Have You Ever Known that You Were Happy Without Feeling Happy?

Reading about J. K. Rowling’s new book The Casual Vacancy put me in the mood to re-read—for probably the eighth time—Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Oh, how I love to re-read.

I enjoyed re-reading it tremendously, and I was particularly struck by a passage that I’d never noticed before.

When, after much pride and prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth agree to be married, Austen writes of the two characters:

“Darcy was not of a disposition in which happiness overflows in mirth; and Elizabeth, agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so.”

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy. Sometimes, I know that I’m happy, but I wouldn’t exactly say that I feel happy.

For instance, many people say that the happiest moments of their lives were when their children were born. I exerienced intense emotion when my daughters were born, but I wouldn’t describe it exactly as happy. And yet, I was happy.

Have you had this experience?

  • I have definitely felt this way. I’ve felt it for awhile and I was just thinking the other day how I knew I was happy, but I didn’t feel it.

    • That’s me lots of times…I think sometimes we (or at least,I) get too caught up in the goings on of the day to day things to realise I’m happiest now. It sounds strange-I had serious spinal injuries back in 2001 on the job (broken neck,two places) and was upset in so many ways when I had to “retire” (mid 30’s) in 2008 due to complications with those injuries,but because all of that happened,I’m the HouseDad to my two kids and spend every day with my lovely Wife (I was a long haul truck driver and gone LOTS back then),but when I stop to realise it,this is the happiest I can remember being in life,all led to by having nearly been killed,LOL! :p

  • I absolutely agree, but did you have to use a photo from that horrendous movie version?

    • The 5 hour BBC version was more faithful to the book (and my favorite!), but this version had some lovely characters and was quite well done for the time they had to squeeze the story into! But then again, to each their own.

  • s_ifat

    first, i would love to hear your thoughts on the casual vacancy, i’m almost done reading it and really love it.
    second, i am big “re” person, i enjoy re-reading, more than the first reading (i read happier at home twice) and i enjoy re-watching my favorite movies.
    i can relate to what you wrote about the day my children were born, i also feel it a-fter i work out.

  • When I think about it, I do know that I’m “happy.” What makes me feel “unhappy,” are daily circumstances that interrupt my general happiness. It’s as if the universe is finding things to say: “Oh yeah, today there are going to be dogs barking all day;” or, “Oh yeah, the tax office says your payment is a day late because THEIR bank is open on Sunday.” Stuff like that.

  • This provided a bit of a revelation for me! A lot of times my husband will ask me if I had a good evening or if I’m feeling okay about our time together and I stumble over an answer that makes him think I am unhappy. But I think really it’s this dichotomy you describe! I’m happy without really feeling it, so it’s hard to put into words. Thanks for your insights!

  • Linda

    I remember watching my daughter at Disneyland when she was about 9; she’d been once before (too young to remember) but she didn’t appear happy at the time because she was taking in so many new experiences. In retrospect, her memory of it made her feel happy about the experience, though. So in new or intense situations (getting married, having a child, visiting a new place or travelling), is it possible that we don’t feel happy until we are able to recollect the experience and process it a little? This would explain why some of us like to revisit the experience–why this can bring intense happiness.

    • April Ellis

      I’ve had this experience recently. I took the trip of a lifetime to Norway, and while I was there it was sometimes hard to enjoy the moment because I was overwhelmed by everything and preoccupied with anxiety sometimes over finding my way, etc. Now, a couple of months later, I am able to appreciate the experience more fully – now that I’m not worried about finding the light rail station or how much my lunch cost! 🙂

  • RahimTSNE

    I am bit confuse why you say you are not happy when you are happy but i know that whatever is the happiest moments come in life there would be some one to share the moment. and may be the reason that at the moment nobody is there to share that’s why you are not feeling happy when you are happy.

  • Eva Papp

    Maybe happy is an umbrella term for all the emotions that are “up” emotions. I know I register happiness when i feel deeply satisfied. I also feel “happy” when i feel peaceful.

  • Anne

    Kind of a revelation to me that other people feel this way. I was wondering if it had something to do with getting older. It’s contentment rather than excitement. I don’t seem to get excited-happy much anymore, and I was wondering but didn’t have anyone to ask. So, thanks for bringing it up.

  • Cathy

    I think it is an inner calm of contentment at that moment, a lovely feeling.

  • Bliss

    You know I’ve never thought about it like this. I have, however, had past thoughts that “wow, I should be more happy or “elated” than I am right now” simply because I wasn’t being my normal bubbly self, but I knew inside that I was happy. I find solace in the fact that others have felt this same way before. I’m not strange…yay!

  • Diana Prince

    Getting into my first potential relationship after infidelity and divorce (with a baby no less). It makes me happy yet causes intense anxiety at the same time. Fighting the battle to stay grounded and not let old experiences scar what is new. wonderwomananew.blogspot.com

    • RBO

      Bless your heart! Hope you find a REAL prince this time!

  • Maybe happiness is simply one of the rungs on the ladder of contentedness (is that even a word?)

    • RBO

      Yes, this is what crossed my mind, too — that one might know one is contented, but not feel that bubbly kind of happiness in the moment. (You said it better, though!)

  • Psychologist Websites

    There is what we call pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is a moment of gladness in a short period of time, while happiness is a moment of gladness that last forever. Happiness for me only comes when we feel contented or satisfied of something or someone. Like being contented of the life we have or the people in our lives.

    – Psychologist Websites (http://therapist-websites.websyourway.com/)

  • Stephanie

    What a great observation (both on your part and on Jane Austen’s!).

  • Sometimes we’re not in tune with the finer emotions we experience, so that we equate happiness with the giddiness we see in others, for example. Happiness can be contentment, such as what I feel when I’ve put a good dinner on the table and gotten everything cleaned up at a decent hour. It can mean satisfaction, gratitude, so many things that aren’t necessarily stimulating emotions. And finally I’ve come to realize that ambivalence (that great parental curse) does not have to detract from your happiness. The same kids who intensely frustrate you with their behavior can at the same moment bring joy to you.

  • crispy

    I often wonder if actors “know” they are part of something great when on set. I think there are reasons we can’t appreciate something until we are removed from it, maybe having that information when you’re in the middle of it would alter it to something different, maybe lessen the outcome? I don’t think we should be preoccupied with how happy we are in the moment. Then we become goal focused in that we analyze the situation in terms of happiness or failure to achieve happiness and could be missing other important lessons and/or other undiscovered happiness. ie. the fun of failure. Doesn’t mean that we can’t reflect on past experience to try to know ourselves better and learn from them. But I think if we put too much value on making sure we are happy it can be misplaced energy.

  • Monica

    I usually just skim through my emails, but this one struck me the most. I know for a fact I have experienced it recently with SOS and even though I don’t always show it (in my family), I feel blessed and joyful in my soul. It’s not something we want to shout to the world, but hold safely in our hearts with hope and prayer.

  • peninith1

    Two thoughts occur to me on this great observation: First, I think that you get at this idea in your Happiness Interviews. There are times when we are generally happier, more contented and in better circumstances. I am now living in such a phase of my life, able even on a day when things are not going so great to look back at a period when I was definitely UNhappy because of my circumstances and also because of my attitude and outlook. The worst day now, is better than the best day then. Some of this is owing to being more financially secure and less troubled by problems I cannot solve. Second: There are times that others here have observed, when a happy occasion or situation is stressful, and we know that we’re in a place that we will come to remember as glowingly wonderful, yet IN the moment our stress makes is hard to enjoy. I guess the moral of this for me is to observe intensely, because memory WILL cast that glow!

  • Kathy

    Absolutely I’ve had this experience. There are so many words to use to describe the experience of being “happy” because it means something different to everyone–content, joyful, satisfied, glad, blissful, at peace, gleeful… not all of them involve happy feelings.

  • Sometimes, when I have planned and organized something special long in advance, I get under pressure while it is actually “happening”, because I´m not able to enjoy the situation.
    Afterwards I can relax and appreciate the wonderful memories.

  • Haunani

    I think sometimes we confuse happiness with JOY. There are lots of things that make me happy…dessert, a winning high school football game, a good movie. But the things that truly bring me JOY are deeper than that. The feeling isn’t always giddy, elated, good mood kind of happiness. It’s more of a satisfaction or contentment that I am where I’m supposed to be, doing the things I’m supposed to do, and that I’ve used my gifts and talents in ways that have blessed others. There are many times that I’ve been completely exhausted or so overwhelmed that I feel more like crying than smiling (I’m thinking specifically of childbirth,) but despite those outward signs that don’t appear very happy, I know that I felt total JOY on the inside.
    Thank you for the thought provoking post! 🙂

  • shellymiles

    I am happier just realizing I am in control of my own happiness, that it is a choice!

  • Sam

    This is such a wonderful passage to make a great point. Many people equate happiness solely with feelings and with instant gratification. But happiness has to be something deeper if it is going to something that is lasting. It has to be less superficial, something that does not disintegrate at the first signs of sacrifice. Anything worthwhile takes effort and those things that allow us to give, always end up making us happier.

  • Barry Knister

    As Wordsworth said, speculating about happiness is the quickest way to make it vanish–“We murder to dissect.” Happiness is a byproduct of meaningful doing, be it mental or physical. Happiness is always remembered, but feeling–that’s immediate, as are sensations. If you aren’t capable of feeling, you won’t have happy memories, which makes you pretty much out of luck.

  • Yes. Actually I had a very stressful experience a few weeks ago, when my newborn (then 4 weeks old) had to be admitted to the hospital for 3 days. I was with her every second during the experience, and my other 6 children were at home or with grandparents.

    Even though it was a terrible experience for her (and me), I was oddly peaceful and happy. For starters, I was grateful for excellent health care, and that I lived in modern times and not in the ages when newborn babies commonly died of infections that today we handle easily with antibiotics. I was grateful to be spending time nurturing my tiny baby with no distractions.

    I was also reading Happier at Home to while away the hours!

  • onehoonose

    When I got married, right before the wedding ceremony. My husbands aunt asked right before the ceremony if I was excited. Well I had a jumble of thoughts in my head and one of them was that my parents weren’t there to see it. I knew I was happy, but in my reply I chose to be honest rather than diplomatic. I told her I didn’t know exactly how I felt. For that I got a nasty look and a dismissive wave of her hand. But yes, I knew happiness was one of those emotions. Just one bit of advice, when someone is going through an intense experience, it’s probably not a good idea to “pop quiz” them about it. We all process things differently.

  • Virginia Sparrow

    Happiness doesn’t mean that you’re fully happy, because
    there are tons of reasons to be happy and there are tons of reasons for mixed
    emotions in a day.