What is happiness? A smile may come to mind, or maybe a loved one, or perhaps a guity pleasure is the first thought you had. I imagaine when posed with the question, “What is happness?” many people fall quiet for a moment or two. We know we want to be happy, we know it’s our right to pursue said happiness, but do we know what happiness means? It’s something, someone, some place that brings us joy, pleasure, glee, contentment and satisfaction. All of those things, or one of those things, can bring us our happiness.
Is that right?
Or is true happiness something one can only feel, but not properly describe? We know we desire it, but we can’t quite seem to nail it down?
What about this question; What is YOUR happiness? (Here is where it gets real.) I’ve been contemplating this question for a while now. I truly believe it’s something every person on the planet should feel empowered enough to explore. We only have this lifetime and we have no idea how long it will be, it seems meaningless to put off such a monumental realization that could improve your life right now. Do you struggle with answering the question? Some people will quickly begin uttering the obligatory response of family, friends, career, church, etc. My kids, my spouse, my family, my friends, my job, etc. Those are surface level answers, barely reaching at what our happiness is or can be. They’re answers we’re taught to revert to and we all assume those answers are where our happiness must lie. Considering we complain about those things too, are they our happiness?
I’m not an expert on happiness. I am currently battling postpartum anxiety and depression. I am human and I am flawed. Oddly enough, I think this makes me more intune with happiness and the pursuit of it than others because I spend time contemplating and remedying my life to find my happiness. There is no happiness without sadness. Just as there is no light without the experience of darkness, the experience of sadness (and in my case anxiety) has the ability to enhance my potential happiness. Ultimately the goal is to be free of the anxiety and embrace a life with more happiness. It is the goal for most of mankind, to be free of the bad and embrace the good.
But back to the question: what is YOUR happiness? How often do you experience it? How does it feel? (These are great journaling questions!) Where does your mood settle on the spectrum of happiness? The spectrum of happiness is an idea that we are all capable of interpreting events as some degree of positive, even if we acknowledge and even briefly feel the negative emotion. An example of this notion would be when one is sitting in traffic and getting angry, they stop to take a deep breath instead and turn on a favorite song to listen to while feeling gratitude at the fact that they have a car with gas at all. It is a slight yet powerful shift in the thought process. Most people wouldn’t consider this an opportune moment to feel happiness, but that is the issue. “Nobody is immune to life’s stressors, but the question is whether you see those stressors as moments of opposition or moments of opportunity” (source).
Happiness, then, isn’t something that happens to you by chance, happiness is a way of life. Happiness is a choice. If we have the ability to choose to be happy, why do we still choose to be angry, sad, and so on. Depression is real and scary. It’s nothing we can choose to fix overnight. Anxiety is a lifelong mental illness, one that I’ve battled for many years. I can say this with certainty: will power, persistance, and faith can go a long way in lifting someone out of the depths of sadness and loneliness, into a happier place. Mental illness isn’t happiness’s death sentence. There is a spectrum and we can make choices to be on the happiness end of the spectrum with each passing moment.
It’s unsettling to think that happiness can be a choice, rather than chance. If it is a choice, it then becomes our responsibility. Suddenly life isn’t happening TO us, we are happening to life. Instead of the world influencing us at every turn, we are influencing the world. Our choices hold more weight and that is uncomfortable because we now must be cognisant of our emotional responses. As Aristotle said, “Happiness depends on ourselves,” and the pursuit of it is central to our overall well-being; it is the center of our human existence. Yet most people don’t worry about being happy or not, they worry about paying bills and getting errands done in time for the next activity. Busy has been glorified while happiness has been forgotton. Then we all wonder why we’re anxious, sick, and depressed. It seems pretty straight-forward.
Happiness is sometimes described as a life with purpose, as in a person who feels fulfilled in their soul and body. The act of life needs meaning for one to be truly happy. Living day to day with meaningless tasks and interactions then, can’t lead to happy experiences. We could choose to look at them as pleasant, but true happiness may still be out of reach. A life with purpose, in “health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc” (source) leaves a person feeling enriched in life. Many seek God to help guide them to this destiny because the road to this destination is not an easy one. As stated above, choices need to be made in order to pursue happiness. Decisions that are not always easy. Decisions that push you towards the greater good and towards your ultimate happiness will test our immediate impulses. This is where faith and hope in God (or a higher power) help guide us through the hard to manage moments.
Our thoughts guide our life, that is a fact. You decided to read this blog, you decided to eat whatever it is you ate for breakfast, you decided to talk to that person, you decided to go to that place. Thoughts lead to actions. Thoughts are the most powerful aspect of ourselves. They can take over our life for good, or for bad. Buddha combats this idea with the practice of mindfulness. Meditation to focus our thoughts on the now, clearing ourselves of past negativities. Again though, this is a practiced skill. A practiced skill requires choices to be made and will power to be executed. Our degree of happiness is reliant on each choice we make.
Life will always attempt to throw hardship our way. Exeperiences that are less than enjoyable are unavoidable sometimes. Life will shove trauma, despair, struggle, and loss at us when we least expect it. It’s not that you don’t deserve your right to suffer, grieve, and feel bad for yourself. The idea is that how long you linger in that space is up to you. I’m a new mom to my second child and I understand this concept well, and fail at remembering it often.
That is life.
Hormones and a predisposition to anxiety throw a wrench into my happiness on a daily basis. Some days I want to hide in my bed and let the day waste away as I wollow in my own pity. There is no winning in that, I am the only one furthering my suffering (and by extension my kids suffering). No matter how hard it is, I must force myself to climb out of the bed and smile at my babies. The smile is an action which points the arrows (think: attention) away from me and my negative momentary struggle and outwards towards others. Where are your arrows pointing?
My pastor has a saying I love hearing and frequently remind myself as a mantra throughout the day: “Arrows out.” Point your attention, your intent and your focus on others around you rather than yourself. People often report feeling happier when they make others happy. If all we have to do is stop stressing over our life and helping others in theirs, it seems easy. It isn’t. Your arrows have to point out even when around a group of people you’re not fond of, even when that driver cut you off, and even when that person did that thing to you that made you upset.
Selflessness brings more happiness than selfishness. That can be a hard pill to swallow if you already feel stretched thin and over worked. If you already feel you do too much, then maybe it’s how you’re doing it. Is there a smile on your face? A compliment or a kind gesture done with joy? When my toddler wakes me up an hour earlier than usual, before 6am, when I’ve been woken throughout the night by my baby, I do not want to smile. I want to yell. When I let the negativity of the fact that I am sleep deprived consume my mood, my day is horrible. Of course I will be tired, but do I need to add to my suffering? I create a snowball effect, where my mood makes my toddler’s mood grumpy, who then picks on the baby, until I’m even more stressed because my kids are acting out because of my own grumpiness towards them! It’s not easy. I have failed. But I know now and try to do better, because I realize a bad attitude based on external events is my biggest hurdle in my journey to happiness.
Make the change even if it’s uncomfortable. I hope it is a little uncomfortable because that means growth is happening. You don’t drop 100lbs without a lot of sweat, some tears, and some pain. It will be the same when incorporating new habits and thought processes. Change can and will take over and your life can begin to shift in a way you will joyfully embrace. You’re capable of more happiness than you currently possess. Find out what your happiness means to you and make it happen.