As a child, I can remember many happy hours spent singing and swinging. I found happiness in simple things like many of those listed in “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
I don’t remember every contemplating what made me happy or sad as a child. I do remember experiencing a range of emotions and finding ways to express them is a variety of ways with the help of adults around me. (Translation: I could throw a big hissy fit as a child.)
Fast forward to my adult years.
By 1988, when “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was released I was a music therapist working in a skilled nursing facility. I loved the beat of the music and an opportunity to whistle.
Yet it caused me to reflect on worry, happiness, and sadness. My education had prepared me to work with a variety of abilities and diagnoses including depression. My life experiences had shown me a range of emotions is a part of living. The questions began to (re)form:
- When does worrying go from being a normal experience to a problem?
- How long can you be sad before it becomes depression?
- If I am happy all the time, do I appreciate it as much as someone who has been sad?
I came to realize for myself a one size fits all answer doesn’t exist. Rather, it is the impact an emotion or experience has on us that tells us (or those around us) we need (professional) assistance to move on or through it. Yes, I had learned all of this all throughout my life, but it was the meeting of professional and personal life that brought out this period of reflection.
How I defined happiness morphed as I aged. Yes, i could still feel happy when I was swinging and singing, but maybe I didn’t take the time to do those things or appreciate them in the moment. Happiness (along with the other emotions of life) needed acknowledgement and space.
It wasn’t just my life I witnessed this but also in the lives of those I served and with whom I worked.
When the activity programming was more in the moment and not rigidly time structured, there were a range of emotions expressed in wonderfully appropriate ways. We could cry, laugh, scream, remember, mourn, rejoice…we would be with each other no matter our ability or diagnosis. The level of tolerance for the differences in the room would rise.
For example, a person might be grieving but they didn’t feel alone in their grief. They didn’t feel it was inappropriate to miss someone who had died 20 or more years ago. They expressed the grief, why they missed the person, then they would get to sharing the joys they had experienced.
In those activities when we were more time and goal focused, things could easily shift to being less tolerant, more negative, more angry in expression. We all seemed glad when the activity ended, quickly retreating to our respective corners.
Yes, there are moments of life when time does matter. But, when we are mindful, fully present (for me) life happens and it tends to have more happiness.