Consciously Seeking Happiness
Are you happy? For some the question is irrelevant because happiness is not a goal. If it is your goal to be happy, then consider these thoughts on happiness.
1. Happiness is possible. Somewhere along the way we have come to see happiness as a sort of lofty goal, something almost unattainable. Instead of focusing on how to achieve happiness, many people direct their efforts toward avoiding unhappiness. Insuring that we are not unhappy does not insure happiness. The two are different. To achieve happiness, we must first believe that it is possible.
2. Happiness is personal. Happiness to one person is not necessarily happiness to another. Therefore, it is essential that we define, for ourselves, what makes us happy. For me, happiness is
- a feeling of acceptance and calm about who I am and the relationships which help define me
- creativity, a sense of aliveness and of being real
- a fundamental belief that I am good and the world around me is good
- believing that I have a place in this world; a place that welcomes me and celebrates what I have to offer
- believing that who I am right now is exactly who I want to be – that I am just as I need to be
- knowing that there is beauty in the imperfections of who I am
- the ability to enjoy and celebrate what each day brings
- being able to wake up with a sense of wonder about the unfolding of yet another day
- love and a sense of connectedness to others; be it strangers, friends or my partner
- believing that in the absence of answers I can live the questions
- knowing that there is nothing wrong with my truths
- knowing that there is nothing wrong with the way I feel, the things I think, or the things in which I believe
The creation of happiness is a process which occurs slowly as we become more aware of who it is we want to be. Can you define what makes you happy? Use as much detail as possible so that you can visualize yourself in a state of happiness. Finish the statement “happiness to me is…” as many times as you can and see what you find when you look for happiness.
3. Happiness is not an event, it is a state of being. Many different things can create moments of happiness. But moments are transient. Happiness is more permanent and enduring. Happiness is a part of who I am and who I want to be. To understand this, consider the reverse: Depression. Many people in our society are dealing with a very real condition called depression. Depression is a state of being where our emotions are depressed and leave us feeling tired, unmotivated, sad, hopeless, and even helpless. This is a very real condition that for some requires medicinal assistance. The condition, “Depression,” however, is very different than a moment of feeling “depressed.” One can be “depressed” for a short period of time without having the condition, depression. Happiness works in much the same way. We can feel happy for a moment that is temporary in nature. We can experience a happy time or event, but this does not become a condition of happiness, or a state of happiness – it is a passing feeling of happiness. Also similar to depression, we can experience a “state of happiness” that is interrupted by a moment of sadness, hurt, anger or fear. The question becomes, does being happy interrupt your normal state of non-happiness; or does being sad, hurt, angry, or afraid interrupt your normal state of being happy?
4. Happiness comes from that which we can control. When we seek to find happiness through events or activities external to ourselves, we surrender our control over our happiness. Activities like sex, gambling, drinking/drugs, dating, and working are all essentially unpredictable and out of our control. The outcome of these activities is ultimately out of our control. When we seek happiness in things over which we have no control, we risk never achieving it. When our happiness is based on the outcome of something external to ourselves we are not in charge of our own happiness. Our happiness becomes a gamble for which we have no guarantees.
5. Happiness comes from inside. The search for true happiness can not be achieved externally. If our happiness revolves around the way we look, the car we drive, the home in which we live, or the type of job and income we have then our happiness is as variant as the weather and as fragile as a split-end. When we source our happiness from material items, from style, status or hype, we compromise our potential for happiness. A nice car, job, income, wardrobe and home can, however, augment or enhance our happiness. These luxuries, though, do not ensure happiness.
6. Happiness is a gift that requires hard work. Expecting happiness is not enough to create happiness. (Although expecting to not experience happiness is enough to prevent it from existing!) It seems very few people achieve a state of happiness as their norm. Why is this? Happiness takes effort. The belief that we are entitled to happiness is misleading. Happiness is the result of knowing what you want, and working hard to achieve this. Many people spend little time reflecting on the essence of what they really want. It’s easy to consider our wants on a surface level. To say, “I want a nice car and a speed boat” is just a starting place when we consider what we really want. A nice car may actually mean, “I want respect. I want to be noticed. I want comfort. I want speed and power.” Or it may mean “I want others to notice my accomplishments and admire me.” Or it may mean, “I want a date with so-and-so and my chances are better if I drive that car than the one I have.” Few people spend time identifying what it is they REALLY want, and yet become very disappointed when they realize they don’t have it.
Have you ever wanted something really badly and then shortly after you got it you seemed to have little regard for it or interest in it? Chances are, what you wanted was what you thought the “something” would bring you (such as comfort, security, status, attention, etc); and when it didn’t, that “something” became less desirable.
7. Happiness breeds happiness. Creating happiness is easier when our environments allow for happiness. You’ve heard the saying, “misery loves company,” well so does happiness. There are certain environments which challenge one’s ability to feel a sense of happiness. Happiness can be threatening to others. Do not apologize for feeling good. Put yourself in situations that respect and support your desire for happiness. Identify barriers to your happiness such as people who criticize you, or who belittle and take advantage of you. As you “cleanup” your environment, and begin to rid yourself of situations and relationships that prevent your happiness, you will find it easier to maintain a sense of joy.
8. Teach others how to treat you. Much of our lives are spent interacting with others. In every interaction we have with someone, we teach others how to treat us. How we care for ourselves sets the standard for how we expect others to care for us. This “teaching” is often done on an unconscious level for most people. If we approach people with a sense of shame or apology for who we are, then we give others permission to reject or shame us. If we consistently focus on others at the expense of ourselves, then we teach others that our needs are not as important as theirs. If we allow others to take advantage of us, then we teach them that it is okay. Think about the people in your life that you respect and admire. What have they taught you about how to treat them? Think about the people in your life whom you do not respect. What have they taught you about how to treat them? Examine how you treat yourself. If you do not treat yourself with respect, how can you teach others to do for you what you are unwilling to do for yourself?
9. Believe that happiness is desirable. There is so much sadness, hurt, and pain in our world that it seems unfair at times to focus on personal happiness. We have been conditioned to believe that it is selfish to concern ourselves with how we feel, and whether or not we are happy. We are taught to “grin and bear it.” We are taught to “pay our dues,” to “suffer through it,” to “get by.” Who set these limiting standards for us? The assumption seems to be that in order to be a good person we are to focus on the needs of others at the expense of ourselves! I am unsure how we arrived at the conclusion that we can’t do both, simultaneously! Who are we to not be happy?
10. Appreciate happiness when it arrives. When you feel a moment of happiness, even if it is temporary, recognize and appreciate this feeling. Invite this feeling back, make sure this feeling of happiness is respected and welcome. As this feeling begins to occur more often, you just may be able to string together all of your moments of happiness to create a condition: Happiness.
©Michele O’Mara, LCSW, 2000