What is happiness?
When many of us think of happiness we picture someone grinning from ear to ear, right? Maybe they just landed their dream job or won the lottery. For the majority of us, happiness is often thought of as a euphoric state brought about by good luck, luxury, and everything being perfectly in its place. We think that driving our fast car to our mansion to meet with our model spouse will make our experience of life more pleasurable. We often believe that happiness will magically appear when we win big or meet someone special. We get plastic surgery, buy “experiences” in the form of fancy meals and vacations, and then fill our homes with the latest gadgets to tip the scales toward joy. In fact, our economy is based on this illusion of happiness. But for many of us, chasing after this fantasy can lead to debt and disappointment.
I have been reading self-help books and watching hundreds of hours of motivational speakers, all with the sole purpose of finding the “magic bullet” that would give me happiness. I have meditated and manifested and dreamed and made “vision boards,” until I couldn’t take it anymore. I may have been able to work hard and get a few of the things I wanted, but what good is manifesting a new job if it doesn’t make me happy?
So what makes people truly happy? It’s simple and many great thinkers and spiritual teachers have known this for thousands of years. Even Grandma knew. Research in the field of psychology now shows that, sadly, happiness was attainable all along; we were just looking in the wrong place. In fact, we were working hard against our own happiness much of the time.
There are three key elements to creating happiness:
- Our relationship to the group.
- Our relationship to ourselves.
- Our relationship to our experiences.
Almost every speaker on the subject of happiness, and how to attain it, ignores one of the most important aspects of contentment, our connection to those around us. But it is understandable why they don’t often approach this subject; this is one of the hardest things to change in our lives. We can’t “cheat” our way out of this aspect with positive affirmations or a new gadget. We can’t simply cut out pictures of happy friends and lovers, and then paste them to our “vision board.” We also can’t meditate our lives into alignment with others. We need real world actions to create the kind of fulfilling relationships that will bring us joy.
The second factor in happiness is our relationship to ourselves; but this is hard to swallow. We couldn’t possibly be the reason for our unhappiness, right? This news is not meant to make you feel hopeless or to place blame, because many of us didn’t get great role models that taught us how to be happy, or how to design our lives for happiness. Learning to love ourselves and develop healthy habits can take a lifetime to retrain without someone to help guide us and show us what is possible. Often, we are not even aware of the consequences of our behaviors until we are shown a new way of being.
The last element to happiness is our relationship to our experiences; how we see the things that are happening to us and how we view what has happened to us. What do our stories tell us about our relationship to the world at large? Things that repeat in our heads, sometimes referred to as our “tapes,” have a great influence on our reality. Do we obsess over our failures or do we focus on what we learned and the good that has come from the negative event? Do we believe that we are lucky and good things will come to us? All of these types of experiences accumulate to create a world view; a story that we tell ourselves that helps us make sense of the random happenings in our lives. Happiness and contentment come from learning to handle the ups and downs that naturally occur, not by orchestrating a perfect life.
All of this may seem like “common sense” and you may be wondering how I can really tell you anything new. It is one thing to know how a car should sound when it is running well; it is a completely different skillset that is needed to put an engine together. As we progress you will see how the research on happiness, and how to attain it, has been integrated with easy weekly practices to transform your life. It is amazing how a little effort and a few changes to your behaviors can bring about newfound joy and a sense of well-being.
But these changes are not just good for your spirit; they are also good for your mind and body. Happy people live longer, think clearer, and have healthier lifestyles. Happy people also spread happiness to those around them. It becomes a feedback loop of joy that strengthens everything you do.
So let’s begin this new journey, a journey to the heart of happiness.