The word happiness in itself, I find can be controversial. After all what is happiness? Is it something we can attain, or is it something that we never truly reach, the wholly grail, a bit like enlightenment? We all would love to have it, but is it really possible for the average person?
I personally believe it's definitely something we can cultivate more of in our lives, by making choices that lift us up vibrationally, improving our energy and outlook; by cultivating relationships that bring us connection and feed the soul, practicing self-care, as well as having an appreciation for what we already have in our lives.
This doesn’t mean that life doesn’t have its up’s and downs, or significant challenges, after all to know happiness, we have to know it’s opposite. However, if we go through setbacks, the more positive emotional states we have been able to develop, the more we are going to be able to bounce back when life throws us curve balls.
Happiness to me is a state of wellbeing, where you have inner contentment, living with a heart based connection to life, being able to enjoy the present moment, loving what is, without seeking for life to be different; and the ability to meet challenges and setbacks with a more centred and grounded approach.
Our true nature, or the unconditioned self, is one of wholeness, love and joy, yet from a young age we start to see ourselves as separate, the ego and learned self develops and we begin to judge ourselves and others, see our limitations, grow doubts and fears.
Finding happiness becomes a common universal driver, however this often causes us to seek it outside of ourselves, rather than within. We start to see happiness as something that we need to find or chase.
We might look for it in other people, thinking that if I have the right relationship, then I’ll happy. Or when I get that promotion, bonus, new car, or when I achieve success; however, this means we are waiting on future outcomes, and as soon we get these things, we might be happy for a day, a week, even a month, but then we start to look for the next thing we want, that we seek, hoping that it will bring the magical outcome we desire.
And it’s not wrong to have these desires, however when we try to chase happiness, or seek it outside of ourselves, it will remain elusive, and we’ll feel less satisfied, even leading to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Having more external gains might give you fleeting pleasure, but not deeper contentment and happiness.
“A happy person is not a person in a set of circumstances, but rather a person with a set of attitudes” – Hugh Downs American Broadcaster
To cultivate happiness we need to focus on our more intrinsic needs and consciously and mindfully look at how we are approaching our lives.
Focus On What Is Going Right
Our brains are wired for a negativity bias, to focus on what isn’t working.
We consistently tell ourselves stories, which can have a negative effect on our emotions, it can colour everything and overshadow all the good things happening in our day. We can get into the ego self which is never really at peace, as it’s always comparing, judging, telling ourselves to do more, be more, work harder and that we’re not good enough.
When we’re focused on judging ourselves, or trying to get something that lies in the future, are not times when we feel content within ourselves. It’s important to recognise we are all worthy of happiness, and you don’t have to do anything or be anything else than who you are.
To step out of this bias, we now know that the brain can create new neural pathways and these can be integrated in and have lasting effects on our lives. This can happen through repetition and making consistent choices to do something differently, creating powerful new habits.
We can begin by focusing on all the things that are going right in our lives. Focusing on the successes and the positives in this moment.
Rather than waiting for things to be different, we can endeavour to cultivate being able to love what is right here, with an ability to meet whatever crops up in our day.
Studies show, that people that are considered happy, are choosing it, seeing it’s a possibility. I love the quote,
“Joy, does not simply happen to us, we have to choose it, and choose it every day”.
So, we can have the intention to bring in happiness. Using our attention to direct ourselves towards it, as wherever our energy flows and what we practice will grow stronger. We can expect good things to happen and be open to the beauty in the world, and what is good.
This is where a gratitude practice comes in so strongly. When we are grateful, we focus on what we do have, rather than all the things we lack in our lives.
Know What Makes You Happy
One of my own teachers says to me “What is charming to you?” “Follow what will bring in more charm”.
Do you know what brings you happiness? That deeper contentment?
Often we don’t take the time to think about these questions as we’re on autopilot a lot of the time.
These might be little things that make you feel good and positive. Perhaps it’s being in the garden in the sunshine, or down the beach by the water, the simplicity of fresh flowers, a walk with a friend, playing with your kids, being out in nature, or a bath at the end of a long day.
Spend some time thinking about some of these moments that increase your contentment in life, and write down 10 things that bring you joy.
How can you integrate more of these into your day to day? You don’t need to spend huge amounts of time on them if you have a busy schedule, even 10 mins can have a huge impact on your state of mind.
Enjoying the experiences we love, overtime helps us to create a happy life, and we can make a conscious effort to make each day as good as it can be.
In studies the happiest people without exception all have close family and friends, they feel a sense of community, that there is more than just themselves, and having something bigger than themselves to care about.
We’re social creatures and need to bond, have social interaction and to feel that connection and co-operation.
However, we’re living in a society that is more disconnected than ever before, independence is valued, we’re living more solo lives, and we’re communicating a lot of the time via social media. Loneliness is one of the biggest social issues of today, and it can have dramatic consequences on wellbeing.
We feel happier when we have that loving connection with others, as being alone is not natural for a human as we have a need to belong. Even if we feel more introverted and happy in our own company, that human connection is just as important, as we need it to be able to thrive.
Our relationships with others give us a sense of belonging and support, and with the help of others we develop a greater resilience and the ability to bounce back after adversity.
When we are in community we focus on more about what we can share, and it gives us something bigger than ourselves to care about, which makes us happier.
Even when we have busy lives it’s important to carve out quality time to build our connection to others.
Different ways you can do this is by:
Replace screen time with people time.
Reach out to family and friends
Go on a date night with your partner
Carve out time with your children to be totally present with them.
Join activities that will increase your sense of community.
Volunteer to help others who are in need.
When we’re generous towards others, it boosts our mood and increases our happiness, which leads to further generosity.
The ability to serve others, gives us a sense of fulfilment. Especially when we can give without expectation of anything in return, and even giving when we only have a small amount ourselves, actually makes us feel like we have more.
The feeling that you have something to give to someone, is shown in research to be incredibly powerful, and having the ability to have empathy and care about something bigger than yourself, increases your sense of wellbeing.
It allows us to become more connected, and gives us a wider sense of identity and links us to become a part of the greater whole.
Giving doesn’t have to be expensive, it can be a smile, a phone call, a hug, your time, or simply being kind.
Know Your Values
When we know our values, they can act as a compass to be more of who we truly want to be, and live with more purpose, direction, meaning, flow and sync in our lives. We’re more vital, less anxious, happier and more satisfied.
What do you place value on?
Are you living in line with your values?
How do you want to live?
What sort of person do you want to be?
What do you want to give?
These are great questions to ponder on, as if you are living opposing values to what is truly important to you, it will feel difficult for you to connect to that sense of peace and joy within.
Laughter Is The Best Medicine
You’ve heard the saying, and it’s true, as it releases endorphins, that help us relax both mentally and physically, it boosts our mood and increases our ability to fight disease, stress and depression. Laughter is also contagious and brings us closer to others, increasing connection.
Even a simple smile neurologically lifts us up and reduces stress hormones in the body.
When we’re happy we also tend to look after ourselves better, nourishing our positive mental states, through nutritious food, exercise, and practices such as mindfulness and meditation, which in turn keeps our happiness levels high.
In fact, it’s been shown that practising compassion and loving kindness, through meditation, can lead to longer lasting happiness, and is more powerful than anti-depressants.
Also, when we get out in the fresh air and sunshine we bring increased oxygen to our lungs and it increases our production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone that boosts our mood.
Developing practices of self-care, are so important for this reason, and it’s necessary to put work into our own personal growth, healing and happiness. We need to fill our own tank before we can give to others, as we can’t function very well out in the world if we’re running on empty, sleep deprived, and feeling high levels of stress.
Mindfulness helps us to choose wisely about how we spend our time, the thoughts and activities we choose, so that our health and wellbeing can be nurtured, enriching our own lives and how we operate in the world and with others.
In reality the only time we have the possibility for happiness is right here, now, in the present moment. If we are so busy focused on the future, or stuck in the past, or chasing something outside of ourselves, we will miss the joy in the day to day, all the little things that can bring us happiness right now.
The more we can actively begin to cultivate finding contentment in the present, the more inner peace we will be able to experience on a daily basis, and ultimately a sense of wellbeing that is able to withstand life's tests, and allow us to live more fulfilling lives.
Resources: The Happy Movie, Happiness Now by Robert Holden, Nancy Etcoff - Ted Talk, Mathieu Ricard - Ted Talk.