Happiness is a perception from a deeply personal side of your being. You and you alone determine what happiness is.
When someone asks you what makes you happy, what do you say? Do you tell them about all the joy you have in your life? Do you tell them how grateful you are for all the blessings you have? Do you tell them a story about something meaningful that you are experiencing? Do you smile when you answer them? Do you feel excited that they have asked?
In the field of psychology, we have spent time and money studying what makes people unhappy. We have labeled the causes of unhappiness and what tools to use to treat those symptoms. We know that Stress, Anxiety, Trauma and Depression cause unhappiness in all of us from time to time. About 30 years ago, observational studies from the School of Positive Psychology, began looking at what makes people happy. Positive Psychology is primarily concerned with helping people understand and use their creativity and strengths in finding solutions to the complexities of everyday life. I have integrated the work of Positive Psychology into my psychotherapy practice. One of the ways I do this is to empower my clients to believe that they have within them the ability to change, and that those changes will positively affect everyone around them. When they work each day to find what makes them happy they bring positive energy to themselves and others.
Helen Keller wrote
“I wondered how it was possible to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note.I who cannot see find hundreds of things: the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine.I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: use your eyes as if tomorrow you will have been stricken blind.Hear the music of voices, the songs of a bird, the mighty strain of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow.Touch each object as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again.Make the most of every sense.Glory in all facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you”
So much of our happiness IS under our control, yet we continually spoil the precious moment by inviting negative thoughts and feelings to penetrate our being. The researcher Dianne Hales described an emotionally healthy person as someone who exhibits the following: 1) flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances 2) a sense of meaning and affirmation in life 3) an understanding that the self is not the center of the universe 4) compassion and the ability to be unselfish 5) an increased depth and satisfaction in intimate relationships, and 6) a sense of control over the mind and body.
How does one develop happiness? One simple way is to spend more time with young children who bring joy and laughter into our lives. They remind us that we entered this world full of excitement and curiosity. and demonstrate the ability to flow from one emotional state to another. They bounce back quickly. No matter what stresses them, with time, they will come back to a place of happiness. We also know that children adapt to their environment. So if happiness is not a natural part of their environment, they will begin to show signs of unhappiness.
For those of you who do not observe children that often, there are many other ways you can increase your happiness. It begins by making changes in what you do and the way you react. I will be addressing these actions in more detail in future writings, but let me highlight some key components.
Happiness is a state of mind, so what you do every day and the level of your physical activity becomes very important. The more active you are, the more you are stimulating the brain and the body. When you are down and unhappy, look at what you are doing physically and change your activity level.
If you find yourself caught up in a cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism, then talk to a trusted friend or seek someone who needs help. Helping another often brings a sense of satisfaction and elevates our mood.
Happy people nurture relationships. One way to nurture relationships is to see yourself as part of a community. Do not isolate as that often increases unhappiness. Involve yourself in your community. Volunteering your time and energy often to increases self-esteem and self-worth.
Learn to value your own personal exploration and growth. Learning something new every day and taking on new challenges awakens the curiosity and magic of life. For me my love of fishing and fly tying continually challenges me to learn new approaches to my hobby.
Lastly, take time to reflect on your daily activities and on your life, not from the eye of the critic, but from the thoughtful place of observation. Learning mindfulness meditation has been shown to aid a person to discover quietness and reflection. With a mindfulness meditation practice a person can learn to overcome their negative emotions about themselves and their judgments of others.
To summarize… Happiness is enhanced and nurtured from the pleasures found in a conversation with a good friend, connection to others, and awareness of our community where services can be offered. Happiness is a state where we focus on the many blessings we DO have and refuse to let our minds wonder to what we don’t have. The steady development of self acceptance and gratefulness, with compassion and kindness for others, will lead us to the peace and happiness we deserve.