Thursday, September 16, 2010

Being Temperamental

I had a long conversation with a friend last week where I insisted that happiness is an unworthy goal.  You know how people say "I just want my kids to be happy"?  Well, I get a little offended by that because in my mind they are saying that all they want is for their kids to avoid anything that makes the kids unhappy (and as we all know, when our kids aren't happy, we aren't either so whose happiness are we really wishing for?)  I argued that happiness is a passive state and that I wanted more for my kids than simply the absence of anything that diminishes their passive state of happiness. 

For the record, Websters says happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.  Alternate: a pleasureable or satisfying experience. Happy is defined as favored by luck or fortune.  This pretty much matches my definition, and probably most people's.  The difference, I realize, is that for me, happiness is pretty much a perpetual state of being.  Under my circumstances, setting a goal to be happy is both self-serving and an avoidance issue.  Once again I have made the mistake of seeing my worldview as universal.

It's so easy to understand that we have a different world view from people of other cultures.  It's harder to understand that each of us, regardless of our external culture, has an internal culture that influences every decision, interaction and our very state of well-being.  I know this about my children.  I have compared and contrasted their inner cultures since the day the second child was born.  It's very easy to see a baby's inner culture (Do they sleep well?  Like people?  Smile a lot?  Cry a lot?  Like to be held?  Startle easily?) but much more difficult once we have donned the uniform of adulthood. 

I call it a uniform because it's a covering designed to make us all the same.  Stripped of it, we're still pretty much the same person we were as an infant.  Judging from the photos and my mother's reports, I was a happy baby.  So no surprise that I am pretty much a happy adult, except when things interfere with my happiness.  Back then it was a wet diaper, today it's more likely a wet blanket.

The ancients called my personality "sanguine".  Hippocrates theorized that everyone's personality was ruled by one of four body fluids, or "humors": blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.  (Gross, I know.)  Later these were characterized as Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic.  Eventually these became known as the Temperaments.

Now I can guess that some of you are dying to know more, some of you are indignant at such over-simplification, some of you don't believe this theory applies to you, and some of you have quit reading by now.  And you are all right, because each of you has a different inner culture.  So for me, and all my sanguine compatriots, happiness just happens and isn't in the least bit worthy as a goal (kind of like learning to speak English in an English-speaking country) but I revoke my initial criticism, because happiness is a worthy goal for those of you who live in a different inner culture.  And if you have a child who is not sanguine - it's a loving wish to hope for their happiness.

I'm going to quit now and start a new entry because it has just occurred to me that this probably also impacts the way we see God!  In the meantime, wade in those baptismal waters and know that regardless of your temperament, when we wade, we all get wet.  We just don't all share the same feelings about it!


Life As I Know It said...

A big topic, for sure.
Basically, I think that without un-happiness we lose our introspective moments, and our creativity. I wonder if artists create better in periods of happiness or unhappiness. Think of all the great writers and artists who were depressed...they wouldn't have created what they did if they were in a constant state of happiness, which I guess is a relative term, anyway.
Although, if one is so unhappy that they are depressed and in a scary dark place, then, yes, I supposed happiness would be a goal worth attaining.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Blood, bile and phlegm? Nice.

If we know no unhappiness, then how do we know what happy might be? I agree with Life As I Know it - that creativity often arrives out of depression.

Oh, I can see how this could go on. Yes, write another one. (Enjoyed this one, though.)

BusyTraveler said...

As often happens, the follow-up to our conversation happened in service Sunday. Pastor defined it as pleasure = senses, happiness = our earthly relationships, and joy = our relationship with God.

So, yes, I think pursuing happiness in our earthly relationships is a worthy goal and requires some effort from anyone, even those for whom relationships are easy.