Happiness: An Achievable Feat or a Beautiful Whim?

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By Asfar Alim (18S03J) and Chung Sohyun (18A13A)

Scrolling through our social media feeds, most of us, at some point, would have come across various “motivational” quotes on happiness. Framed against aesthetic wallpapers ranging from pastel watercolour splashes to butterflies poised on a delicate flower, these quotes often draw thousands of likes and shares, as they supposedly inspire us with their attractive messages. But often, these quotes are too pretty to be true; in reality, some can be highly misleading.

“Be Happy”, “Choose to be happy today”, “Your happiness is your responsibility” – all of these portray happiness as a conscious choice that we can and ought to make. But is this really so? To understand this, Press interviewed a few Rafflesians, asking them whether they felt happy with their current lives and how they defined happiness. The answers they gave were quite thought-provoking.

Just one example of these overly idealistic quotes.

As Rafflesians, we often struggle to navigate our way through a maze of schoolwork, CCAs, and external commitments. Stress is no stranger to us. In fact, many of our interviewees who claimed that they were unhappy cited the CTs as one of their major stress factors. When it came to the definition of happiness, an interesting trend we observed across those who were happy was that they viewed happiness as a “state” in which one experiences joy, but also as one that is “constantly evolving”.

What stands out is their recognition that happiness is not permanent, that it is an emotion uncontrollable. But why is this significant?

The problem starts when happiness becomes such a sought-after goal, to the extent that we falsely believe that it is “not okay” to be in a state of disequilibrium, distress, or sadness. All these “negative” emotions are natural, human reactions to circumstances. As cliche as it sounds, life indeed has its ups and downs, and we cannot expect to stay high all the time. After all, as much as we would like to stay happy, family problems, friendship conflicts, and many other situations in life may strike us down. Forcing ourselves to cheer up after receiving poor test results or jokingly dismissing the stress we are facing will not solve any problems in the long run. In other words, due to our pursuit of constant happiness, we often fail to acknowledge and internalise our more “negative” emotions, which ironically causes our unhappiness.

Learn to stop chasing happiness!

But another problem arises: After being honest with myself and accepting the state of emotion I am in when faced with setbacks, how do I move on?

The key lies in our attitudes. While happiness and positivity are often used interchangeably, we believe that the two are very distinct. Positivity, being a mindset, is what shapes our perception of the emotions we are experiencing, such as happiness. Changing our perspectives to adopt a positive outlook is what really makes difficult occurrences more bearable. When we stop lamenting our current state, considering instead how we can improve from this point and realising that these events can change in the near future, we start to appreciate the beauty in life’s challenges. This is when we emerge more determined, even thrilled, to face the obstacles ahead.

This phenomenon can be observed in many successful people, athletes in particular. A report from the Ohio Centre of Sports psychology states that successful athletes view their sport as an opportunity to improve themselves and learn from their failures. They realised that their attitude is always a choice and choosing to maintain a positive outlook brings people towards self-improvement.

Attitude is key.

Even self-contentment, which is quite different from the self-improvement mindset, is a viable state one can choose to adopt in order to find their happiness. We too often hear of tales where people strive to be accomplished in the different fields of their lives. Some sign up for many leadership positions and learn new practical skills in order to feel like they have done everything they possibly can. The interviewees who defined happiness in terms of their achievements or the things they wish to accomplish in life were those who tended to be in a more depressed state than their peers, possibly due to the pressure they place on themselves to achieve these expectations. A self-contented person, however, may prefer to appreciate the happiness they derive from the things that they currently have and will face the challenges thrown at them one step at a time.

Although it is good to find happiness through achieving our goals, it is worth noting that perceiving happiness as a form of reward for reaching these goals may prevent one from ever being happy with oneself in the long run. When these dreams are achieved, a person may be in a more desirable level in life, but there is a chance that the satisfaction gained from achieving these goals may not be all that they have imagined, thus leading to disappointment. This is when people get trapped in a vicious cycle where they endlessly chase their constantly-changing dreams in their attempts to achieve happiness. In such cases, it could be wise to pursue more meaningful things such as building healthy social relationships. At the end of the day, it is the relationships we forge that provide the emotional support we can rely on during the painful periods of our lives.

So are the motivational quotes right? Is “happiness our responsibility”? Can we really “choose to be happy today”? Ultimately, we cannot provide concrete solutions to achieve happiness. However, the writers do believe that we will enjoy greater moments of happiness when we don’t unrealistically expect to be happy all the time. Instead, we can alter our perceptions to have a more positive outlook on life. We have the ability to determine where we derive happiness from and when used well, we can pursue the different things that we find meaning in. In the long run, the happy moments we recall and cherish when we look back upon our JC lives would most likely stem from the people around us and the beautiful memories created with them.

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