Are you happy?



How many times have you read magazine articles that ask, What is happiness?

We don’t often read an answer that satisfies us, probably because most people really mean, What would make me happy? And that answer, of course, is different for every person.

We usually think happiness is something we pursue. We chase it, as if it were another part of our rat race. We keep “pursuing it,” putting off our peace until we reach it—“I’ll be happy when I lose weight,” or get that promotion, or finally fall in love. Even the U.S. Constitution declares that we have “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But what exactly are we supposed to pursue?

What if, for just one day, we let go of the idea that we have “rights” concerning happiness. Otherwise, we begin thinking of people in terms of deserving and not deserving, or considering the notion of fairness and unfairness.

Instead, go beyond that. Elevate yourself. Stop “pursuing” happiness—this is not a race.

Begin by asking yourself, What is happiness, and how do I attain it? Pay attention to the answers—do they satisfy a “need” (getting a fabulous new car, meet the man or woman of your dreams)?

Here’s an idea: What if there is nothing to “attain”? What if happiness really is inside of us? You can be happy if you understand that happiness comes from within. Viewing happiness from that angle is a conscious choice. You can decide to stop chasing happiness, stop waiting for events or conditions around you to change, and look at it as something you nurture and develop inside of you.

Many experts believe that happiness is a “state of mind.” It is true that a life without troubles can make us happy. When we have prosperity and a great love life, for instance, we experience happiness—but it’s also true that that is a “conditioned” response.

Because…what happens to your mood if you lose your job, don’t feel financially secure, or go through a painful divorce? Do you feel low? Does it mean you are doomed to be unhappy?

No, of course it doesn’t. And that’s the point: Being a happy person does NOT depend on the circumstances of your life. Happiness is something you can feel regardless of your finances, or the state of your marriage. If we learn to turn to our inner selves, to a place that is filled with love no matter what’s happening in our lives, we can then experience happiness even during sad or stressful moments.

Try this exercise: Think about what’s usually happening when you feel great—are you playing with your children or grandkids? Or perhaps you feel happiest when you’re teaching them something you know will serve them later in life? Maybe happiness comes when you create something with your hands, or volunteer at a hunger center, or do something you’ve never done before.

Think about those times, and “record” the feelings and situations in your mind. Then, the next time you are not happy, ask yourself, What am I attached to in this unhappy place that I can release? Let go of it, and envision your happy times instead. It takes a little practice, but this simple exercise can work miracles and change your outlook, even when you’re going through very rough times.

Another tip when you’re feeling low is to simply focus on gratitude. The most empowering experiences in my personal life came when I could feel grateful even in the most challenging, roughest times I’ve known. Pulling up that feeling of gratitude in such times changes your whole perspective—it certainly has changed mine—and you see a shift in the whole dynamic that operates in your life. It has been liberating for me, and you will see that feeling genuine gratitude can be liberating for you, too.

Some coaches recommend starting a “gratitude journal,” where you write down five things every day for which you are grateful. It’s a good practice, and if you write in your gratitude journal each morning, it helps you to start your day on a cheerier note—and makes it easier to “condition” yourself to think positively on rough days.

Two noted psychologists, David Myers and Ed Diener (who specializes in happiness research), have said, “Happiness grows less from the passive experience of desirable circumstances than from involvement in valued activities and progress toward one’s goals.” What they’re saying is, we find happiness by doing things we love and working toward personal goals that are important to us.

Those goals can be as simple as treating people well. Another expert, John Rogers, gives us a beautiful quote: “Love is the healer, joy is the expression.” When you find yourself in an “unhappy” place, ask yourself, Where can I apply more love? Do I need to behave in a more loving way in my relationships? Should I practice more acceptance? Or perhaps I should love myself more?

Years ago I read a book by Tal Ben-Shahar about happiness and a class he teaches at Harvard about Positive Psychology. (When he began the class a decade ago, he had only eight students; now it’s one of the school’s most popular classes.) He wrote, “A happiness revolution will come about when people recognize, in theory and in practice, that happiness is the ultimate currency.”

And, perhaps the most enlightening quote of all, is from Mahatma Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” How simple—and yet, how difficult to accomplish at times!

Determining the extent of your own “harmony” is fairly easy. Just divide a sheet of paper into four columns, listing the things you think, say and do for a couple of days. The fourth column is for your reflections and comments as you go along. What do your lists tell you—are you in harmony? If not, what can you do to balance those three areas?

Being in balance helps you to feel more energetic and happy. I have coached many clients along the process of discovering their own inner balance and peace, and getting to a place of happiness. If you would like more information, or want to arrange a consultation, please contact me through my website and we can schedule a convenient time to talk.


Sebastian NaumComment