What is happiness? What does it mean to you? I certainly know that my perception of it has changed over the years. It used to be something I yearned for, a state of being that I’d somehow find if or when I crossed some intangible threshold.
In that sense I’d given it some mystical status which only ensured that somehow it was always destined to remain slightly out of reach. As if it were a dream I hadn’t yet qualified for.
The reality of this type of thinking was that it pushed the focus of my attention upon justifying my belief. In other words, if my life wasn’t yet capable of granting me happiness, then its deficiencies were front and centre in my mind and painfully obvious.
I was of course missing the whole point. Happiness isn’t something to be manufactured. We can create an environment in which it can dwell. But it still remains subject to circumstances, and we can’t prevent the world around us exerting influence. To attempt to do so is futile, and only leads to a fear of change.
Happiness is something that can appear in the harshest of lives, while being absent from the most privileged of individual’s. It’s not something to be harnessed and held onto. It’s a transient mood that visits us intermittently, and often comes calling when we least expect it.
I believe that it starts with a state of mind. One in which there is no desperate search for happiness, simply an openness to receive, and appreciate when it visits. To do this though, it’s important to accept some basic tenets.
Never assume that everyone else is happy.
It’s an easy trap to fall into when life isn’t a bed of roses right now. You imagine that everyone else has somehow figured out the secret and are keeping it to themselves. Here’s a newsflash folks, you’re not a mind-reader. I know, shocking isn’t it? But you cannot possibly know what’s going on in the minds and lives of strangers.
More importantly you can’t know how they mentally process what they experience. Everything is subjective, and the impact of events will differ within the context of individual lives. To imagine that everyone else is happy when you aren’t, puts them on a pedestal. It only makes you feel bad about yourself and what you believe is lacking within your life.
We all struggle from time to time. Some more than others. A failure to recognise that is a failure to acknowledge that everyone is basically in the same boat. Also don’t forget that few people are going to be open about they’re unhappy, and will put on a brave face most of the time.
Something will always be missing.
I don’t say this to crush optimism, it’s just a fact. Nothing is ever perfect and the more we try to make it so, the less we notice all the good things we already have going on. Can you imagine the effort it would take if you actually did achieve a perfect life, and tried to maintain that standard? You’d end up obsessed with trying to protect it at any cost which in itself would surely suck all the joy out.
All you have to do is accept that life isn’t perfect, for anyone, and allow yourself to be OK with that.
There will always be problems to overcome.
Another of life’s little guarantees is that there will always be obstacles that get in your way from time to time. Yes you can make smart choices that lessen the chances of disasters befalling you, or hat mitigate the likely impact when they do. But you can’t see everything coming, and sometimes bad stuff simply happens to good people however unfair that seems.
One positive action you can take is to become solution focused. So instead of wallowing in self-pity when problems arise, you take the time to acknowledge their ‘crapiness’ before devoting the rest of your energy towards finding the best possible way to overcome them.
It’s an attitudinal shift that leans towards the positive rather than allowing a victim mentality to become the norm. This mindset ultimately creates a strong feeling of resourcefulness, and results in you harbouring less fear over events that are outside of your control. It works because you are quickly able to evidence your level of resources via your successes and thereby gain more confidence about your abilities.
Happiness and sadness coexist.
If you never ate anything other than candy and cake, how would you know that they were sweet? You wouldn’t, because you would never have anything to compare them to.
By the same logic, if you lived in a constant state of euphoria, would happiness ever really be possible without a contrasting emotion? I think not. I’m not saying that life has to be like a roller coaster in order to differentiate the good times from the bad.
On the contrary, life can be pretty OK for most of the time, neither happy nor sad. Call it an acceptable ‘baseline’ for your day to day life. This is the perhaps the best we can hope for on a daily basis, and I’m good with that. Some days will be tinged with sadness, others brimming with joy. But there remains an overall equilibrium whereby the balance is within a reasonable set of parameters.
With a predominantly positive mindset, it’s not too difficult to push the balance in your favour, and experience more happiness than sadness. However without those sad moments, the happy ones would never be as sweet, and you wouldn’t relish them quite so much.
It’s good to have unfulfilled ambition.
Without anything to strive for then there’s no sense of achievement to be had. A life devoid of ambition is surely flat by comparison to one that is full of hopes and dreams. You don’t have to shoot for the stars either in order to harbour ambition. Simple desires such as being financially secure, earning a living doing something you like, or being able to spend quality time with your loved ones; all these are ambitions worth striving for.
Achieve any one of these and your life will improve, and all are potentially within grasp with some work and perseverance. That said, once you’ve achieved these wonderful goals, there’s nothing to stop you striving for more. The key lies in not attaching too much value to the outcome.
I tend to aim for multiple goals all at once. Some I’ll achieve quickly, others may take much longer if ever to realise. But I always make sure that the route to any success is paved with smaller stepping stones that enable growth along the way. Mini achievements if you like. Therefore it’s more often the journey that gives more pleasure than the eventual destination.
When all said and done, anything you can do within your life that makes it more positive, is going to increase the likelihood of happiness coming to call . It’s not a feeling to directly pursue, rather something that happens quite naturally as a by-product of wider fulfilment.