Ebb and Flow

Last week, I wrote about “flow,” the feeling of ease and contentment that comes when one is engaged in an activity in which there is a balance between challenge and skill. While experiencing flow, a person loses track of time.

I think what I’ve been feeling for this week could be called, “ebb.” Things feel effortful, halting. Time is not flying.

Renee commented the other day, “is our life just a bunch of happy or unhappy moments? does this all collectively make us happy or not?”

It seems logical that lots of little happy things would coalesce into an overall state of happiness and result in a Happy Person. But whether I’m happy or not doesn’t seem to be linked all that closely with what’s going on in my external environment. The same things that made me smile yesterday don’t make me smile today, and something that irritated the heck out of me yesterday doesn’t bother me today. This would suggest that the origin of my happiness (or lack thereof) is internal, someplace not touched by the things going on outside.

This is rather disheartening, because the inside stuff is so hard to change, but it’s not a new idea. Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication, talks about how we often say something “makes us feel” one way or another. He encourages people to change their phrasing and to say instead, “When X happens, I feel Y.” This, he says, helps us take personal responsibility for our emotions and gives us a sense of control over them. He notes that the same event, when experienced by two different people, can elicit two very different emotional responses. How then could that event have “made” either of them feel the way they did? The event wasn’t the origin of the emotion, but rather the emotion originated within the person and the event was just a catalyst.

While I appreciate the semantic distinction, I don’t find it terribly helpful in determining what course of action to take to feel happier. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to think that, no matter my life circumstances, I have the ability to feel happy. On the other hand, it’s not so much fun to know that, no matter my life circumstances, I have the ability to feel unhappy.

According to Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss, even the experts in the study of happiness have trouble determining which circumstances lead to happiness. There are apparently many contradictions when they look at the origins of happiness. Another argument in favor of the “happiness comes from within” hypothesis.

*sigh* Just my luck. At least I know that, in the fullness of time, this “ebb” will move back into “flow” whether I figure out how to make it happen or not.

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