We all have this desire in common.
Happiness is something we all seek, but struggle to find... and keep.
I think part of the problem is that we are operating under the false assumption that happiness is something we can "find". As if we are simply walking along one day, minding our own business, and suddenly we stumble upon happiness. Or, if we look hard enough, work hard enough, have just the right stuff we'll discover it!
I've been reading up on happiness here lately and have discovered a few truths.
I'll skip all the scientific research that backs up what I'm about to say. If you're interested in reading more about the science behind what I'm about to tell you, I've listed three resources at the bottom that will give you a more in-depth understanding of why all this actually does make you more happy.
For now, I'm just going to get right into it. A few of the most basic, key elements to happiness and how to cultivate them in your own life.
The Truth About Being Happy
Happiness is a complex emotion.
1. Seek true happiness, not fleeting pleasure.
To start, you must first understand that seeking pleasure will leave your happiness tank on empty. That's because pleasure ends when the event or thing that gives you the pleasure ends. Which always happens. Every time!
2. Embrace change as a fact of life.
We tend to have this mentality where we find happiness and then expect to somehow keep it in our pocket so we'll always have it with us. But, circumstances change and before we know it, we've lost our happiness and can't seem to find where we left it.
3. Happiness is 99% perspective.
All the other stuff just gets in the way. All the searching, the buying, the using. We often will sacrifice everything, thinking that this one new thing will finally help us reach the place we call happy.
- Getting more done won't bring you more happiness
- Having kids, or not having kids, won't bring you more happiness
- Getting married, finding that special someone, or not finding them won't make you any more happy.
- Got money? No money? Somewhere in between? You guessed it, that too won't make you any more happy.
The true reality is that you can't hold happiness in your hand, or put it in your pocket!
It resides in your mind.
You Must Train Your Mind to Allow Yourself to Feel Happy
Happiness is a state of mind, not an event or thing.
But, this is great news!
As I said earlier, the things and circumstances of life are always changing. Since true happiness is not linked to any thing, we can still have it, even when life changes on us.
Here's the crux of happiness. You must create space in your mind to see the world differently. To process all that we tend to interpret as negatives, and see them in a more positive light.
To "find" more happiness in your life, try these positive mental activities:
- Notice the blessings: Cultivate Mental Contentment. You likely have more to be thankful for than you pay attention to. When you focus on what you have and not what you are missing, you have reasons to celebrate.
- Empathize with others: Cultivate Mental Compassion. See others as simply seeking their own happiness, rather than out to steal yours. Other people provide you with opportunities to strengthen your own happiness.
- Give to others: Cultivate Mental Generosity. When you seek to make others happy, a funny thing happens - you become happy! This turns happiness from a selfish endeavor into one that benefits you both.
- Find purpose: Cultivate a Mental Meaning for Your Life. We all struggle, have hardships, suffer. The difference between those who describe themselves as happy is that they can find a positive purpose for that difficulty. A way to turn suffering into a way to help others.
When you properly cultivate mental happiness, you'll find that it lingers. It lasts beyond the moment. It has a way of sustaining itself, becoming stronger on its own.
Using Pen and Paper as an Outlet for your Training
Not quite sure where to start with the above list? How about trying these 4 simple things this week:
1. Try journaling and list your blessings. Sit down and write out everything you are thankful for. Set a timer for 5 minutes and just go. Make a list and don't worry about anything but getting it all on paper.
2. Write a note to someone who has perhaps drained you of happiness in the past. It could be your spouse or a coworker. Encourage him or her own their own journey towards happiness.
3. Get out and do something tangible for another person. Treat a friend to lunch. Cut your neighbors yard. Afterwards, add to your journal your response to the experience. Take the time to fully unpack your thoughts on giving to another.
4. Write a note of thanks to someone who helped you through a recent struggle. It could be for something simple like the way they listened or it could be for something grand like the way they helped you out of a difficult situation. But reflect on it as you write your note of thanks and think though how the difficulty molded who you are today.
The point is taking the time. It's an exercise, for sure. Exercises never produce immediate results on their own. But they train you for something bigger.
And isn't your happiness worth a few focused minutes every day?
Additional resources to fuel and inspire your happiness journey.
- The Science of Happiness: New discoveries for a more joyful life. (2016). Time, Special Edition.
- Dalai Lama, H.H., & Cutler, Howard C. (1998). The Art of Happiness: A handbook for living.
- Headspace.com. Get 10 free, 10-minute guided meditations for becoming more focused and happier. Download for free on iTunes or Google Play.
Flickr creative commons image courtesy of Shawn Arron.