What makes us happy?


Tough question that one, because it’s too subjective, but its one I’ve been contemplating off and on for a few weeks now. Broadly speaking, I think happiness for most people falls into the categories of money, career, family and acceptance/respect. You may have identified others but these are the what I call the Big Four, and because I’m having a bit of writing binge at the moment, I’m going jot down my feelings about each category.

Money: Well, they say it makes the world go round and that is probably true. Wealth has always been the discriminator that judges our place in society. These days if you are not driving around in a premium car with the latest iPhone in your pocket and decked out in the latest fashion then your made to feel as though you aren’t keeping up with current trends. You feel the urge to buy things you cannot afford and run the risk of racking up serious debt. This is a madness born of cancer in today’s society. Many can access money in this day and age, but if its borrowed money then all those nice shiny things can only give a temporary feeling of happiness until the reality of the cost becomes apparent. Money, therefore, makes my list of the Big Four – its used quite literally to buy happiness, but if you’re buying things you think you need with money that isn’t yours, then the happiness is fake.

Career: For some reason, we are told we need to seek promotion, the next rung up the ladder. Does anyone ever stop to consider if they are actually fine where they are? Nine times out of ten, a promotion means more responsibility and that will have a knock-on effect for other areas within your life, be it with family or socially. Sure, you’ll probably be paid more, and if that is what you need then fair enough. I would say that if the new salary balances well with the impact on other areas of your life then go for it. However, if you have enough money already then I think you need to seriously ask yourself why it is you feel you need to move up that career ladder. Yeah, maybe it’s for the challenge and you love your profession and want to have a greater impact within your chosen field, but at what cost? In my view, the question of whether or not you should go for a new job should centre upon the impact it will have upon future happiness and not be a decision driven by money or what you think society thinks about you and your position in it. If you’re happy, then why change?

Family: Family is important to me and my happiness. In fact, a source of unhappiness for me would be that I don’t see my mother and father, brother or sister nearly as often as I would like. However, I have a wife and a son of my own and so naturally there is a conflict in exactly who I spend time with. I have no real idea if others feel as I do about their own families but I’ve ruminated for some time on this subject and reached the conclusion that maybe this is a northern thing. I find, generally speaking, that northern families are closer and more likely to live close to one another. This is, of course, based only upon my own observations and I may be way off the mark. I do consider myself northern though, if ever so slightly nomadic. A displaced northerner maybe?

Acceptance/respect: I think we have always sought to be accepted by our peers, friends and family and if we are all honest, I also think we don’t like to admit it. I’m a paramedic by trade and can categorically say that peer opinion is so important. We have an unwritten benchmark in the prehospital arena when taking the measure of another clinician. We do it by asking a very simple question, ‘Would I want this person treating a member of my family?” If the answer is yes, then that is all the professional recognition you need. You are accepted above gender, culture, political persuasion, age… whichever yardstick you choose, it matters not. If you wear green and have the respect of your peers then nothing else really matters. Of course, to lose that respect is devastating. I’ve seen more than a few of my colleagues lose confidence and become depressed following a ‘bad job’. Maybe someone died, or they were involved in something that sounded horrendous – multiple casualties in a bad traffic accident. The paramedic may go off sick for a while after and the mumblings around station might be that the job sounded awful, but often it’s because the paramedic is questioning themselves and by extension, questioning if they still have the respect of their peers.

Of course, there are many forms of acceptance. Social media adds an entirely new dimension to friendships these days. Having a son who is yet to become embroiled in this ever increasingly connected world causes me some consternation. Its a dynamic I never had to face, but I can see the evils within, the faceless bullying and sense of disconnection that could befall anyone who falls out with others in their social circle.

I was going to end this there but after reading through I can see I have made a glaring omission in my list. What about love? The way I think of love would be to say this: If money makes the world go round then love can stop it. It can even end your world such is the potentially devastating effects of feelings its loss. It is the glue that holds everything else together, the force that permeates every facet of your life and lifts a normal life into the peaks of happiness. It enhances every other category of happiness which is why I do not consider it to be one of the Big Four because it is simply too big, too influential, to be held an equal to something like money or career. You may have other opinions about love that differ from my own. Perhaps you feel that love should be on equal footing with those other categories or maybe even not at all, but if you do then I know something about you. You’ve never been in love.

M.

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