The Great Search for “Happiness”
“The grass is always greener on the other side” -- such a simple saying, but one that holds so much ground in today’s society. So many of us search for the eluded “happiness” that is believed to be right around the corner. If we could just get that job, finish that degree, get that promotion, get married, have kids, reach retirement, etc. we would all be so much happier, right? But once you reach the “greener” pasture, is it really what will provide you with the happiness you have always wanted, or is it simply your neighbor’s pasture that isn’t quite as green as you had fantasized?
Researchers have studied happiness for ages. Thousands of books have been written on it, promising a new awakening upon completion. But why must it be so elusive? Below are some tips inspired by the greats as well as from personal observations as to what helps to be happy right now.
1. Happiness is not the destination, it is the journey.
Believe it or not, happiness is achievable right now, not tomorrow or next week or next year. It’s not about having the “perfect life” or the “perfect moment”; life is messy and challenges are inevitable. Rather happiness is about finding the beauty in the chaos. Happiness is determined by the way we approach those messy parts of life. Remember that the challenges in life don’t have to define your reality or your existence, only you have the power to do so.
2. Mindfulness over matter, not mind over matter.
The reality is, life is never going to be perfect or without challenges. Finding happiness often means finding ways of dealing with and getting through the moments when we don’t feel happy. Instead of trying to strong-arm your negative attitudes or feelings out the window, find compassion to be present with what is truly going on for you. Although consciously attempting to altering your mindset can have positive impacts, it is also important to remember to explore what is underlying those fears and negative beliefs about your life. Is there a deep seeded fear of the upcoming presentation you have for work? Is there a concern about your efficacy as a parent? Is there something else going on that you have not yet uncovered? Simply taking the time to care enough about yourself to explore what is truly going on can be healing in itself. Compassion is powerful; not only for others, but also for yourself. Mindfulness encourages people to be present with, not only the physical world around us, but also the internal world. Take the time to notice what is present in your internal world, be gentle with what you find, and care for the wounds that may lie beneath the surface.
3. This, too, shall pass.
When you find yourself feeling down, recognize the feelings, don’t try to push them away, and remember that whatever you are feeling will pass. Much like how seasons change, a negative feeling you are experiencing now will eventually give way to other feelings in the future. Whether it’s five minutes from now, or a few hours, no emotion lasts forever. So take a deep breath and remember not to define your day or yourself by a feeling that may only last a moment.
4. Slow down.
There is something to be said about slowing down in this crazy busy world; taking time to be mindful of what this very moment entails. Taking the time to recognize how the leaves look on the trees today or the color of the sky; stopping to listen to the sound of the wind blowing, your dog breathing, or your refrigerator running; or taking the time to notice how the carpet feels on your toes, how your back feels resting on your seat rest, or your fingers feel as they push each key on the keyboard. These are all things that can be lost in the chaos of everyday living. Often we get so caught up in what is next on our to-do list and what next week will entail that we lose today; we lose the present. Take a moment to stop and experience the world around you and the simple pleasures. It’s a small task, but can bring so much joy.
5. Be compassionate with yourself.
As children, we are taught to be kind to others, but never taught to be kind to ourselves. Children are taught to share, to be polite, and not talk back, but how are we taught to treat ourselves? In American culture, we are taught from a very young age to push ourselves to the extremes: academically, physically and often emotionally as well. We are expected, at alarmingly young ages, to be the best academically and physically- to shoot for that academic or sport scholarship that will benefit you in 20 years. Emotionally, we are told not to cry, to “dry those tears” and suck it up. Society teaches us, at a very young age, that being nice to ourselves isn’t even a variable.
As an adult, this can result in over working, unattainable personal expectations, or stifling feelings to the point of physical corruption. What would happen if we told younger you, “you are sad, and that’s okay” or “you don’t have to be the best or the bravest, you can just be you”. As an adult, we don’t have the option of going back and fixing what has already been done, but we do have the option of altering the present. We can make a choice to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to cry, to be happy, to take time for you, or to do whatever it is you need to do to healthfully take care of yourself. Take a vacation or a siesta, either way, care about yourself and be nice to yourself. Happiness truly comes from within; it can come from being our own biggest supporter rather than our biggest critic.
6. Self-care and self-exploration.
Along with self-compassion comes self-care. All “self-care” means is taking time everyday to take care of you in a meaningful way. Whether that’s sitting down and having your favorite cup of tea or taking a few extra moments in the morning to enjoy an extra long shower, every little bit counts.
What do you like to do, what makes you happy, and how can you best take care of yourself? This is a question I often ask clients and I have been surprised at how many people don’t know how to answer to that question, myself included. I believe that true happiness doesn’t come from external sources, it comes from inside. It comes from knowing what makes you happy. Instead of the “have-to’s” what are your “want-to’s”? If you don’t know the answer to that question, take time to find out. Try new things, meet new people, make personal connections – get to know yourself again. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of the world, the hard part is finding yourself again. Getting in touch with who you truly are, what you need, what you want, and how you can best fulfill those needs can foster happiness that no one else can give you.
Ideally, we would all be able to effectively do the 6 tasks listed above consistently, but life happens and all we can do is try. One of my favorite quotes in mindfulness is “The moment you realize you are not aware, you become aware”. Much like with happiness, the moment you realize that you have lost yourself or that you are consumed in the muck of life, is the moment that you have a chance to make a change for the better. I believe that we all have the answers inside of ourselves and, with a little work and determination, can achieve our own little messy paradise, even just for a moment.