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 expediency of the tasks of the moment extinguished the joy of this precious moment. The boys right to happiness was taken in service to the needs of the moment.
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 that dampen delight. Many children internalize the connection between joy and parental scolding. We suppress happiness because we falsely believe it interferes with productivity. Perhaps, this is part of Freud’s familiar concept of the superego.
Behaviors Sabotage Our Right to Happiness
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 warmth of accomplishment, a dark cloud drags us down, pushing us to do something more. Do we find security in unhappiness?
Happiness, self-confidence, peace of mind can be foreign territory. A few steps into this strange land of happiness may ignite fear. A dear friend professed, “I feel good, but I don’t want to enjoy it because it won’t last.” And she is completely right; it will pass.
Yet underneath something feels sinister about joy. As soon as we accomplish something wonderful, instead of basking in the warmth of accomplishment, a dark cloud drags us down. ~T. Franklin Murphy
Her comment was prophetic, her joy did not last. No peace lasts forever—she was absolutely correct. Life brings sorrows; but why sabotage the short bursts of pleasure? Who declared happiness has to be eternal to be enjoyed? Is cessation of pleasure so bad that we prefer no pleasure at all?
Robert E. Najemy wrote in his book on happiness that “many of us set ourselves up for failure because of our habitual negative thinking and basic beliefs concerning our impotency” (2001, p. 13). We abandon our right to happiness in our own brain, inviting stress to invade the peace, and extinguish the joy.
“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”~Guillaume Apollinaire
A Few Words By Psychology Fanatic
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 lives without guilt.
Najemy, Robert E. (2001). The Psychology of Happiness: Understanding Our Selves and Others. Holistic Harmony Network; 4th edition.