You've probably already figured out that many things we think will make us happy only do so for a short time.
Studies have proven that money does not pave the road to happiness, nor does the collection of material possessions. According to the research, people who win big in a lottery find themselves just as miserable as they were before winning within only a few years' time.
The things we turn to for pleasure may be those that provide instant physical gratification — such as sex, alcohol, food, tobacco, drug, etc. — whereas money and material objects provide pleasure through mental gratification. All of these, however, provide short-lived sensations that ultimately do little to boost our overall level of life satisfaction.
What we commonly refer to as the ego (or lower mind) is always seeking and feeling what it needs or lacks. Once it gets what it desires, it immediately begins seeking either more of the same or a new and different desire to fulfill. A mind that is always seeking or needing is never satisfied and cannot remain happy for long.
To identify with the ego mind is to live an unhappy, unfulfilled life.
The ego mind's need to protect itself serves to create such negative emotions as fear, neediness, self-doubt, avoidance, resistance, denial, non-acceptance, and projection (i.e., putting on others that which we have denied or disowned within ourselves). The ego creates a mindless state and behaviors that create more unhappy experiences and outcomes for us than happy outcomes.
True and sustained happiness is an inside job.
People, money, material possessions and status will not create true and inner happiness. Taming the mind of its endless needs and sense of lack is the key to happiness.
When we become mindful of the ego’s agenda, we can take greater ownership for how we show up in life. We can become aware of our thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, values, and attitude. We can seek growth rather chase to accumulate fame or possessions.
Here are the 5 keys to happiness you already hold the power to grasp within you:
1. Asking yourself life-changing questions — and giving yourself honest answers to them.
Happiness begins first and foremost by being aware and mindful of our perceptions and thoughts. Our beliefs come from these.
It is vital to ask yourselves questions such as:
- Are my perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs supporting and empowering me, or are they making me unhappy and disenfranchised?
- Are they leading me to experience happiness or discontent?
- Why am I holding onto these thoughts and beliefs if doing so makes me unhappy?
- What new thoughts and beliefs can I choose to create in order to promote my inner happiness?
The mind creates our reality. What you think about you bring about. Coming to honest answers to these questions is the first step. No one can change or improve without conscious awareness of how things are currently.
2. Creating a deep sense of connection with others.
To have a sense of connection with people is a healthy and important part of being human — and of being happy. You are here to experience, to connect, to create, to serve, and to love.
Counter-intuitive as it seems, the key to deep and lasting connection with others is to not let yourself be defined by or overly consumed with those relationships. It is critical that you never hold the people in your life responsible for your personal happiness.
When you define yourself via someone other than yourself, you lose your sense of self in return. This creates heightened neediness and expectations that can only lead to disappointment. Unhealthy attachment creates the fear of loss and abandonment, leading you straight down the road of intense neediness and unhappiness.
3. Practicing acts of acceptance.
You may believe happiness comes from standing your ground and convincing others about what is right or wrong, but this way of living backfires by creating resentment, anger, and an unsettling need to enforce your power over others.
These beliefs and behaviors are not the paths to inner happiness. Life is impermanent. Things change! Acceptance is true inner power — a sign of discipline and self-knowing.
Accepting “what is” is a forward-moving action. That doesn't mean you have to like it, but it does mean you have the opportunity to work with it. When you resist "what is" you become consumed by your experiences. Acceptance opens the door to new possibilities and helps you flow better with the current.
4. Offering compassion to yourself and others.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama has said, “If you want to be happy practice compassion.”
I believe it is fair to say many people can be judgmental or critical rather than accepting and compassionate when they first see or connect with someone. We all have a heart and a spirit. When you can connect more fully with a person’s heart rather than seeing them as just a personality with its traits, temperament, behaviors, and body, you are able to be more compassionate and less judgmental toward them to them.
Fear is the absence of love. Judgment is the withholding of love.
Compassion, like understanding and acceptance, is an act of love. Compassion is accepting someone or something as they are — and this includes the self. Compassion for the self is just as important as it is to others. In fact, the more compassionate you are to yourself, the greater your willingness will be to offer compassion to others.
5. Keeping your spirit childlike — not childish.
To be childlike means to reclaim your innocence and love yourself. It means being honest, open, and willing. When you are childlike, you are confident, unconditional, curious, spontaneous, carefree, inclusive, creative, and free.
To be childish is to be closed-minded, demanding, conditional, selfish, whiny, doubtful, excluding, and restrictive.
The more you can hang with your childlike qualities — and tame your childish ones — the happier you will be.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Change your thoughts — change your life.” Our perceptions and thoughts prepare us for the happiness or unhappiness we experience.
Can any of us be happy 24/7/365? Not really, and that’s okay. Life happens.
Some life experiences are painful and tragic. This is not to be denied or minimized. Life isn't meant to be easy, it’s meant to be meaningful.
The more you can embrace your life experiences and seek a higher perspective above and beyond what the ego mind pulls you toward, the more effectively you will move through those experiences.
And the sooner you will return to the choice and value of happiness.
David Schroeder, LMSW, CPC from Grand Rapids, MI., is a licensed social worker, certified life coach, and author of "Just Be Love: Messages on the Spiritual and Human Journey." His practice, Transition Pathways, helps people find healthy pathways to love, greater awareness and higher potential.