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Is happiness a feeling or a perspective?

March 8, 2016

The surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, says happiness is a perspective.  I tend to agree with him, in spite of scientific evidence that some of us are more prone to glass half empty vs glass half full vision.  I agree in spite of the privileges or lack of them that some of us experience through dumb luck.  And I agree in spite of disabilities and losses and disappointments.  A happiness perspective is something that can be developed or expanded by putting as much or even more attention on what’s right than on what’s wrong.

I’m not suggesting ignoring reality, or adopting a gag me, ‘everything’s wonderful’ persona that feels like nails on a blackboard to someone who’s struggling or suffering.  I am suggesting that we learn to allow happiness to have its natural role, and to give it more space than it may be getting.

With alarming regularity we’re confronted with terrifying and seemingly unsolvable problems over which we have little or no control.  It’s pretty easy to scare the crap out of ourselves.  That stuff is attention grabbing.  It’s hard to look away.  So I think the alternative requires setting an intention and then practicing purposefully putting our attention on what’s right.

Murthy suggests four other behaviors to get you there:   gratitude exercises, meditation, physical activity and social connectedness.  Here’s a link to the interview where he elaborates on each area.  Please check it out.

I practice a little of each of them.  Some more than others.  But I notice that when I neglect any of them for a length of time I start to feel untethered, at the mercy of whatever awful news is in my face at the moment.

We’re not powerless.  Amidst the chaos there is an enormous amount of good that’s happening every day.  I suspect that if we counted them out, kind act by kind act, we’d be astounded by the basic goodness all around us.  Check out DailyGood.org for a regular dose of human kindness.

Much love,


  1. Julie Kampf says:

    Wow Robyn i love this! It’s exactly what I’ve been Meditating on lately, and the subject of “Happiness” seems to be popping up all around me. I have recently found that it helps (me) to distinguish between Joy & Happiness. I think of “Joy” as a feeling of gratitude for the smaller things, and that makes me happy. Someone gave me a CD 3 yrs ago of Dr. Henry Cloud speaking at Willow Creek. I came across it Sunday am while cleaning out my car. One of the things he says is that “Happy people are connected people & grateful people”. That’s my focus now:-)

    • Robyn says:

      Yes! When I make it a point to notice what’s ‘right’, what you call the joy of being grateful for the smaller things, i feel happy. Yes!

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