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We live in a happy-obsessed society, constantly bombarded with happy smiling faces on TV or billboard ads telling us their version of happiness. Even worse than this, we see our own friends on social media posting photos of their ridiculously happy lives; but never sharing any raw feelings of what’s really going on in their lives.
It is an unspoken law that we all want to be happy but the reality is that most of us have not thought about what happiness means for ourselves. I used to think, if only I had the right kind of job, the right group of friends and the right partner, then I would be happy. I worked so hard chasing these goals. I saw happiness like reaching the peak of a mountain… All I had to do was work really hard, achieve all my goals and then I’ll be happy. And that’s exactly what I did. I worked really hard and got to the top of the mountain. But at the top, I didn’t find what I was looking for.
What I actually found at the top of the mountain was disappointment. I had worked so hard to conquer my goals, and the realization that I still wasn’t happy made me even more unhappy. But little did I know, I had no idea what happiness was.
There are probably as many definitions of happiness as there are humans on the planet but broadly speaking, modern psychology categorizes happiness in two parts:
We are all familiar with this type of happiness – good food, new clothes, walks on the beach, hot oil massages and puppies… lots of puppies. This is what’s constantly advertised to us and what we think of when we see our happy smiling friends on Facebook.
We are less familiar with this type of happiness, as it is not as straightforward as getting a massage or hugging a warm puppy. Rather it involves a deliberate process of self-discovery and cultivating the right mental attitudes to live a happy life, despite the ups and downs of everyday emotions.
Let’s explore these…
Imagine if there was a machine you could plug yourself into that made you feel pleasure and joy 100% of the time. Better yet, you wouldn’t know you were plugged in so you would have no feelings of guilt. Would you plug in or stay in your current life? The answer you give this question can reveal a lot about how you feel about happiness as an emotion.
If you asked me this question shortly after I had finished climbing my mountain of happiness, I would have almost certainly said yes. This is because I saw happiness only as an emotion that I had to feel on a regular basis. If I was not experiencing emotional happiness in the form of pleasure or joy regularly, my conclusion was that I’m not happy and that something is wrong.
This is why I chased goal after goal, mountain after mountain, pursuing the good feelings a new job or new travel destination gave me. But the good feelings didn’t last. Before long, the emotions of joy and excitement would dissipate and I was back to where I started, looking at an even bigger mountain to experience more joy in my life.
The obvious problem with this approach is what psychologists call – the idea that no matter how good something makes us feel, “most of the time, we drift back to where we started, emotionally-speaking. One often-cited famously showed that despite their initial euphoria, lottery winners were no happier than non-winners eighteen months later. The same tendency to return to “baseline” has been shown to occur after marriage, voluntary job changes, and promotions—the kinds of things we usually expect to change our happiness and well-being for the better in a permanent way.” (Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D.)
This is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of life. We absolutely should celebrate getting that new job and we should cherish every moment of the honey-moon period of a new relationship. However, we should be conscious that experiencing these short-term emotional highs does not equate to long-term happiness.
Another unfortunate consequence of seeing happiness only as a positive emotional state is that we ignore or suppress any other emotions that don’t make us feel good. We all want to feel joy and avoid pain. This is normal. What is not normal, and is rather unhealthy, is persistently avoiding or suppressing difficult or negative emotions.
The reality of life is that we all experience difficult emotions and circumstances. People get sick, we lose our jobs, relationships fall apart, things break, shit happens. Put more elegantly by Murphy’s Law “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”
In his book, The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris writes:
Ultimately each one of us is responsible for making our own happiness cake; one filled with ingredients that gives us true satisfaction and contentment. But even with this perfect life satisfaction cake, we are bound to experience sadness and pain in our life. This is part of the human experience. Equally, we are bound to experience immense joy and pleasure in our life. True happiness is not about being caught up in these emotional highs and lows of life. Rather it’s learning to enjoy the highs with gratitude and accept the lows with self-compassion.
Most important of all let’s not forget to share the love with one other.
Author Brooke Williams wrote: “If more people took the advice from this book and used it to its fullest, the world would be a different place. Some of the ideas are rather simple but the overall message is profound. Happiness isn't sitting where you'd think. But it's easy enough to find with a little work and a few extra steps. I hope many, not only read this book, but also take it to heart.”
There are several things mentioned in this booklet. Acts of kindness and serving others is one of them. The joy one feels when helping those in need is indescribable. Why are we here on earth if not to serve our friends and loved ones, or even those strangers who need help? How about music? Does it affect our lives?
Inishowen Cailín, from Ireland, wrote: “At the beginning of the book, the author gives us a few tasks to complete in order to kick start our journey to personal happiness. One of her assignments is to greet someone each day. I live in a town where it is a normal everyday practice to greet every single person you meet, whether you know them or not... so this was an easy one for me. Her other tasks are also simple, fun and rewarding to complete: show love to others, give hugs, etc. I really enjoyed reading all the stories the author researched for her book, as well as all the stories from her own family. I think when I reread this book I will be inspired by something different each time. It is a simple guide to put you on the right path to feeling happy and optimistic. A worthwhile read.”
This book is available at Amazon. Happy Reading!