Had the pleasure of conducting this interview with Amy Shea, author of Defending Happiness. Love her insights and the experiences that forged them.
Why do we need to defend happiness?
We need to defend our happiness from the idea that it's dispensable. We not only put it last, but we eliminate it from our daily life. We save it up for vacation. And we blame and complain that we have all these responsibilities, these things that have to be done first. Yet, if we examine those things we are putting in its place, so often they are tied to an ideal of what life is supposed to look like, what we are supposed to be doing. Remember in Star Trek, when an episode would open up with the team in the transporter room, ready to beam down to the supposedly-docile planet? Whenever you saw a new guy you didn't recognize on the team you knew two things: a) there was going to be trouble, and b) he was going to be the first to go. That new guy is happiness. It's the first to go when there's trouble. Yet when we have trouble, that's when we need it most.
Is happiness a choice?
Yes. And it's sometimes a hard choice. No one is happy when hard and difficult things happen. And the last thing I am suggesting is positive thinking--I don't believe in that. It's denial of what is. I believe in seeing what is, and seeing the value in what is. When I got breast cancer, my world, as I knew it, stopped. And that experience was not one sided. Was it a gun to my chest? You bet. But it also stamped an expiration date on my consciousness, and I was more present, laughed harder, and stopped making unimportant things so important. And THAT'S the choice: not what happens, but how to show up in what happens, how to live with a full consciousness instead of one that is but a limited perception of what happiness is supposed to look like. Breast cancer taught me that, though as a strategy I would not recommend it.
You’re very transparent in your book, Defending Happiness. Was it difficult to be so open?
Not at all. I'm not ashamed of being human, and I think being human is hilarious. And I love to laugh, especially with others. I think pretending we are perfect is toxic--to us, our relationships, and our world. It is the most isolating thing we do as humans.
What advice would you give to the person waiting for happiness to pay them a visit?
Hit the road. Go find it. Happiness is not a furry puppy that's going to climb up into your lap. Going after what makes you happy is going to mean disturbance. At the very least, it's going to disturb the habitual life. It may disturb those who are accustomed to you doing what they want, what makes them happy. It may mean you make less money, have fewer things. But whatever disturbance you encounter, you will be here, you will have shown up in your own life.
Do you think there is a connection between contentment and happiness?
Yes, if you can find contentment in being yourself and contributing from that place. To me, happiness is the peace found in being completely present in one's life, even as one faces all that life is--that amazing feeling of being awake. It is to have lived. I wouldn't trade it for anything of this world.