The Right to Happiness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy |January 2013
We live in a serious world, full of deadlines and commitments. We can step away from the chaos to catch our breath and enjoy a few smiles without guilt.
A two-year old boy shopping with his mother experiences a rush of joy. He is giggling, playing laughing. His young body moves with the exuberance of youth as he jumps and teases. The young mother who was initially smiling slowly shifts and gently scolds her happy child, “That’s enough, we need to get things done.” The gentle scolding gets firmer as the child’s excitement continues—the once smiling mother has a scowl of frustration. And the once happy child begins to softly sob. The joy of this precious moment was quickly extinguished by the expediency of the tasks needing to be completed.
We shouldn’t condemn a frustrated mother—I offer no solutions to these complicated moments. No parent is perfect, and even if they were, a perfect parent would poorly prepare a child for the imperfect partner they eventually marry. But my focus is on the early experiences of dampen feelings of delight. Many internalize a connection between joy and parental scolding. We suppress happiness because we falsely believe it interferes with productivity.
Consciously we desire happiness. We do things that are pleasurable (the pleasure principle). Yet underneath something feels sinister about joy. As soon as we accomplish something wonderful, instead of basking in the sunlight of accomplishment, a dark cloud drags us down. Do we find security in the familiarity of unhappiness? Happiness, self-confidence, peace of mind can be foreign territory. A few steps into this strange land of happiness may generate fear. A dear friend professed, “I feel good but I don’t want to enjoy it because it won’t last.”
Her comment was prophetic, her joy did not last. No peace lasts forever—she was absolutely correct. Life brings sorrows; but why sabotages the short bursts of pleasure. Who declared happiness had to be eternal to be enjoyed? Is cessation of pleasure so bad that we prefer no pleasure at all?
Next time you experience pleasure, enjoy it, savor the delightful moments, basking in the positive feelings. Be on guard for menacing thoughts chastising the childlike glee. When we mindfully enjoy experience, the underlying destructive impulses to impeded happiness will diminish. By allowing happiness to be freely enjoyed, we establish a new comfort zone, a place where joy can be experienced without guilt.