To be happy, we must know what happiness is. We also need to know what it is not, so that we save time and energy chasing temporary fixes that don’t last.
First, let’s look at what happiness is not.
What happiness is not…
1. Happiness is not in things
Many of us have learnt from experience that happiness is not in things. When we were younger, we may have acquired possessions as proof of our success in life. Yet no matter how much we have, someone else always has more. The race to the top never ends. This constant comparison to others brings dis-satisfaction rather than lasting joy.
In fact, the trend of sparking joy by de-cluttering your life just goes to show that we can be happier with fewer possessions. And in times like this when budgets are tight, I and many others have found that buying less and living a simpler life has its own joys and contentment.
2. Happiness is not in events
External events have great power to affect our moods, and understandably so. The events of this year especially have resulted in stress and anxiety for so many people. Yet happy people recognise that these events are external to us, and know that “this too shall pass.”
If we attach our happiness to events outside our control, our happiness will fluctuate as conditions change. Happy people are not subject to such mood swings. They recognise that their emotional reactions to events are temporary reflexes. But their happiness baseline remains relatively stable throughout those external disruptions.
3. Happiness is not in other people
This may be hardest to understand. Of course our happiness depends on other people to an extent. We are social creatures and isolation can be distressing. Most peoples’ lives revolve around family and close friends. I know I would be lost without mine.
Yet one sure way to makes ourselves and others unhappy is to make them responsible for our happiness. Such unrealistic expectations put unfair pressure on those we love. Many marriages are miserable because one or both partners entered the transaction expecting to be made happy, and blame the other when this does not happen.
What happiness is…
1. Happiness is in ourselves
“The only person who can make me happy is me.” Once we recognise this, we have taken the most important step to finding happiness that lasts. Things get damaged or lost, events come and go, people change and may leave us.
The only thing we will always have in our life is ourselves. Placing our happiness in that one constant will give us a stable base on which to ground our joy.
2. Happiness is a choice we make
Once we accept personal responsibility for our happiness, we then have to choose to be happy. That first fundamental choice will be followed by more specific steps to be happy.
3. Happiness is a daily habit
Happiness is like a muscle. Going to the gym regularly is what trains and builds our physical muscles. Forming daily happiness habits is like our very own happiness gym. Eventually we will grow stronger emotionally and spiritually, and being happy will be easier.
Make it part of your daily routine to do things that make you or someone else happy. One of the best habits you can form is to keep a gratitude journal. Research also suggests other ways to live a happy life.
What happiness is to you…
What happiness is to each person may differ. But what happy people have in common is that each takes responsibility for their happiness, makes a choice to be happy, and practises happiness daily until it becomes part of their nature.
If you do the same, one day you may be teaching others what happiness is 🙂