It's normal not to be happy all the time!

Everyone wants to be happy, but what is happiness and why is it so hard to find?

According to Sigmund Freud - the founder of psychoanalysis - humans are not constituted to be in a permanent state of happiness. He explained: ‘What we call happiness... arises from the fairly sudden satisfaction of pent-up needs. By its very nature [happiness] can be no more than an episodic phenomenon.'

In other words, happiness is a fleeting feeling of relief when we get something we want - it is by its nature a short-lived experience.

For example, I'm desperately thirsty, so I have a drink and feel happy. But I don't remain happy for long because soon I feel hungry or tired or something else. According to Freud, happiness is simply what we feel when we have a need met - the feeling is short-lived because pretty quickly we have another need that needs satisfying.

Seen in this way, happiness is about instant gratification: it's a temporary fix.

The matter is even more complicated because humans often have competing needs - and satisfying one need might mean ignoring another. For example, it's Friday night, it's been a long week, I'm tired and want to put my feet up. But I'm also feeling a bit lonely, so I want to go out and meet a friend. I have two needs that are mutually exclusive - I feel frustrated because I don't know what to do for the best. Seen this way, humans are doomed to be unhappy a lot of the time because we have competing needs so we feel divided inside.

Paradoxically, it seems the secret to a more satisfying life is to get good at managing our unhappiness. So, rather than focusing on what makes us feel good, we could spend more time learning how to deal better with life's many challenges.

Put simply: life is a challenge. Little wonder we try to distract ourselves with all manner of strategies: drink, drugs, workaholism, food, shopping, social media, TV, and so on. These strategies may bring temporary relief, but they can also create fresh problems.

It is difficult being a human! In fact, many philosophies and traditions make this point: the normal state of the human is to be anxious about something. While this might all sound a bit grim, I think it can also bring a sense of comfort: there's nothing wrong with us if our lives don't match up to the fake smiles on social media or Hollywood-style happy endings.

By Mike Brooks, Counsellor & Psychotherapist