(Update: this post on happiness is very good:
The Six Habits that Will Rewire Your Brain For Happiness from daringtolivefully.com)
My post is focused on what happiness is: the illusion, the reality or the dream?
Is…is…uhm, what exactly?
That would be the sixty-four dollar question.
An incredible amount of pondering, philosophizing, debating, writing and researching has gone into this very subject. Everyone knows exactly what it is, and no one knows exactly what it is, or exactly how to get it.
It’s so very self-evident and yet so elusive, and so subjective, with a myriad of differing meanings for each person. Happiness is like looking for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or like playing with smoke, wispy and nebulous. It’s like the gossamer thread of a fine spider’s silk blowing in the wind, like the ethereal heavenly Aurora lights rippling across the skies.
Happiness seems fleeting and ephemeral. Many seek it but don’t often find it.
“Man is the artificer of his own happiness.” Henry David Thoreau, Journal, January 21
To most of us happiness means being happy, being content and at peace and filled with pleasure. It is being delighted, glad and enjoying something to the hilt. We all probably agree that it’s something inside of us, at the ‘heart’ of our beings, and one can actually feel it, deeply. When people feel euphoric or high-spirited, elated and jolly, they will say that they’re happy.
Being intensely and greatly satisfied with something, or someone, also brings feelings of being happy. Being proud of achievements, your own or someone else’s, becomes happiness. It can be feelings that are brought about from an action, an event or a person, or it can sometimes just spontaneously happen: you wake up and you feel GREAT! And all day things just seem to be going your way, things just fall into place and all is well in the world. You can’t really put your finger on the cause, or the reason why you had this ‘luck’, but you sure do appreciate and like it, lots.
Do we feel happy all the time? Of course not.
Oh, but hang on, what’s so ‘of course’ about it? Why do we assume we can’t be happy all of the time?
Well, experience (drat that experience!) teaches us that we will spend much of our time feeling other emotions as well, such as surprise, anticipation, friendship, courage, friendliness, serenity, sadness, anger, hurt, loneliness, boredom, shame, pity, irritation and many, many more.
Happiness is also impacted by how happy you think you are, your level of awareness and how much you consciously focus on it. Your quality of life determines your satisfaction with how worthwhile you think it is to live. Your country and customs, your culture, will determine whether your basic needs are met or not. If these basic needs are met abundantly enough, then you will increasingly feel the need to have emotional and mental needs met and fulfilled as well.
How resilient are you? Do you like yourself? Do you dwell on the past much of the time? Do you have a plan, an actual plan, for your life, or are you just drifting along? Letting the winds of change direct your sails, or the tides, or the moon, or whatever wants to take the controls of your life?
Do you blame others, or situations, conditions, your hormones, for the fact that you can’t seem to be happy?
Genetics might play a role, predisposition is an influencer, and experience could impact the statistical probability of your expectations in certain situations. Your personality, as well as your character, are involved in your daily happiness barometer. You begin to expect what happens to you more often.
Do you experience more pain and suffering, setbacks and trauma, more ‘going wrong’, or do you more often have success in your relationships, business dealings, interactions, more ‘going right’? The latter would bring more happiness, agreed?
“He who is making progress has learned that desire is for things good and that aversion is for things evil, and further, that peace and calm are only achieved as a man gets the things he wants and avoids the things he doesn’t want. Since virtue is rewarded with happiness, calm and serenity, progress towards virtue is progress towards its benefits and this progress is always a step towards perfection.” Epictetus – Discourses 1.4. Epictetus (A.D. c. 55 – c.135)
Because happiness is a feeling, and therefore not logical, many different episodes, events and circumstances will affect how and when we feel happy. Something which might make you exhilarated today will not necessarily invoke the same degree of feeling or even the same feeling at another time or place.
It depends in part on your energy level at the time, your health, how worried or carefree you might be, or how preoccupied, on time constraints, on the relationships in your life, your frame of reference, your environment, the people you’re with, and so on.
Happiness is a right.
Is that so?
The American Constitution? Nope, that’s not what it says, and the exact wording, origin and meaning of that very thing is also still being debated. It only says that it’s your implicit, innate and fundamental right to search and look for happiness, it says nowhere that you have the right to happiness as such. It says even less that it’s the government’ s duty to make you happy.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy lectured in 2005 at the National Conference on Citizenship: for the framers of the Declaration of Independence “happiness meant that feeling of self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life”. In the context of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, happiness was about an individual’s contribution to society rather than pursuits of self-gratification.
How on earth then does one ‘pursue’ happiness? Your circumstances will likely determine what might make you feel happy. Say I’m dirt poor, then an offer of a hot, filling, fragrantly delicious meal would make me ecstatic, right? If I’m oppressed or held captive, and I manage to escape, my happiness and relief would know no bounds.
If I’m secretly in love with someone, and they happened to notice me, I would surely soar skywards. If my spouse sticks it out with me for decades, now that would be a reason for happiness (and a miracle as well as quite an anomaly besides) If I have a few really good friends and we can support each other through all of life’s tribulations and triumphs, that would fill me with warm happiness.
If I’ve been up for many nights worrying about where the money could possibly be found to help care for my family, and I’m suddenly offered a secure, well-paid job, I would quite obviously be very happy. If my children are healthy and ‘normal’, if their needs are met, and they’re able to have a great childhood and go to a good school, then surely I’ll be happy commensurately.
So happiness comes in many forms, and means many different things to each of us. It’s personal and individualistic. Sometimes people focus on happiness just as it pertains to themselves, and sometimes it only acquires meaning when one can make a positive, meaningful change in someone else’s life.
Contributing to the greater good, helping others – this brings people what they perceive as peace, amity and feelings of contentment, which equals happiness. A sense of community, of being a part of a greater whole, has shown to make people happier overall. Caring is a feel-good act.
“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helen Keller
If your voice matters, your opinions, if your LIFE matters, you will feel much happiness.
Spending time outside, in nature, smiling at others, just because, giving your full attention to your family or elderly people, pets, giving freely, without expecting anything at all back – all these things have brought happiness.
Having fewer possessions gives you more space to enjoy, take in, take off and be free. Things weigh you down, so get rid of the unnecessary and the ‘too-much’, the over-the-top and the never-used. Don’t throw it away, advertise it on social sites, leave it on the pavement or take it to a homeless shelter. Imagine how much good use it can still see in its lifetime in this way.
Some scientists say that in order to have a better chance at happiness, good health is needed. And enough sleep. In that regard one could possibly argue that some pathways to happiness might be linked to chemical reactions in the body. Think of the hippocampus (hormones, stress, depression, memories all having some connection here). You can retrain your brain, change synapses and form new neural connections.
The increased levels of endorphins and serotonin produced by regular exercise, a good diet and nutrition, enough rest and sleep, and being in enough sunlight and brighter light, all these can positively offset the negative influences of the dreaded stress and depression in so many lives today. The above activities make you feel good, you thus are more receptive to doing ever more of that which brings these good feelings, and it becomes addictive. The more you do, you more you beget. Excellent.
“I shine my light of happiness into the darkness of negativity.” Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Learning various (and wonderful) new skills, reading extensively on a broad range of subjects, and socializing with a variety of people throughout your life seems to impact on how much your brain will stay active and engaged, and not degenerate or shrink.
Dopamine has an effect on your personality, so to improve your moods, memory, attention and emotional responses, as well as your serotonin levels, you could eat more fish, chicken, meats, eggs, spirulina, almonds, blueberries (all also rich in Tyronsine), lots of brightly colored fruit, original oatmeal, cottage cheese and others . You have to eat, so you might as well eat those foods that are the most beneficial, right? And the colors and textures will cheer you right up as well 🙂
What has conclusively been proven is that being happy has great benefits: your well-being, and therefore your happiness, depends to a large degree on it. It improves your health, it lightens moods, it makes you more attractive and fun to be around, it enables you to be more hopeful and it encourages you to try more and be more.
It fortifies you, imbues you with the strength to deal with anxiety and pressure, with stressful situations in your life in a more appropriate and more productive way. It simply makes you more open and receptive for good to flow into your life. The positive attitudes which accompany it affect others around you positively also.
Happiness generates goodwill.
Forming intimate relationships, deep, meaningful, close, trustworthy relationships, is a sure contributor to genuine, lasting happiness.
Laughing is great for you, like yoga for your soul.
Happiness is attractive, contagious, energetic, addictive. It brings a glow, an inner light that draws others to you, makes them share in it and want to be with you. It rubs off on and uplifts those around you.
Happiness is a magnet. It also seems to draw abundance and opportunities, more so than negativity or despondency do. It makes things happen whereas the absence of it seems to repel and negate better circumstances and situations.
Happiness does not come from the heart.
Happiness comes from the heart and the mind, the soul, the spirit, the core of you.
It brings about a much greater and more lasting feeling: JOY.
Here is an excerpt from my book: Practical Conversations About Fitting In, Good Habits For A Great Life:
“Do you know, I tend to think one should make less of the pursuit of happiness and much more of the attainment of joy. I love it when happiness visits, but I would rather look for joy. The latter lasts longer, and is more constant. Happiness is more intense and externally based, more earthly, thus is more transient and fades over time, but joy is more internal, and spiritual, also connected to doing things for others, being of service, which can bring feelings of intense satisfaction and wellbeing. Joy, I think, comes from when you see justice done, or someone receiving mercy, it infers nobleness, honor, dignity, grace and love, caring and presence. It is in your essence…blessed, elegant, and smooth, and considerate, compassionate.”
There are two important matters:
What you think of yourself (your confidence and mettle, fortitude, courage, trust and belief in yourself, your principles)
What others think of you (reputation, what others perceive from your outward actions and words).
If these two are not in alignment, it often causes distress, your life feels unbalanced and out of kilter. Only if the two views are congruent will it bring good fortune and felicity. This again equals to feelings of happiness.
“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” Freya Madeline Stark
Happiness is not so much indicated by wearing a smile, forced or otherwise. A smile, a laugh, a chuckle, a guffaw, being amused and merry, chortling, cracking up and splitting your sides does not maketh happiness. It might mean temporarily feeling happy and feeling enjoyment, but it’s all too brief and passing, and is not sustainable for longer periods of time.
No. I believe:
Real happiness is in the eyes, it’s a glimpse into your being, your soul.
I’m a great believer in the expression in the eyes (and not so much the face).
Some people manage the difficult task of drawing curtains over their eyes. And a few really luckless ones have seemingly lifeless eyes, when their experiences and their existence have sucked the lifeblood right out of them.
But for the majority of us – our eyes matter.
Our eyes reflect our real, inner thoughts and feelings. They’re a barometer of our hidden workings.
Eyes can be sun-bright, inviting, shining with an adamantine lustre. Or they can be dull, dim or diffused, hiding away, inward-turned, locking out, hopeless. Looking into someone’s eyes always bring feelings, one way or the other. It’s almost impossible to be unaffected by the ‘message’ in someone else’s eyes.
They draw you in or they push you away. They add or detract, delight or depress, are keen or sluggish. They can be lively and animated, or numbed and overcast. They can be filled with a burning fire, or contain only burned out ashes.
If you’re a naturally buoyant, bubbly and beaming person you’ll have feelings of ‘being’ happy more often than someone who’s naturally more reserved, introverted, private or shy. The same goes for demonstrative and excitable or dispassionate and phlegmatic, hot-blooded and passionate or unruffled and detached. All the many feelings us humans have, including being picky, or judgmental and opinionated, unfortunately influence our ability to relax and enjoy life more, to be happy more.
Feelings have color, and will at various times be brilliant and multihued, and their flamboyant and rich energy will vibrate and resonate. At other times their colors will be more subdued and pastel pale and muted, softer. Bright blazing sunlight versus dappled cool shadows. Strong versus delicate. Psychedelic versus monochrome and neutral. And all play a role in your level of happiness at any given time.
Deep feelings are also raw and powerful, and they will yo-yo you up and down, on a roller coaster of emotions, turning you from delirious to murderous to miserable all the way to grinning and twinkling again. The effect this see-saw, bumper ride of emotions has on you, differs from one person to another. And it decidedly effects how open and receptive you are to feelings of happiness in your daily life and affairs.
Every single one of us has sadness and misfortune in our lives, some more so than others. Often a grieving heart, a broken life, a hopeless existence is covered up, hidden away and the face turned towards the crowds is seemingly happy and carefree, untroubled and in good spirits.
It might be necessary to let go of all the people who’re bringing you down and keeping you stuck. Let all the circumstances currently in your life, which are not serving you in a positive way, go. When Alexander asked him if he lacked anything, Diogenes replied: “Yes, that I do: that you stand out of my sun a little.” Diogenes c.400 – c.325 BC
Let no one tell you life is easy, that happiness is easy, that you just have to be strong, and to stop being such being a sissy, that you just have to get a hold of yourself. If they say that, then deck them one.
Rubbish. Life is difficult. Life is hard, really hard, and complicated, and the road is not straight and true. No no, it’s one step forwards, three backward, with more turns and twists than the labyrinth at Knossos.
But if you know this, and you’ve been repeatedly told, educated and informed about the fact that life’s not a picnic or a walk in the park, at least not all the time, if you know that you’ll not walk on air and sit pretty with angels on plush clouds all the good day long, then surely you’ll be able to enjoy happiness more when it does come to visit, now and again?
You have a choice, every single time: adversity will be there, but you can choose the attitude with which to meet it head-on, be empowered and defeat it with full plate-armor, like the knights of old. Your attitude is your most important and most definitive defense, bar none. We’re all tougher than we think.
The time is now, right now, for you to STOP!
Take a deep breath, and another. Calmly, deeply, in and out, feel the life-affirming oxygen flow inside you like warm, velvety liquid, touching, soothing. Now let your mind calm down, allow it to empty of all thought, all reason and haste, and just let it be.
Do nothing. At all.
Feel how your body sinks lower, feel your clenched muscles relaxing, letting go.
Let is all go. Let it go.
All of the past, all of the mistakes, all of the what-ifs and should-haves – let it all go. Ask forgiveness one more time in a prayer, then let…it…go.
Forgive yourself and all others, you don’t need that heavy baggage. Your future will be light and minimum-packed, ready-to-go-at-a-moment’s-notice adventure, adrenaline driven, forward-facing zipping and zooming. Light as a feather, is what you need to be. Open and receptive. Forward, ever only forward.
Imagine and see in your mind’s eye the following two vividly portrayed visions:
1) You see yourself doing your job, going about your daily struggle and grind, toiling away, hurrying and scurrying, shoulders bowed, forehead creased, sighs escaping unnoticed, eyes dull and sad, mouth pinched and pursed, your thoughts negative and irritated and aggressive. You’re resigned to your fate.
2) You see yourself going about your work and everyday life, with a swing and a sway in your steps, sassy, your head held high, body confident and self-possessed. You glow! Your eyes are forthright and inquisitive, facing all you meet head-on, a constant smile ready to tug at your lips, your thoughts buzzing and alive with all the possibilities of today. You can’t wait, eagerly anticipating all you’re going to learn, all you’re going to experience and you just expect fantastic results from all your doings.
Choose. Yes, you can choose.
No time to be dogmatic, narrow or inflexible, Get rid of your everest of guilt, get rid of the drama always washing over your life. Stop letting it steal your tomorrows and your dreams and all your possibilities.
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892)
Fill your heart to the very brim with love, love, love.
Put yourself out there.
Go on, you can do it. Read a new genre, watch a type of movie you never thought you’d like, practice a new sport, take a different route to work, dish up a recipe you’ve never tried, be daring and smile at an unhappy stranger, try many new ways of dressing, or showing up at work for your colleagues.
What are you instinctively good at, which skills have you learned, what knowledge have you acquired, and what are you passionate about? Could you marry all these together and come up with your ideal way of making a life?
I found this most excellent advice in a letter by a journalist and author, Hunter S Thompson (Business Insider, Farnam Street) in which he says the following: “..the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.”
Immerse yourself in studying, learning and reading motivational and inspirational books, videos, TED talks, articles, posts. Pretend it’s swelteringly hot, the sun beating down, baking the earth, and you’re offered this exquisitely cool and inviting swim in the serene and tranquil waters of a shaded lake. You can feel your body glide in, instantly deliciously cool and relaxed…aaahhhh…this is what it should be like to surround yourself with good, and positive, and excellent and beautiful. This is home.
If you think money brings happiness, then think again. Ask yourself what the money will buy you, and once you have it, what it brings you, what does it make you feel, what have you personally gained from it. Is it independence, breaking free, relief, knowledge, skills, peace, ease, comfort, luxury, love, satisfaction, vindication? Is it reassurance that you can care for yourself and your family? Is it feeling blessed, feeling noticed, feeling that you matter, being charitable, generous, selfless…what does it buy you, all that money? Drill down, until you get to the real core feeling or gain. THAT might bring you happiness. Money itself does not. I’s an exchange. You get something for it. What is that something? Don’t buy goods, buy life experiences.
Don’t buy goods, buy life experiences.
“The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.” Alfred Lord Tennyson
A healthy mental attitude is quite obviously as important to your happiness as a clear conscience .
Trust makes me very happy. I love being able to trust someone, to fully believe in their integrity and their word. I can rely on them. That makes me feel good, ergo, that makes me happy.
If you were lucky enough to have a happy childhood, but you can’t remember the happy child within you, go discover her or him again. Go on, that child is still right there, all you need to do is open up your heart and thoughts and emotions to that happiest of times. It so does not have to end with childhood.
Play like a child again, or like our cute pets do. Play as if it were all new again, and fun, and endless. Play as if you had time again.
Having an adventure sounds so juicy and exciting, doesn’t it? Let’s go have one, or perhaps two!
It takes great courage to break out of your comfort zone, even if the comfort zone is of sadness and hurt, of familiar feelings of rejection. It takes real energy, bravery and commitment to become ‘unstuck’, to break free, to break your attachment to the old and embrace a new way of being. Break out of patterns, and embrace new ways of experimentation. It takes extraordinary attentiveness and dedication, real consciousness, to form new and better habits.Happiness is about making memory images for your heart. Click To Tweet
You CAN be happy, if you determine that you WILL be.
You CAN be happy, if you DECIDE to be.
Don’t make lemonade, make the whole shebang: tequila, salt and vodka and all. Keep adding, no playing small. Be transfixed in wonder, believe in miracles, celebrate. Less with the being practical and realistic, more of the imaginative and impossible.
I think it has much to do with allowing: allowing ourselves to be open to happiness, allowing ourselves to receive, to drink in the many good blessings and gifts which come our way. Being mindful, being aware of when opportunities arise and then learning to be truly grateful for each one of them – that sounds like the best recipe for opening the floodgates to happiness.
You are rich, rich in time, when you start out in life. Every breath you take from then on makes you poorer. Don’t waste your riches. “Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity.” Marcus Aurelius 121 – 180 AD
Peace of mind, peace of spirit, and life-affirming positive thoughts will be your reward if you just allow yourself to work at it.
Life is but a tiny breath, a gasp, a tiny inhale and exhale in the infinite, seemingly endless universe. Are you wasting it?
This is what I personally say:
I SHALL be happy.
I WILL be joyful.
Because I’ve made up my mind to be.
My face will be turned towards the sun, soaking up the warm, nourishing beams, bathing in the pouring, flowing light, even as a tear slowly trickles down my cheek…
Be sure to check out Linda’s book, Inspiration for a Woman’s Soul: Choosing Happiness and grab your copy today at http://bit.ly/Happiness_Book