Updated: Sep 18, 2022
It’s popular wisdom these days that happiness comes from within. I see it everywhere. Therapists say it. Mindfulness articles sell it. It’s said to be true, 100%… and yet. Something about that sentiment just plain stinks for me. When I turn this statement on it’s head, it just doesn’t completely ring true. Sometimes, it even feels shaming to me. But why?!
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
1. Context does matter.
If I am Queer, a person of color, trans, female, Muslim, immigrant, struggling with mental health issues, fat etc. and living in a society that seeks to progress through my oppression; a society that tells me daily that I am wrong, or gaslights me into believing that all my perceived failures or lack of success is my fault, this idea that my happiness should come from within, is further oppressive and shaming. It’s leaving out the very important external factors and situations that contribute to one’s mood, security, safety, and wellbeing. And, it leaves out the political, socio-economic, societal factors that influence the personal, individual lives of those living in those environments.
2. Happiness may come from within. But it also comes from outside too.
This idea that happiness only comes from within lacks nuance. How can we simplify something so difficult to even define? Ask anyone right now what his or her definition of happiness is, and I bet you get more than one. Happiness is a complicated thing to truly grasp, fleeting even. How can it be sized up so simply? I know for me environment has mattered so much. I am not the same person spending my weekend in a crowded, fast pace, downtown city as I am hiking in a green, lush forest. Sure, I can make the best of most things and practice gratitude, but without certain experiences and factors outside of myself, I cannot feel true contentment and joy.
3. Humans are wired for connection.
Brene Brown said it most famously in recent times, but everyone knows this simple fact. Sure, we can spend copious amounts of time meditating on top of a mountain, cross the globe searching ourselves, or get lost in introspection, but at the end of the day, what matters most to our overall wellbeing is connecting and being in the community of others. If we believe that happiness only comes from within, we can lose our focus on what really matters. And what matters, a lot of the time, is to lose our focus on ourself and put it on someone else.
“Once you start paying attention to situations there’s no going back… People are easy to see. They’re tangible. Context is harder: it’s an abstract, nebulous concept, a backdrop that can be downright invisible. Precisely because situations are difficult to see, effort is required to recognize their influence.” — Sam Sommers