When asked to think about being happy, some people think about all the things they don’t have that once they do have them, then they’ll be happy. How sad is it that even when asked to think about being happy, they make themselves miserable by thinking about what they want and feel the lack of. Somehow, I don’t think those people will ever be truly happy even when they get everything they want, because then they’ll have a new list that must be completed before they allow themselves to be happy.
Other people think about their memories of happy moments, happiness felt during a birthday party or a perfect summer morning or the thrill of a roller coaster, or a shared smile with a loved one. But that’s such a fleeting thing, isn’t it? We all have a bank of happy memories but those feelings can be so short lived!
I’m interested in a longer-term version, an on-going sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with life. I want a lifetime of happiness! I want it to last for a long time and build resilience to darker emotions so I feel content with my life, even in troubled times.
Can we achieve a life-time of happiness and personal fulfillment? Is that possible?
It can be difficult because we humans are actually hardwired to be negative, to expect things to go badly. That was an evolutionary mindset to help us survive in primitive times but it really doesn’t help us today when survival is almost guaranteed bar natural disasters and predators that are mostly human these days.
However, I believe the answer is YES! You CAN be happy most of the time, for the rest of your life.
So how do we make it happen?
First, we make the decision to be happy. The US President Abraham Lincoln struggled with depression his entire life and he noted that, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” There are those people who have decided not be happy until they have x, y and z. And there are people who focus their time and thoughts on achieving various goals or simply avoiding failure. Nothing wrong with that, although its a bit limited to my way of thinking especially as they tend to forget about actually being happy now, today. I believe we can choose happiness as a project or goal or value, and focus on creating it in our lives. Start taking the time to be happy every day.
Second, notice what makes you happy. Many of us walk around in a daze every day, just doing what needs to be done and we don’t even check in with ourselves emotionally and have no clue how we’re feeling or how to change what we’re feeling. Do you know what makes you feel long term contentment? Most of us know what makes us laugh or feel joyful for a moment in time, but we’re not as certain about what brings long-term happiness. What fills you with pride or satisfaction? What gives your life meaning and purpose? What people, places, activities and values bring peace of mind, contentment and fulfillment? Start noticing what these are for you, make a note of them and see how you could allow them to play a larger role in your life, not just sometimes but most of the time.
Third, happiness is active, not passive. Real, honest, long lasting happiness seems to come from living our values and priorities. Happiness comes from doing valuable and worthwhile things, from making a positive difference in our world. contributing of ourselves and our talents and abilities. We all know the frustration of spending a hectic day being frantic over trivial things and it demeans the gift of those 24 hours. We are not guaranteed the days we have, and have no idea when they will end so don’t spend your life that way! Every day, invest some time doing things of value. Do things that reflect who you are and what you stand for. And be grateful for the time you have and what you can make happen.
Finally, happiness really is more about giving than receiving. I’ve been blessed to have many things, and there are even more things I want in life. And of course, many of these things do “make me happy.” I enjoy them, especially the things that save me time and effort. But few of my “things” actually seem connected to my long-term happiness. My long term happiness isn’t dependent on the things I have as much on my daily habits and sharing what I have with others. I have a lovely comfortable home and it feels even more cosy and safe, and full of joy when I share it with friends. I love my morning walk and its so much better shared with my dogs and the people I meet each day. I love learning and it means so much more when I share what I learn with others so we all improve our lives through the knowledge and insight gained. I suspect we focus too much on the things we want, and not enough on the things we have to share. In the Bible, Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive.” I think there is truth in that.
And if the guidance above seems too abstract for you to act upon, then here’s some direct action for you to take:
*Make a list of 20 things that make you happy. Don’t stop writing until you have at least 20 things on this list. Write out all the things that make you giggle, chuckle, celebrate, smile openly and broadly, and the things that simply make you feel good. Write down what you’re proud of, what makes you feel relaxed, content, loved by others, loving of others, satisfied, whole, full of acceptance, love, life.
Now make sure you do at least FIVE of those things Every DAY! And add to your list, if its not already on there, giving a hug, getting a hug and kissing a child or an older person, singing out loud, reading something great and listening to some awesome music. Make sure you do at least FIVE Every DAY! Every DAY! DO you know why? Why the hell wouldn’t you? It makes you feel happy so surely its worth the effort!
Be productive every single day. I don’t mean the busy work we can all get stuck in, I mean real, meaningful work. Get things done. And this can include cleaning your house, watching your kid’s school play or attending sports day or making sales calls or cutting the grass. It can be big or small, and it makes a difference. Do something like this every day.
Do a good deed every day. Help someone, give a compliment, let someone out in traffic, allow someone to cut in front of you in the supermarket queue. Be nice. Make the world a gentler, better place for you and someone else.
Laugh. Its proven to release endorphins and lower stress levels and it just feels damn good. Laugh out loud. Watch a child laugh, no inhibitions, they throw their whole body into it. Do the same and feel yourself lose decades of stress and worry. Don’t worry about what you look like, go be insane for a bit. Laughter is such good medicine and a happiness indicator.
Be grateful. I mentioned this above and I’ll say it again because gratitude changes how you feel about everything. When you find you can be grateful for everything, your whole life changes. Keep a gratitude journal, start everyday by writing our 5 things you are grateful for, end the day by writing about what you are grateful for that happened for you. Practice the attitude of gratitude. When something happens that challenges you, say to yourself, ‘That’s good, that’s good, that’s good.’ and then ask why its good. Your brain will find an answer for you to turn your perspective around.
Happiness really isn’t based on having that house or particular car, or the right bag and shoes. When you buy something, the release of the stress of not having it quickly fades and we’re right back into wanting again, more, bigger, better and always out of reach.
Instead look for lasting happiness through the thoughts you think and actions you take every day. This happiness, this contentedness, this satisfaction is soul deep and nourishing to your mind, body and soul.
You may have to change some of your habits of thought and behaviour, dig yourself out of the rut you might be stuck in. I can tell you, the work will be worth it.