A prior post, For Happiness, Bob Marley Said it Best, Don’t Worry, was based on Dan Gilbert’s research on happiness which reveals we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness based on the value we place on a thing or situation. Our perception holds the key to our happiness.
A comment to that piece stated, “Too often we create our own misery with unrealistic goals and attachments- esp. in regards to the behavior of others, whom we cannot control.”
I tend to agree with that, especially for those coming from and living in “average” environments. It is often our expectation of others which creates our own unhappiness. This is often the case for those who continually look outside of themselves for fulfillment, or those who have a need to attempt to exert their control on others instead of learning how to accept and deal with life as it is and with other relational styles. The keeping up with the Joneses, or rather Kardashians mindset and lifestyle that so many people seem to chase after and crave infests our society, while deeper concerns and thoughts are often met with a lack of compassion or outright derision. To me, it seems this holds true on an individual level as well as a societal one. Mostly enjoying our existence, we ignore our part in things and blame our personal unhappiness on some external source or lack. However, on a larger scale, we also ignore policies that marginalize whole groups of people by institutions which create and enforce real systemic barriers for those marginalized groups; we blind ourselves to the impact of such marginalization.
This speaks to another point that needs to be made regarding our ability to embrace happiness and our unrealistic goals and attachments. Simply because I believe it is true that we are all ultimately responsible for our happiness, doesn’t mean everyone gets that or is able to move past their wiring/schema/patterns to be fully equipped to live a life that embraces that understanding. Not everyone is equipped to take control and make productive, healthy, positive choices for themselves. You can tell a person the choice is theirs, but they need to really know that and believe it, and when you’ve been oppressed since birth by a certain dynamic or environment, or a combination of the two, it’s nearly impossible to realize you have power of any sort. To paraphrase Paolo Freire, the powerless may be frightened of freedom, and what could possibly be more freeing than taking ownership for and of one’s own life and one’s own happiness? How can those who have been marginalized, and face real systemic barriers, learn to own the sense of self-efficacy necessary to overcome such challenges? How can those who have been oppressed since birth due to the dynamics present in their environment even recognize there is another way?
While I do not want to discount how true it is that we are each ultimately responsible for our happiness, we also cannot discount the impact oppression has on an individual’s ability to understand and embrace that truth. On a large-scale, there’s a need for recognition of the conditions that foster oppression in our society and steps must be taken to promote a more just society by removing the systemic barriers which cause marginalization and set up dynamics which foster a sense of powerlessness. On an individual scale, because much of the loss of positive forward motion stems from a low sense of self-efficacy due to internalized oppression, counseling for skills and capacity building can enhance individual functioning. We live in an interactive society, and when looking to fix what’s broken, we can’t ignore the big picture. None of our lives take place in a vacuum. The quick fix of a pill does not work in a toxic environment any more than the ability to make more life-enhancing choices exists in a mind that does not believe there really is a choice or that different choices lead to different outcomes.
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