If You’re Happy and Don’t Know It Clap Your Hands!

Do you know when you’re happy? For sure. But can you describe how you know when you’re happy? That’s a bit tougher, right?

What about love? There are infinite songs and stories, poems and platitudes from those who are in love, who are seeking love, or who have lost love. But the actual essence of love is hard to categorize, compartmentalize on a chart, or diagnosed by its symptoms.

Am I correct? Wrong? I’m not sure. And I’ve asked around…about emotions, that is. It’s something I often do. When someone I’m with says, for example, “I’m happy.” I’ll return: “What does happy feel like to you?” Or love. A close friend mentioned once to me that he was still deeply in love with his wife of more than 50 years. “How do you know?” I queried. His response: “Because I’m in love with every woman I see. When I’m feeling that level of love for my wife, that’s how I feel toward all women.”

As you can imagine by my questions, I’m not invited to a lot of parties. But I think it’s a good use of time, to explore one’s emotions, a way to honor the true intent of our feelings and not fling them about only when useful or for a desired effect. At least that’s my idea. Or better yet, Shakespeare’s. The Bard wrote: “To thine own self be true.” And to be true to yourself you must know yourself.

But emotions are tricky to pin down. We may feel giddy one minute, downtrodden the next, singing joyfully to a bouncy tune as we enter a room, and crying are eyes out as we exit. We are complex and curious beings. But we are not disparate ones. We are whole in our many parts, and emotions are just one of the systems within us that make us tick…and, more recently, tok.

Jason Kurtz is my guru when it comes to human behavior, who in addition to being a leading psychotherapist in New York City, is the author of a stellar memoir, Follow The Joy. He’s also an an award-winning playwright and a burgeoning filmmaker and shares below his thoughts on the totality of sensations which are us.

“We think of ourselves as having bodies and having minds, as if they are separate parts of ourselves. However, this is merely a mental construct. The fact is, we have a body/mind. Anytime we feel an emotion, our body has a reaction as well. Can you show me what anger looks like? Or sadness? Or fear? These feelings are easy to portray, because they are not only in our minds, but in our bodies as well. When you are angry, your fists may clench. You may feel flushed or hot. When you’re sad, you may cry. You may feel heavy or sluggish. When you are afraid, your body contracts. You may feel cold. This is true for every emotion. It may not be exactly the same for everyone, but everyone has both a mental and physical experience of their feelings. So…what is happiness to you? To most people it’s a sensation of lightness. It’s a feeling of energy, or freedom. The essential thing is to grow more in touch with your own body and mind, because the more aware we are of both parts of our experience — the body and the mind — the more deeply we can feel these experiences. “

Wise words. And reading them makes me feel motivated to delve deeper into this topic and bare no expense of energy or time to write a column that will help people better enjoy themselves and find deeper meaning in their lives. But I’m also feeling a bit tired after all this thinking and writing. So maybe I’ll take a nap first. A little Television after. A snack. I’ve a hunch this course of action will make me happy. But I won’t be sure until my body tells my mind that it’s so. I’m looking forward to finding out.

John McCaffrey is a writer and a director at a nonprofit mental health treatment and training center in NYC. jamccaffrey.com

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John McCaffrey

John McCaffrey is a writer and a director at a nonprofit mental health treatment and training center in NYC. jamccaffrey.com