“I Have a Right to Be Happy” – Analysis and Disputation

08/02/2005

Tuesday

Nothing last night or the night before but that was purely my doing. I stayed up reading y’all’s blogs until midnight when she was long asleep.

Tomorrow marks our 9th anniversary.

Nine years of wedded bliss…

Hahahaha!

This marriage business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I remember thinking in a rather detached fashion around my wedding day that I was ready for the extra growth. I had no idea what the hell I was thinking! But the reality is that I have had to grow in ways I never could have imagined.

Reading Jay’s blog and the comments left there got me to thinking about happiness. Everyone, without exception (including me), expressed the sentiment that he (and everyone else) deserves to be happy. On first blush, this seems to be an undeniable truth. When thinking the thought “I have the right to be happy” I begin disputation with “Is it true?” In fact, it seems to be. I then inquire further by asking, “Can I absolutely know this to be true?” That question usually successfully disputes most faulty thoughts the first one misses. However “I have the right to be happy” is a particarly stubborn belief that has reached an almost religious status in our culture. And this religion is a stubborn one. To further clarify, let’s inquire further…

“I have the right to be happy.” What is the reality? The reality is that there many times when I am not. So the next stage is to ask myself, “When I think ‘I have the right to be happy’ how does this make me feel?”

Here, the lie of this religion is exposed. When I think the thought “I have the right to be happy” I feel a sense of entitlement and thus resentment when I’m unhappy. I actually make myself more unhappy by thinking about my right to happiness and how much that right is being violated by Arwyn, the kids and seemingly everything else in life that stands in my way. If my goal is to be happy, thinking about my right to happiness is inconsistent with my stated goal of being happy and is thus an irrational thought. This mode of thinking is never going to get me to my goal of being happy. Ever. The more I try to assert my right to happiness, the less happy I am going to be.

The next stage of successful disputation is to ask “If I could not think the thought ‘I have the right to be happy’ how would I feel?” The answer is that I might be able to accept unhappiness as a condition of reality. Things are going to happen that interrupt and interfere with my own enjoyment of life. By releasing my right to happiness I might actually be better equipped and able to pursue happiness within the realm of reality. When you argue with reality, you will be wrong. But only 100% of the time.

The final stage of disputation and inquiry is to turn the statement around. Turn “I have a right to be happy” into “I do not have the right to be happy.” Is this as true or more true than my initial thought? It is more true! I have a right to pursue it, but I have no right to actually get it any time I want on whatever terms I want. In fact, true happiness seems to flourish in an environment of sacrifice.

How about this turn-around: “I have the right to be unhappy.” If my first belief was true, this one would be equally true. In fact, this statement is more true because happiness and is an emotional state of being. I can choose one or the other but unhappiness takes a lot less effort. As the entropy of the mind increases, unhappiness becomes easier. Happiness and its pursuit takes work and effort just to maintain it.

So we see that happiness is not a right at all. The pursuit of it is a right, but happiness itself is not, and can not, be guaranteed. There are millionaires who are miserable. Depression seems to flourish in an atmosphere of entitlement. People who are busy trying to scratch for their next meal don’t have the luxury of worrying about being depressed.

I need to think about this a bit more as I take on the flipside of happiness. It does seem like our own thinking betrays us with irrational beliefs. “I have the right to be happy” is an irrational belief that has the potential to seriously derail people’s lives. Jay’s wife Kitti has fallen for this false religion hook, line and sinker and Jay himself is buckling under. Arwyn is has also been seduced by the same lie. Most of us have. I go through periods where I grasp it like a holy alter and refuse to let go. But think about it, folks. Think about how this sense of entitlement is making you feel. The belief that the world and life owes you a happy life is patently false. It is a dangerous thought that leads to every sort of sin. It is the lie that eventually justifies a host of evils and injuries. Murderers, child molesters, terrorists, rapists and every sort of thief and criminal can justify their actions through this religion of “I have a right to be happy.” No, you don’t.

It isn’t a right as much as a choice. Mother Theresa found happiness and joy in holding the hands of dying people in the muddy, filthy streets if Calcutta. Others find happiness in hospitals, garbage dumps, ghettos and other seemingly inhospitable places. Corrie Tenboom found glimpses in a concentration camp at times. Happiness and sadness can exist in the exact same place at the exact same time within two different people. You have the right to look for it and to claim it where you find it. One last truth: you’ll keep it a lot longer if you dedicate yourself to giving it away to other people. As soon as you clutch on to your “right” to be happy for yourself, it will disappear like a vapor.

But what do I know? Try in on and see if it fits.

I think parts of this will also be posted on Unsolicited Advice as this nicely demonstrates applying The Work and REBT to a real life situation.

D.

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10 Responses to “I Have a Right to Be Happy” – Analysis and Disputation

  1. morgen z says:

    Intense, but I really like what you have to say… I will probably read this a couple of times and come up with even more thoughts around it.

    I do grasp what you’re saying. Happiness should be seen as more of a privilege, a choice. I once commented that one should not have to trample and stomp over every one else to get their own needs met. Part of the issue is that many of us in society have become selfish and materialistic. Our focus has become narrow and we feel that we are deserving of things in life, like happiness, and therefore, we have the right to go after what we deserve at any cost. And most of us try to measure happiness in all the wrong ways, which eventually leads us back to unhappiness.

    But how can one find true happiness when you have to hurt people along the way? Is your so-called happiness really worth it then?

    One can choose to find or even make happiness in whatever situation life places them in.

    Excellent post D

  2. morgen z says:

    To be noted though, all of the above is much easier said than practiced. 😦

  3. Square1 says:

    I’ve never felt I had a right to be happy… but rather go by the bill of rights… I have the right to the PURSUIT of happiness… meaning I have a right to work for it and chase after it. Tere’s definitely a difference.

  4. Digger Jones says:

    It is true the Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence cited Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights. You are correct, Square, that the pursuit is far different than actually claiming it as a right. I have the right to pursue ivory-billed woodpeckers (as long as it’s not in the vicinity where they have actually been seen) but I don’t have a right to actually HAVE one.

    Yes Morgan, it is far easier said than done. The right to happiness is a religion with credit cards being holy artifacts and drive thru windows being altars. We want everything and are willing to sacrifice nothing…except maybe relationships.

    D.

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  6. Satan says:

    SO I guess the answer is – lower your standards and be more content . . ?

    Don’t expect happiness so then you aren’t resentful when you wake up and it’s been 9 years of NOT happiness.

    Ok, so it’s a choice between resentment and not happiness. Screw it, I’ll take resentment!

    This certainly ties in with being ‘meek’. The meek accept whatever is given to them, they have no preconcieved notions, so they have nothing to be dissappointed about.

    I can’t believe your God *really* tells you live that way . . . btw, how’s it working for ya?

  7. C-Marie says:

    Agreeing with Square! – I believe we all have the right to pursue our happiness being that it becomes more of a choice to do so, rather than an expectation. Having a right to it is more like saying it should be handed to you, which for reality’s sake, is highly impossible. How a person goes about having or choosing their happiness is another delicate road to travel not excluding large doses of morality and humbleness.
    Happiness starts with ones self.

  8. Digger-

    Sometimes I think you’re going to think yourself into the nuthouse.

    Or, as someone once said in a bad “B” movies or two- Dude; You really need to get laid.

  9. Tajalude says:

    Haha, Jay. : )

    I think the “right to happiness” is the same as everything else. The same as all the other “rights” people think they have. I think the idea of the “right to happiness” is no different than people’s “right” to healthcare, etc. You have the right to attain these things, but they are not things that are just given to you. People’s sense of entitlement has gotten out of control. (Of course, this is just my measley little opinion.)

    Everyone has the opportunity to strive for happiness, but I don’t think it’s a “right”.

  10. Denise Regan says:

    How about the right to be unhappy? This has been my feeling…..so many people over the years have told me ( and still do ) that I *should* be happy and it drives me nuts. Why *should* I exactly? And maybe my idea of happiness is different than that of the collective.

    Up there too is the old “happiness is a choice” mantra. Argh.–>

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