Ninety-two years, almost a century before women would be allowed to vote, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female doctor anywhere in our modern world in 1849, Born in Bristol in 1821, she and her family immigrated to America at age 11. And six years later at the age of 17, her father died leaving the family in poverty. The first female doctor in our history, did she know how to be happy?
Her mother and two sisters set up a private school to provide income during a time when women had less than equality. We rise up today in protest when history recalls these ridiculous times, but what did it mean to be happy in 1827 to be an immigrant, fatherless, poverty-stricken, and a woman? What motivated Elizabeth?
Only after a terminally ill friend spoke of her reservations to be attended by a male doctor, did Elizabeth decide to become a doctor in this difficult era. She was first, rejected by all but one college, Geneva College of Medicine in Geneva, New York, and second, was later ostracized and harassed by townspeople and her male peers. Initially, barred from classroom demonstrations.
But this woman persevered and in January 1849, became the first woman doctor ranked first in her class. She founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, opened her own dispensary in 1853, followed by private practice in London in 1870 and established the London School of Medicine for Women, and by 1875 was appointed professor of gynecology.
It was by no miracle or blessing from the universe, but by her daily efforts in this life, that by 1911, in England and Wales, there were 495 registered women physicians.
And there is more, she wrote and published numerous books, was part of a number of reform movements amongst a long list of women’s suffrages, the abolition of prostitution and white slavery, morality in government, and the liberalization of Victorian prudery.
Now tell me, how a woman who can’t even vote for her president, yet could save his life, could make such a difference in suffrages as prostitution and white slavery!
Did happiness have anything to do with it. Did she even know what “to be happy” meant?
She changed our world for how many people on earth. All of us. She made us better. She is a legend. And I cannot imagine there were days she did not fall to her knees in tears. And at the same time, I cannot imagine that she did not love her struggle with her whole being. To love the struggle, the very pain of climbing a mountain void of the same gear as fellow male climbers, was her joy. I can imagine void of vanity, but rather humbly strong she stood on top of that mountain with those who didn’t want her there lifting her hands up to the sky to BE HAPPY!
THE ADAPTABILITY OF HAPPINESS
It’s these types of true stories that lead me to believes we don’t fully understand the adaptability of happiness or how it’s quantified – but we can place it better in our own lives when we examine life around us. Elizabeth didn’t have an iPhone popping with encouraging emojis throughout her day, nor support groups outside of private friends and probably hesitant peers!
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin
We often hear how adaptability is the key to happiness, but I often think about happiness being adaptable to each of us. As if happiness mutates to our DNA with an intuitive plugin for our survival.
Happiness mines data or do we mine the happiness? I’ve discovered that we humans can mine “happiness” like a gold miner mines gold. We have to cut through rock, but the vein is there!
It would be kind of cool, to just purchase the plugin!
UNDERSTANDING HAPPINESS WITH LIFE QUALITY
Think about it, how did Elizabeth persevere? There had to be a level of happiness, willpower, anger, and motivation. If you’re one of these people who claim there is no happiness in life, then why eat your favorite food? Why buy clothes, or stand in the pharmacy deciding between generic and name brands? Decisions we make, show we naturally manage to create some sense of happiness. They show we fear not to be happy.
Have you ever been that unhappy? I have. The kind of feeling where everything is one color. Where the moment you wake up you vomit as anxiety rushes to your stomach. When you are that unhappy, you don’t give a shit about the brand! You don’t care to even get dressed. We each have a basic amount of happiness like insulin. Not everyone produces it and they need help. To be happy you want the generic brand because it saves you money. You decide to wear a t-shirt today because it makes you comfortable. Happy. There are tons of lists of things that show we guide our lives to happy things. The happy tastes, to happy movies and so on.
But what precisely does it mean to be happy outside of the basic requirement of choosing a shirt – how can we quantify it, and does it have measurable benefits? Let us take a look and examine the mystery of happiness through life quality.
First, if your basic needs are taken care of, as most American families are: a roof, food, and basic needs to live and function in society, is there happiness in that? Or do you shut down lusting after the more fortunate families?
If you’re a person who cannot sustain the basic needs, like the population of Burundi, Africa, showing a poverty rate of nearly 75%, is that unhappiness or bad luck? Do they somehow find ways to be happy in a world that offers them $900.00 a year income verses a GNI per capita of $55,351, in the United States? These people basically sustain their lives on your one small cappuccino a day.
Does a Burundi citizen ever smile? Rejoice in something amazing? Yes, they do. They have adapted to the best of their ability to find happiness even if it’s the poverty level brick hut and one good meal they might get that week. Happiness can be created under grave circumstances, it essentially is simulated. For Burundi, they quantify happiness from the same measuring stick as Americans do, the difference is they have no choice but to adapt to what is available.
Sounds like a religious plea for donations and it turns our stomach – but it shows the comparison between those who live in million-dollar homes in the US versus those who live paycheck to paycheck only a miles away are similar scenarios. Worrying about where your next meal will come from is the likes of living with the coronavirus year after year no matter what part of the planet you live in. To be happy is a journey that affects all of us, rich or poor.
TO BE HAPPY IS TO FLY BLIND
It’s like flying blind; for periods you cannot see, you are afraid, and you always wonder. What happens next? You are in the hands of the unknown when you experiment with life purpose and choices, but as Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist points out, the one thing you will always have is the ability to synthesize happiness.
Unlike, kids who explore life with hearts out and hands in our pockets, adults are stuck with hearts hidden and hands outreaching for more of everything. To be happy is to be free as a child is. A child knows that dumping nuclear waste in our water kills marine life and nothing makes it okay. But an adult has “reason.”
Then comes the days you push that reason to be happy too far. A desire you calculated as crucial to be happy becomes unstable in its pollution. An example might be the loss of your family over chasing a career. You’ve stretched ourselves, your luck, your energy. You’ve pushed for accomplishments that yielded the highest praise, and the drive to have it all borderlines addictive behavior. Then when your happy life crashes who do you blame? Happiness, you curse it, where is it. You suddenly don’t remember it was you who had reason to put the simplicity of being happy aside.
I’ve seen it over and over we as humans have a short memory.
Is happiness void in anyone? It’s a glass of water, free, it’s a necessity, but if we don’t drink we dry up. We were born happy, to be happy, to live happily. We are hopelessly spellbound to be happy.
It’s why we are always searching for that thing we will never find. Holy Grail. It does not exist in the fantasy world hidden beneath an Egyptian pyramid. But millions find it! It’s in anything deemed worthy: a pile of dirt to grow food in. A skyrise apartment in New York City. A stick in the hand of a Burundi child, or a PlayStation in the hand of an American. Holy Grail. It has the ability to adapt and it’s you who decides how much of it you are allowed or take for that matter. But if happiness was only with the privileges, the world popoulation explosion would be solved. Those void of happiness totally, don’t live.
HAPPINESS CAN BE AUTOMATIC?
Happy is a rare quality so comfortable in its skin that is doesn’t give a shit what you do, it is what it is. It will comfort you in the worst of moments and celebrate your biggest as well. It doesn’t care or judge if you’ve wasted your whole fucking life, the moment you try it’s there. But if you treat it right and recognize its existence daily, it will keep you warm on a cold night and cool you down in the heat without you having to seek it out and activate it again.
The founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, emphasizes the flexibility of happiness, that you can build it, work and ultimately strive towards it.
Lowri Dowthwaite wrote an incredible article here’s a quote from her piece. “To be happy is a frequent positive emotion, such as joy, excitement, and contentment, combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. It implies a positive mindset in the present and an optimistic outlook for the future. Importantly, happiness experts have argued that happiness is not a stable, unchangeable trait but something flexible that we can work on and ultimately strive towards.”
Research shows how happiness is less an individual matter and more a collective endeavor. I find this so easy to digest. It’s like this, a happy village that holds themselves accountable to each other, along with the well-being of every living thing around them including our earth and its resources, creates happiness by default!
SIX THINGS FOR A COLLECTIVE ENDEAVOR TO BE HAPPY
Being flexible: psychological flexibility is the key to increased happiness and well-being. For example, being open to emotional experiences and more tolerant in periods of adversity and discomfort creates a balance.
If you ask a coach how to deal with a crisis, unhappiness, loss and so on. They will ask if you’ve suffered similar experiences in the past. If so, then the discussion examines the steps you took to rise above it. Any experience of discomfort becomes money in the bank for future problems. That is why experiencing discomfort increases your ability to be happy. It’s a simple matter of training yourself on how to handle life.
To be happy is about how well we combine our love of family and relationships, our careers, finances, and our health along with community involvement.
Take a close look at your loved ones and what you do with them each day.
Is there regular involvement? The type of continuity that a child would approve?
I can only imagine “to be happy” that Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell not only relied on her sister and mother but developed the bond of family. Her sister became a doctor as well, and the two worked together.
A life-course perspective points to the importance of connected lives, or interdependence within relationships, throughout our lives. You can argue all you want about that relative labeled the “black sheep” and how your decision to disconnect was not your fault. Perhaps you are right. But do not underestimate how it affects your life regardless if it was the right decision.
If your life is lacking family connections, then trusting and building other areas of your life will be extremely crucial to the quality of life you seek.
Here’s a fun fact for you: according to the NCBE, US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health, Married people, on average, experience better mental health, physical health, and live longer than divorced/separated, widowed, and never-married people. Connections are important. Humans need humans. It’s actually cool!
Is the quality of your relationships in and outside of the family healthy?
In every stage of life from teens to seniors, quality relationships have an effect on our health and well-being. Teens with close friends are less likely to become depressed or have other mental health problems. As adults, we tend to thin out the number of friends to a select few. It’s a method of life management, but quality friends are not changed by age groups. Friends are friends and they will forever be a staple to our health and mental well-being. They are a huge part of the collective endeavor.
How would you rate your enthusiasm for your career? Would you change anything?
The wealth of evidence indicating that happiness in the workplace and career choice is a critical precursor to success. But how does it affect the collective endeavor of your life’s plan? Does it affect how you make love to that person you’re with? Does it affect how you react to life at home with your children, the dog and whether or not the lawn is mowed? Or the big one, whether or not you’ll become an alcoholic years later? Yes, it does. Cross-sectional studies show that people are more likely to succeed when they are happy with their careers, but also with their personal circles.
Positive thinking is needed in all six of the areas listed above in order to put together a balanced plan to be happy. One-third of our life is our career. Try hating one-third of your life. It breeds problems in your relationships, your personal evaluation of self, and to name just one of the many things, it can destroy your own self-confidence. That my friends lead to mold throughout your universe.
Which came first— happiness or success? There is greater evidence that success follows those who already hold a balanced level of happiness. It’s simple math, if you’ve missed your little girl’s ballet recital, she’s hurt, your wife is crushed and you’re guilty. Keeping an established balance at home affects work as much as work affects your home life.
Happiness is simple but it’s like any good thing, it can’t be ignored.
How would you rate your level of financial security?
The saying that money can’t buy us happiness is of course wrong. We all know it. Money has a huge impact on our happiness level. It is true that money can’t buy a person’s love, but again our happiness can be influenced by not paying the rent. Reviewing family finances can improve the collective endeavor to be happy. Especially when the importance of happiness comes before things we don’t need.
How is your physical health?
This part is not a lecture on how being healthy or happy affects the other, it’s about how you care for yourself in front of your family, but as well, are you healthy? On a regular basis, I have long talks with teens who carry emotional burdens for their unhealthy parents. Parents who don’t slow down and take care of themselves. Parents who smoke but tell their children not to.
For the collective endeavor to be happy it includes doing the right thing for your mental and physical health. Walk with your kids, do the gym together, and if you’re sick, don’t lie. Kids are the smartest people on the planet. Lie and they will go to sleep each night wondering when you’re going to die on them. Tell them the truth – and they will function knowing you will announce when there is something to worry about. During cancer, initially, I hid everything from my 10-year-old. But it didn’t take long before I realized how stupid I’d been. Our life quality as a family changed the moment he was allowed to talk to me. He did not carry the weight once I let him in, he gave it back to me. We still to this day have our talks build around honesty.
What activities outside your personal life make you feel proud?
An example would be how you contribute to your community. This is an area where people in the US shy away. Being proud of yourself is sometimes deemed vain. So, I guess you can be a braggart idiot, or you can be Wonder Woman and wonder why everyone is staring. The important thing is, participating in your community. Helping a senior. Volunterring at the soup kitchen. Organizing a foundation to support single parents. Being a regular PTO member. This part of the plan is not in giving money, it’s giving yourself and your money.
- Forbes 2020, Laura Begley Bloom, Ranked: The 20 Happiest Countries In The World
- The Conversation, Lowri Dowthwaite, True happiness isn’t about being happy all the time
- Katherine Gibson, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy, Pursuing happiness: it’s mostly a matter of surviving well together
- NCBI, Patricia A Thomas, PhD1, Hue Liu, PhD2, Debra Umberson, PhD3, Family Relationships and Well-Being
- Romeo Vitelli Ph.D., Is Quality Better Than Quantity in Social Relationships?
- A. Morningstar, How To Be Proud Of Yourself Without Being Arrogant