Character is the Capacity for Happiness: An Example


I am terrible at thinking of examples. I can talk all day long about abstract concepts. I can offer up lengthy disquisitions about the underlying principles that structure reality, but if you ask me to point to a concrete instance of those principles at play in real life, I’m likely to draw a blank. If you asked me right now to tell you about a time when I couldn’t think of an example, I probably couldn’t do it.

So, when I saw the video below, I seized on it as an example I could bring to your attention.  A while ago, I wrote about how character is the capacity for happiness. Shawna, the young woman in the video, shows you what I mean.

Watch the video now.

Depression remains a mystery. For years, we’ve been taught that depression is mostly a matter of a chemical imbalance in the brain. That “depression is a matter of chemistry, not character” has become a catchphrase, something people repeat without thinking much about what it means.  In reality, that the chemical theory of depression has very little evidence to support it.

Of course, it’s true that people don’t make a simple choice to be depressed. No one wakes up and decides she’d rather feel terrible than feel great. Whatever is going on in depression, there is something more than simple, straightforward choice going on. Some factor outside our direct control is at work. Very good, sincere, well-meaning people can get depressed and experiencing depression doesn’t mean they’re weak or bad.

And yet, character matters. As I said previously,character is the habit of choosing the most positive and productive responses to life’s ups and downs. If you listen to Shawna talk in this video, you can hear someone making exactly those kinds of choices.

She talks about what depression feels like. She talks about the tough time she has. She could have left it there. She could have given up in a fit of resentment about how life is not fair and everybody else has it easier. But, she doesn’t.

Instead, she talks through a whole series of choices she’s making to maximize her response to her depression. She continues setting goals. She prays. She socializes. She keeps on creating. She turns around and, instead of identifying with her depression, sees it as external to her being. She makes choices to diminish it. Instead of making it her identity, she makes it her enemy and goes to war. This is what people of character do.

None of these things are going to make Shawna feel all better. Her depression isn’t going to suddenly vanish. It’s going to linger. But, by making the right choices in response to the difficulties she faces, Shawna increases her character. She develops her spiritual and emotional muscles for tackling hard stuff. She increases her capacity to be happy. Her efforts will quite likely pay off in greater peace and emotional stability in the long run.

So, there you have your example.

The strength of our character more often than not determines the outcomes of our battles. Even when we struggle with something as ineffable as depression, there are many concrete choices we can make to turn the battle in our favor. The great benefit then of examples like the one Shawna has provided is not just that they explain, but that they model for us what a fighter looks like. Now, put your dukes up.


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