Happiness: just what is it?

At the beginning of a new year, a new job, a new relationship there will often be an accompanying wish for happiness.
Happiness becomes a mantra for fulfilment. For contentment. For success.

How did ‘Happiness’ get into our lexicon?

The arrival was fairly straightforward; the path to its current meaning was less so. The root of our word comes on a direct line from Old Norse, Proto-Germanic, and Old Danish words.
I have attempted to show these in the grid below:


Old Norse
Old Danish

chance, good fortune, good luck
heppinn, happ


fitting, convenient,
to happen, to occur
happa, heppa
hampa, hampijana

  • many of the words in the grid use diacritic marks that I cannot replicate
  • this is a very basic explanation that does not aim to replace detailed study

In Old English (c 5th – 12th C) ‘gehaep’ was used in the sense of ‘to happen’, but this was changing by the Middle English period (c 1150-1500). By the end of the fourteenth century Middle English words “happyn” and “happen” were being used in the sense of being fortunate or that things had turned out well; there was also the notion of being ‘very glad’ about events. From around 1520 the meaning widened to include being “greatly pleased and content”.
Examples from Shakespeare plays, written around the end of the 1500s, illustrate how broad the meaning could be:

  • Romeo and Juliet: His help to crave and my dear hap to tell (fate)
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost: Rosaline, by good hap (luck)
  • Othello: tell my lord and lady what hath happed (happened)
  • Twelfth Night: What else may hap to time I will commit (happen)
  • Henry VI, part 3: See … a hapless father’s tears (unlucky)
  • Measure for Measure: Happily, You something know (perhaps)
  • Othello: And lo, the happiness! (good fortune)
  • Romeo and Juliet: Thy Juliet is alive … There art thou happy (fortunate)
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost: They did not bless us with one happy word (fitting)

Of the various meanings used by Shakespeare only ‘unlucky’ would be readily recognised today, as in ‘a hapless fool’. There is also a similar nuance in ‘a happy coincidence’ by which we would understand that the event was ‘fortunate’ rather than ‘giving pleasure’.

How do we view and evaluate ‘happiness’?

I’ll begin with the entry in Wikipedia: “Happiness is used in the context of mental or emotional states, including positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being.”

Going right back to c.350 BCE the Greek philosopher Aristotle was writing about happiness as a state of being over which the individual has autonomy. Ultimately it was happiness ‘of the soul’ attained by living well: competently (capably or proficiently), morally (caring for the well-being of others), and fortunately (enjoying a pleasant life). For more in-depth discussion read Edith Hall’s brilliant book Aristotle’s Way.

About four years ago I bought ‘Happier at Home’ by Gretchen Rubin, author of the blockbuster bestseller ‘The Happiness Project’. The blurb told me that I needed this book to make my life happier and that I would be led along the path by one of ‘the most influential and thought-provoking observers of happiness’. (quotation taken from Ms Rubin’s website). Chapter One on ‘possessions’ was everything I’d hoped for; I even bought a special book to make notes. Chapter Two was on marriage. Not everyone who wants to be happier at home is married. And definitely not in her narrow terms. Oh well, I thought, can’t dismiss it because of that. I read on and my misgivings grew. She was advocating improving a relationship based on her own personal findings after a conscious determination to increase ‘thanking’, ‘praising’, ‘rewarding’ her husband. I stopped reading and used my time more wisely: by spending precious moments enjoying my husband’s company.

What children say about happiness:

‘You can’t buy things to make you happy.’

‘Happy is the whole world as friends.’

‘Happiness is if you give it away.’

‘Happiness is a warm feeling in your tummy.’

taken from: I Wish you Happiness, edited by Helen Exley

My money’s on Aristotle and the wisdom of children. Happiness is up to you. You can feel it, you can give it to others. Like all good things it takes working at. It also feeds on the acceptance that it won’t always be there; it’s not a permanent state of mind; it’s not merely possessions; it’s not determined by external forces. It begins with you and ends with you. It’s about experiences not excesses; people not possessions.

“Happiness is not having less; it is not having more; it is wanting what you have.”

What are your thoughts on happiness? Is there something/someone in your life guaranteed to make you happy? Is happiness important to you?

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Rock Face: a poem on deflection

Rock Face – the poem

vocal assault of bluntness
parry and thrust of the joker
vacuous echoes filling space
avoidance of the interloper

face the rock you fear to scale
with truths that leave hands bloodied
by jagged fears and sleepless dreams
and a mind and soul fresh sullied

vocal assault of bluntness
parry and thrust of the joker
vacuous echoes filling space
avoidance of the interloper

Rock Face – the image
All aspects of this image are from photographs I have taken.
I have used the ‘magic eraser’, hue & saturation manipulation, blur tool, and cropping in Photoshop Elements.

Today I had an assessment / pre-course meeting for goal setting prior to beginning a DBT skills course for people with autism spectrum disorder.
Yesterday I was wound up about it, this morning was worse.
The meeting lasted an hour and it took me a couple of hours to wind down after. My winding down usually means I talk. And talk.
And then comes the real winding down, the one that can come so close to a shutdown that I just keep busy. Finally I write and create an image that draws out and reflects – ‘projects’ would perhaps be a better description – how I feel. Then the process of realignment is over.

What’s it about?

Firstly, the poem describes how I cope in stressful situations – or potentially stressful. Basically I deflect. Avoid. Bullshit. Anything not to square up to the situation.
The perfect example of this tendency took place in the 1990s – 2000s when I had lots of 1-to-1 Art Therapy. The sessions were for one hour. I would tidy where I was going to work, set up my space, gather materials, then set about working. And I would talk while I worked. With usually just 5 – 10 minutes left I would finish. Leaving little or no time for the actual ‘therapy’.
Of course my AT was brilliant and knew exactly what I was doing, and how artfully I accomplished the ruse. And eventually we talked about it and that was the beginning of the real work. Patient and therapist coming together and opening the floodgates to stuff I’d kept hidden for 30 – 40 years.

With the image I’m trying to convey the sense of oppression I feel in these situations. And it’s this oppression that, I suppose, leads to the need for avoidance and deflection.

Do you have situations that you try to avoid, or keep interactions at bay out of a need for survival?
I hope you’ve enjoyed my poem and image about deflection. If you have please like, share, and comment.

Thank you for reading.

Does Blue Monday increase the blues?

Today I received lots of emails from companies I shop with.
The subject matter were things like: ‘you don’t need to be blue’, ‘we can help stop you feeling blue’, you probably know the sort of nonsense I mean.

I didn’t have a clue what it was about. Until I logged into the BBC News. There was a BBC Sounds feature on this very subject. Apparently it started with a holiday company 15 years ago – as a means of generating more sales.

And it’s taken off from there. Everybody’s in on it. Well, every company it seems. The idea is – if you are feeling low / depressed / ‘blue’ then buying stuff will help you out of whichever particular quagmire you are in. It could be make-up, a fabulous outfit, holiday, adventure, bits for your hobby, expensive watch, the list is endless. These companies have no limits, and by extension no shame. They are out to fleece the most vulnerable.

Statistically the third Monday of January is no more likely to make you feel ‘blue’ than any other Monday; January is no more likely to see you depressed than, say, February. I have been hospitalised for clinical depression in January and July, April and August. Depression does not mind when or where or how it strikes.

My thoughts

Putting ideas into people’s heads that they are likely to be low, and particularly low on a particular day of the year, and then offering them a quick-fix solution at a price is immoral. Vulnerable individuals should not, must not be taken advantage of.
I urge everyone to boycott these sales ‘scams’ because that is what they are.

And the header image?

My husband attended a meeting for service users and carers when I was particularly unwell. At this gathering one of the participants related the story of an acquaintance of hers who, upon hearing that she had depression, exclaimed ‘How can you be depressed? You have such a lovely conservatory.’
We still use this as a metaphor for the absolute ignorance about the nature of mental health that is in society today.

What are your thoughts on Blue Monday? Please share them in the Comments box below.
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Thank you for reading.

Snowdrops springing up

The magic of nature

We’ve had morning frosts that have crackled the grass underfoot.
Howling winds that have blown branches from trees.
Rain and sleet that have lashed at windows.

Underground, and totally unaware of the mayhem above, delicate snowdrops plan their escape.
Unaware that their fragility is no match for the ice-hard earth, they emerge.
Unaware that bitter rains will hammer down upon the insignificant blooms, they stand triumphant.

Delicate. Fragile. Insignificant.

Luckily for the snowdrops they don’t know what we know.
And so they escape, emerge, and triumph.

I’d like to be more like them. Survivors. Against all odds.

Do you have a plant or creature that you’d like to be? If only in spirit.
Please share your thoughts.

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Thank you.

I've had a moving experience: check it out

Having decided I had just too many strands to my marilynunmasked blog, I have just launched a secondary site to feature my hand-made creations and my features on eco-friendly issues.

I’ve posted my first Valentine Day themed jewellery set, a necklace and earrings set in lilac, rose quartz, and sterling silver. As befits the day for lovers it has a definite hearts motif.

Go to http://gemadesigns.studio to see my latest creations.
Look forward to greeting you there.

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Thank you for reading.