What is happiness?
Happiness: what a topic! Most of my clients want to be happier...they want more happiness and less suffering in their lives. Who doesn't? But, what is happiness? We all know it when we feel it, or do we? Is it feeling good, joyful, optimistic, healthy, alive? Or is it a deeper sense of pleasure, satisfaction, well-being? A colleague of mine claims that "the happiest time of life for men is ages 60-69 and the unhappiest period is ages 20-29." Is this true?
Happiness is self-defined: your happiness may not look or feel like mine. The things that make your partner happy may not make you happy, and vice versa. Happiness is experienced not only in our neocortex (where our thoughts reside), but also on a total body level: a happy body is full of energy, flexibility, aliveness and strength. It can take you almost anywhere and recover quickly from difficult situations. Let's define what happiness is for you. Complete this sentence: For me, real happiness is _______________________.
I recommend that you complete the sentence several times and write down your answers: your answers may "deepen" the more you think about it. In my work with clients, I often use elements of Buddhist psychology to help clients identify and eliminate the sources of their suffering and locate the source of their happiness. For example, if you hook your happiness onto someone else (e.g., your partner) or some event happening in a certain way (e.g., your boss being kind to you), your happiness is shaky. A more solid, lasting happiness has got to come from a lasting source...a source that you can control. The only thing you can control is your mind and body...and that's a challenge in itself.
For some people, this is where spirituality comes in. God or Spirit is seen as the only unchanging source of happiness and, in theory, we need to align with this essence or presence in order to have a continual pipeline to happiness. Well, all you spiritual folks out there, how easy it THAT to pull off? Quite difficult, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether you have a spiritual belief system or not, happiness has got to come from within. There's nothing else we have guaranteed access to: money, your partner, your job, your house, it's all temporary and can be here today, gone tomorrow.
In an effort to avoid a cookbook mentality, here are some possible ways to experience more happiness:
· Identify what historically has brought you happiness and unhappiness.
· Study people that you think are happier than you are. What do they have that you don't? If you can, ask them about themselves and how they find their happiness.
· Begin to quiet your mind: any activity that brings you more peace and quiet is setting the stage for happiness.
· Find ways to let yourself be more spontaneous, e.g., more yourself: do you need to spend a day hiking, an afternoon playing golf, an evening dancing your ass off until the club closes? How can you loosen up more?
· Live more in the moment. Notice when you're off in future hopes or dreams and kindly bring yourself back to this moment. Happiness is only available NOW, not tomorrow and not yesterday. If you're stuck in the past, overanalyzing something for the millionth time, gently bring yourself back to the present.
· Experiment with being more flexible; if you can "go with the flow", your odds of happiness increase exponentially. If you have to have things your way, happiness is unlikely to fly in your window...because you're got it bolted shut and locked down.