The pursuit of happiness is an age-old obsession. Aristotle said “happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”.
But yet the word and the experience of happiness continue to elude many people.
Happiness is defined as “a state of well-being and contentment” or “a pleasurable or satisfying experience”. According to Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and a Positive Psychologist, happiness is more than pleasure. He defined “the good life” as having positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.
This is not surprising as human beings are social animals and we crave bonding with others. We also naturally seek meaning, from the cause of events and the reasoning behind other people’s behaviour to the larger more existentialist questions.
Studies have shown that those who have a strong support network, for example, are happier people. The same goes for people who are “in flow” as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
What we also know is that happiness is not correlated with material wealth (after a basic level has been achieved). Even with the massive rise in living standards and wealth in the US over the last 50 years, people are generally not happier.
What is happy and happiness?
People often say happiness is a choice, a habit, and a practice.
This may be hard for some people to accept. Happiness is certainly a choice but unhappiness is often a subconscious choice and an adopted pattern. People obviously do not choose to be unhappy, at least not as a desired conscious choice but many factors are at play here. Our belief system and other learned behaviour are deeply ingrained. We do not realize the extent of their function and effect in our daily life.
So yes, some people may have instead picked up the unhappiness habit.
There is certainly no happiness formula. Everyone is different and what makes us happy is up to us, and only us. Conversely, only we can make ourselves or allow ourselves to be unhappy.
Here are some tips and tools we have at our handy disposal to ramp up our happiness quotient.
Choose Your Thoughts
It is said that some 64,000 thoughts pass through our mind each day. They pass through often with our awareness. What if we were able to track them? We would find that they stem from core beliefs we hold.
Thoughts are a reflection of our beliefs.
Becoming aware of our beliefs and updating “these files” like we would on a computer helps to zone into on where the gap lies. This is that space between our desire to be happy and our unhappiness pattern.
Our thoughts work in spirals – either upward or downward. Negative thoughts beget negative thoughts and likewise, positive thoughts bring on more positive thoughts. Each one raises or lowers our vibrational and emotional state.
It is a choice. It starts with one thought, then two. The mind cannot simultaneously hold a positive and a negative thought.
So choose your thoughts. Choose to see a hump as another chance to be happy.
This is the “highway to heaven”. Gratitude means we are focused on the blessings already in our lives. Not all the wrongs we have concluded plague us. By seeing and acknowledging what is going well + good, we can more easily shift our perspective into a healthier mode. Not sweating the small stuff will be that much easier.
Practicing gratitude is practicing mindfulness. We have to be aware to see what many miss in their angst-ridden stressed out mind. Living in the present moves us away from the replay of the past and the worry of the future. Awareness brings clarity.
Join Maya Angelou in the Complaint-Free for 21 Days Challenge. For her, “complaining is dangerous for your prosperity and it’s dangerous to your posterity”. Make your world a complaint-free world by changing the way you communicate. This means no sarcasm, no underhanded remarks, no passive aggressive behaviour, and no gossiping. These toxic ways of communicating do not connect you with people in an authentic way. Complaining puts people in a downward spiral and does not solve anything. Simply focus on what you do desire.
We are always told to breathe deeply when we are upset. Pause and breathe so that we do not speak back in anger. Take a few deep breaths to calm down. But what if, as Thom Bush pointed out in his recent “Happiness Is” talk, we make it a habit to breathe deeply. BEFORE we are already anxious. Start with deep breathing throughout the day, before known triggers such as travelling in peak hours.
Every time we inhale, we activate the sympathetic system which is the “go” pedal on fight-or-flight. The parasympathetic system is the “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” division of our nervous system. This happens when we exhale.
This is why in some practices, such as yogic breathing, we are taught to exhale longer than inhale.
Exhaling helps us to activate relaxation. Simply exhaling or sighing throughout the day has a calming effect.
A tip for tapping into happy, anytime, is to remember a happy thought.
Remember something that brings a smile to your face and a lightness to your body. Embrace that memory and live the sensations. Anchor this with all your senses. What does it look like? What sounds do you hear? How does it feel like? Any smells? You will notice an instant change.
Remember your mind cannot differentiate between something real or something imagined. It doesn’t know you are living a memory. And if you cannot, in that moment, conjure up a happy memory, just imagine it.
Joy is a massive uplifter.
Meet Byron Katie
As Byron Katie says, we can’t argue with reality. She calls her inquiry, “work” because it is.
Doing the work includes asking four questions (and their turnarounds).
- “Is it true?”
- “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”
- “How do you react – what happens – when you believe that thought?”
- “Who would you be without the thought?”
Doing the work is simple, though not necessarily easy.
What we remember in the end is that “there are only three kinds of business; mind, yours, and God’s”.
BE WITH HAPPY + POSITIVE PEOPLE
While misery loves company, optimism loves company too. Having a positive environment means there are high-vibrational-energy people holding the space for us when we dip a little. And you won’t feel guilty or out-of-place when you do feel good. Surrounding yourself with happy + positive people is having a feedback loop that helps maintain your own connection to your joy.
After all that is said and done, happiness is not a theory, but a practice. We can read and read about it but it means nothing, unless we experience it. Unless it is an embodied state of being for us.
Within that state, we can still feel the whole spectrum of human emotions. Being happy does not mean we are never sad, disappointed, stressed, or angry. We are no longer attached to that emotion and we do not build our identity and sense of happiness around it.
In The Telomere Effect authors Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel write “our emotions are not pure reactions to the world; they are our own fabricated constructions of the world.” The brain scans its database of past experiences and takes cues from the internal and external environments then it comes up with an emotion to match. Our initial emotional response is without our conscious awareness and may speak more about our past experiences than how we are presently feeling.
It comes down to being mindful of our vibrational states and taking responsibility for our responses and behaviour to how we feel.