Some intriguing facts (and a few opinions) about happiness...
It is our constitutional right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Now, if only this came with a specific set of instructions. I’m fairly certain that our fore-fathers long ago wrote these words with the best of intentions. I have a feeling they may have been happier then we are today even while living in world without TVs, computers and smart phones. The pursuit of happiness concept can seem a bit tricky. I will define “happiness” as “contentment” or “satisfaction” but with an edge of meaningfulness and purpose to it.
There exists a lot of good research on what really makes us “happy,” and some of it may surprise you. Some of us are in fact, born happier than others. But, how much of a role does our genetics play in our degree of happiness or unhappiness? It may actually be close to half! Yikes!!! However, before you decide to completely blame biology for your misery, keep reading.
“Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” - Democritus
How many of you have said to yourself, if I only had ______ I would be happy. If you haven’t ever said this to yourself, you are lying! The truth is that in the short term, you might be happier, but then we generally return to our previous level of happiness thereafter. This is akin to the “set point” theory of weight. It seems there is one for happiness too.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” – Khalil Gibran
If you have never experienced pain, you will not know what happiness is either. A person must experience a full range of emotions life has to offer. Sometimes painful and tragic things happen to us is that are unavoidable. It should not, however, prevent us from obtaining happiness again.
“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness brings happiness. This is a powerful tool for staying in the present moment that brings about happiness. I believe that looking at the past makes a lot of people depressed and looking too far into the future makes people anxious. It is much more productive to stay focused on the here and now. Akin to mindfulness is the concept of “flow.” This is a state of effortless concentration and enjoyment when you are savoring the present moment. This happens when we are deeply engaged in a sport, activity or hobby.
“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Happiness lies in the “chase.” Action toward goals is what makes us happy. Once you meet that goal, chances are you are going to create more goals to pursue. I emphasize the plural – goals.
“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” – Albert Einstein
The age old question: does money does buy happiness? Money does buy happiness, but only up to the point where it enables you to live comfortably. In other words, if your basic needs are met, you would not be happier per se, then if you had a few million more dollars. Think about the earlier assertion about the “set point theory.” Your happiness would most likely be temporary and after adjusting to this, you would want more soon after. Surprisingly, being generous with your money actually contributes to your own happiness as well.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
There exists a “paradox of choice.” Having too many options actually makes us unhappy. We are frequently faced with decisions day to day both minor and major. We get stressed out constantly wondering about the other choices we didn’t take and opportunities we might have missed.
“To me, it's never about the trick. I don't care about how something works. I care about how people feel when they watch it. You know, that - that connection - that emotional connection is true magic.” – Magician, Criss Angel
Happiness is other people. Strong personal relationships should be a priority as this is what buffers us against life’s stressors. Connection, bonding, friendship, support...these are common denominators in the universality of happiness research. These are factors that are stable across many different cultures.
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Ultimately, happiness is living your values. If you aren’t being authentic and living life according to what is important to you, you will not be happy no matter what. You must know what your values are first and foremost and unfortunately, many people can’t even answer this. Sometimes people need psychotherapy to help them define their values or explore concerns around their level of happiness. Therapy can also be helpful to discern your “explanatory style.” This is the way in which you explain to yourself why events happen and what they mean. You may be someone who has a negative or pessimistic explanatory style which in turn triggers negative moods and emotions. Also, believe it or not, most situations in life that happen to us (excluding some rare exceptions) are not nearly as bad as we make them out to be at the time.
On a final note, I encourage you to have an overall view of happiness as an on-going personal experience, not a stagnant state of mind.
Are you looking to create a happier life for yourself? Marni Feuerman is a Licensed Psychotherapist in the South Florida area helping people reach their goals for success, happiness and a great love life! She can be reached at Marni@TheTalkingSolution.com or www.TheTalkingSolution.com
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