The Emotional Baggage Follow Up Series: The Pursuit of Happiness Continues


What factors contribute to happiness?


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Despite all the unhappy news that most anyone could find last Sunday, I could say that it was a sunny, happy day of news. How so?

As I have covered before, my wife and I most always watch CBS Sunday Morning, so that is how we started last Sunday. The feature story just happened to be “The Key to Finding Happiness.” It was based on the longest run study on happiness, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, now led by the psychiatrist Robert Waldinger.

The key finding, also presented in more detail in his new book, The Good Life, as well as in his very popular TED Talk, is:

“A good relationship keeps us happier and healthier.”

Losing a good relationship, as I did in the passing away of the psychiatrist Carl Hammerschlag in January, as well as my best friend from childhood, Barry Marcus, in December, is surely irreplaceable. Speaking of childhood, occasionally friends can temporarily be imaginary ones besides actual other children. That can reoccur to a limited degree with fictional characters or models we want to follow.

Back on May 17, 2022, I had written a column on “Trust in the World’s Happiest Country.” The people I lost were real people I could trust. Yet, the relationship continues as my positive introjected memories of them can still evoke happiness for me.

I was already primed to pay attention to happiness after the TV show was over. I just serendipitously happened to be preparing to read the recent TIME cover story on “The Secret of Happiness Experts.” Featured was Laurie Santos, the psychologist who has taught the most popular course at Yale on the science of happiness, but decided to take a sabbatical school year off because she herself was becoming burned out and unhappy. Her in-progress recovery is to find ways to boost her joy.

From 18 other experts, TIME reported an emphasis on this happiness cocktail:

  • a sense of control
  • guided by a sense of purpose
  • connected to others

Martin Seligman, the founder of “positive psychology,” emphasized avoiding his own personal negative catastrophizing. Emma Sepal touted a specific kind of breathing in different postures and rhythms, a 20-minute SKY Breath Meditation Class. Judith Moskowitz recommended not to focus on getting rid of negative emotions, including the emotional baggage of unhappiness, but to find ways to experience the positive ones in their midst.

The founders of our country recognized the importance of happiness with this famous phrase in our Declaration of Independence:

“. . . certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Pursuit implies a long process, probably because happiness can be a short-term emotional feeling as well as a long-term sense of satisfaction. When one pursues mutually good relationships, whether in therapeutic alliances with patients, or in personal relationships like my wife Rusti and myself, happiness can be found where we mutually try to do our best for each other.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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