Categorized | Dealing with Stress

True Happiness Comes From Living Well

Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.William S. Burroughs

Many people consider happiness as the main thing that life is all about.  If their happiness lapses, they consider that a disaster that undermines what is natural.  Never mind that the natural interacting we all engage in with other individuals and with groups and institutions often leads to stressful circumstances that may well undermine whatever happiness we are currently experiencing.  In this process, those of us who think that nothing is more important than happiness rush to engage in denial and avoidance of stressors, or see themselves as victims and strike back.

After all, life is by its nature stressful.  This is mainly due to life being an ongoing developmental process.  This starts when we are popped out of our mother’s womb, which is painful, and then we must begin breathing and eating for ourselves, and dealing with all the noises and temperature and circumstantial changes that go on.  No sooner do we become a little used to all this, and learn how to talk to others, than we must leave what has become the safe house into which we were born, in order to go to school.  There, we must interact with other strangers (teachers and students), engage in the learning process more deeply, and see how it is to form deep relationships with others.  The stress of this continual learning process continues throughout school, and before we know it, we are needing to make decisions about what career and family of reference we will have.  As if this encounter of stressors was not enough, it is added to when we form a family of our own, have children, and take on various jobs.  Then, as we grow older, those around us may get sick or die, and our own health may deteriorate.  Needless of say, life is of its nature a continual process of experiencing stress.  And, if this were not enough, how about the mega-trends of stressors imposed on us that are not specifically developmental.  Examples in our current times are the rapid evolution of the computer and internet technology, the ongoing globalization of our experiences, and how all of this has decreased job security and increased terrorism.

If your conviction is that happiness is all that really matters in life, you may well deal with the natural, inevitable stressors mentioned above by trying to deny and avoid them.  But, by attempting to protect your happiness in this manner, the end result will be minimizing experiences, sticking with what you already know, and in that way avoiding personal development and growth.  You will be very defensive, rigid, and relatively empty.  Another way you may try to minimize the stressors is by feeling convinced that you are a victim of an unaccepting, unrelenting environment, and that all you can do to try to remain happy nonetheless is to strike back at the people and institutions that seem to hate you.  This paranoid thinking leads in the direction of aggressive disregard toward others, and war and terrorism toward societies. So, feeling victimized and striking back can also lead to superficiality, rigidity and emptiness.

A better orientation toward life is to accept its naturally stressful nature, and to see trying to deal effectively with the stressors as the best way of growing and developing, so that one reaches fulfillment. Happiness that is separate from your efforts does not lead in this direction. As Burroughs says well, it is seeking the victory without the war.

Is happiness irrelevant to living well? Certainly not. But, true, lasting happiness comes from seeing yourself interact with stressful circumstances in resilient ways. It’s a byproduct of courageous action in the face of life stressors. Hence,  courage leads to happiness. In the hardiness approach to living well, courage is seen as recognizing the developmental importance of stressors, trying to remain involved in interacting with people and institutions despite their stressfulness, and doing one’s best to constructively resolve the stresses and learn from that process.  The courage represented in these attitudes gives one the motivation to do the hard work of constructively resolving stressful circumstances, through problem-solving (rather than avoidance) coping, socially-supportive (rather than conflicted interactions with individuals and institutions), and beneficial (rather than excessive) self-care.

Thus, happiness is not at all irrelevant or continuous. Whenever the attitudes and strategies of hardiness lead to constructive resolution of stressors, then happiness is the result.  But the approach does not lead to the expectation that one should be happy at all times, without having to work for it.

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Note: The image in this post is called Door to Happiness by John Bronsteen, Christopher Buccafusco, and Jonathan Masur.


About Salvatore R. Maddi

The child of immigrant parents, Dr. Maddi knew about the importance of resilience and courage from an early age. After receiving his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Harvard University in 1960, Professor Maddi taught at the University of Chicago for 26 years, and transferred to the University of California, Irvine in 1986. He is licensed for clinical, health, and forensic practice. Having done his internship at Judge Baker Guidance Center (Boston, MA), he gained much experience in guiding parents in helping their youngsters develop. Sal has published 9 books and 100 papers on such topics as creativity, stress mastery, hardiness, performance, development, and health. His classic book, Personality Theories: A Comparative Analysis, published in 1969, is now in its 6th edition, and has been translated into several foreign languages. Always involved in practice and consulting, he founded the Hardiness Institute in 1984. For many years, he has done family therapy, especially helping parents to further the development of their offspring. In his influential study of the effects of the U.S. deregulation of its telephone industry, hardiness emerged as the pattern of courage and skills that help people be resilient by turning stressful circumstances from potential disasters into growth opportunities instead. Since that time, voluminous research and practice on hardiness has validated that position. Now, hardiness assessment and training is used in businesses, colleges, and military and safety organizations, and receives regular media coverage. Maddi says, “When you can navigate professional and personal changes in a way that furthers your and your company’s goals, strengthens your ability to turn adversity to advantage, and deepens professional and personal meaning, you succeed as a leader and a person. That is the Way of Hardiness.”

4 Responses to “True Happiness Comes From Living Well”

  1. avatar Persi says:

    Life by nature can be stressful and “inevitable stressors,” even if one wants to avoid them, have to be dealt with. Although “resiliency” and “courage” are important, strategy to identify, solve them, or minimize their negative impact on our physical and mental well being is more important. Also, we are not created to deal with them all the time and all once. In other words, deal with them one at the time, if it is possible. If all these measures fail, do not let the stressors take over your life. Just move on and be happy and let others envy you for achieving happiness with or without “personal development and growth!” Life is too short!

    • You have made a valuable comment on my article. Certainly, in addition to courage, you needs the strategies and skills that will help in turning stressors to advantage, and facilitate growth through this process. But, even if you has the skills, they may not be utilized continuously, unless there is the courage to do so. So, you need the whole process we call hardiness, which is a pattern of attitudes and skills that help in gaining fulfillment. We also agree with you that not all stressors can be resolved, even with the hardiness courage and skills. In that case, courage helps you to accept this, and continue to go on growing anyway. We call this compensatory self-improvement. And, let me emphasize once again, true happiness is the result of utilizing the courage and skills. Any other happiness may be an attempt to avoid it all. Cheers, Sal

  2. avatar lee du ploy says:

    Search for fulfillment ( and happiness will follow)

    The most contented people I knew live in Africa when I was a kid, making toys from discarded wire and playing with clay from the river banks making animals left to dry in the sun.
    Since then the world has turned into a paradox of choices….where once we were ruled by kings, we are now ruled by things.

    lee du ploy ( I live in HONG kONG) don’t ask for happiness here, ask for money.
    Author of the “Glass Facade”

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Lee, I don’t know how I missed your comment. But, I love what you say here. “Once ruled by kinds–now ruled by things.” Thank you. Warmly Deborah.


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