negative” the emotions that we feel.
You see, our mind-body-emotion system is just that: a system.
We have been very good at talking about them as different aspects of ourselves, yet they are a system and are inter-related. It’s hard to think about something, and not have a corresponding feeling, which we experience in our body. And likewise, if you are experiencing an emotion in our body, it’s hard to not have a thought about it.
Thus emotions are signals to us that there is a difference between our map and our territory- a difference between what we are expecting, i.e. our expectations, and what we actually experience, i.e. how things turn out.
Happiness is a feeling- it’s an emotion. Thus it is one of those signals that tell us that our expectations are being met, that our experience of reality is close to our perception of it.
When there is a big difference, in that what we experience is no where near what we expected, we can feel disappointment, sadness, un-happiness.
People’s perception of happiness is often professed as an external event or thing. Yet what is actually happening is the person had an expectation or desire for the new car, promotion or liked the cute guy- so when that expectation or desire is met, the body registers this match in map and territory as the energy of happiness.
It’s not actually the car or job or guy that causes the experience of happiness- it is the momentary match of expectation and experience.
That is why happiness can be fleeting- you feel it for a bit and then it goes, the car no longer is the source of happiness. That’s because it never was the source – it was the event of getting the car that was the source.
So if this were to become your new map of happiness, how would you feel about happiness and the frequency with which you feel this emotion?
To your happiness!