The Pursuit of Happiness….You Thought this Would be Easy?
What does happiness mean to you? Is it having everything you want or does happiness live inside of something else like good health, good relationships, or goodness itself?
Maybe it should be called the pursuit of goodness?
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see an article or a book or news report about the pursuit of happiness. It’s an epidemic of global proportions that everyone wants to be happy. We all go about finding our own happiness levels in various ways, ways that are as unique as our fingerprints. There are so many books written about happiness because each author has found his/her own slice of the happiness equation and has something to say about it. I have in my library 11 books on this specific genre and I’m sure I am not done yet and this doesn’t include articles I have found on the internet that I have saved in a folder somewhere or the countless quotes that I use to inspire me every day from my wallpaper.
I, like you, want to be happy. In his book, Happier, author and Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D, doesn’t waste much time in his writing to pinpoint what happiness means and what we instinctually need in order to be happy (page 33, 36).
“I define happiness as the ‘overall experience of pleasure and meaning.’ To be happy, we have to feel that, on the whole, whatever sorrows, trials, and tribulations we may encounter, we still experience the joy of being alive.”
Following that statement he then asks you to make a list of things, from trivial to meaningful, of all the things that provide you pleasure.
Here is my list in no particular order: Good food, meaningful friendships, feeling completely loved and cherished, reading, learning new things, a good night’s sleep, cooking and baking great tasting foods for my family and friends, taking great photographs, writing, walking, cycling, vacationing, hugging, family time, not working outside my home.
I’m sure there are many more items I could add to this list but this is a good start I think. In this list there are items that just exist to add to my peace of mind and overall happiness but there are also a lot of items that are experiencing items. The things we do that add to our happiness mostly come from the experience that created the feeling of happiness. In that experience lays meaning. In the experience and meaning is the action of the pursuit.
“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” ― Guillaume Apollinaire
I’d like to take a moment and focus on one of the items I listed. I mentioned not working outside of my home. I have always been a home body. I can’t remember a time in my whole life where I didn’t get great pleasure from being home. I love to take vacations and see new places and experience new things but it’s the pleasure of being able to come home that allows me the freedom of spirit to go out into the world and fulfill those other needs. My life energy comes from the strength I get from where I call home.
I am in between jobs right now and to be quite honest, even though I know I have to go out to work and I am actively seeking new employment I am thoroughly enjoying being home, working with my coaching clients, writing my blog posts, taking classes at night, and taking care of my family and my home. In the spaces between not working for someone else and doing what I love doing as a coach, I volunteer. Where I can’t give to my family financially I give to those in need spiritually and organically. Volunteering is very spiritual for me because it gives me a sense of significance; it is important to me and is priceless in terms of helping to define my own pursuit of happiness. I truly believe that happiness is contagious and if I am happy then I am without fail going to be able to affect the happiness level of someone else. As the Buddha says, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
Author Tal Ben-Shahar writes:
“We should also remember that going through difficult times augments our capacity for pleasure: it keeps us from taking pleasure for granted, reminds us to be grateful for all the large and small pleasures in our lives. Being grateful in this way can itself be a source of real meaning and pleasure.”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” –James 1:2
Not everything about my working from home is perfect and happy all the time. We are struggling financially and have to face some really tough decisions in the very near future. I am also quite lonely sometimes while the house is that quiet for so many hours. I think it is an impossibility to appreciate the things that help us feel happy without the struggles of what makes us feel unhappy. The happiness level we reset ourselves to helps determine how we know when we are more happy or less happy than most days. Author and researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote in her book, The How of Happiness, that each of us is born with a happiness set point:
“It appears that each of us is born with a happiness set point, a characteristic potential for happiness throughout our lives. Although you may be temporarily ecstatic or miserable by what comes to pass, it seems that you can’t help eventually returning to your set point.”
“But just because your happiness set point cannot be changed doesn’t mean that your happiness level cannot be changed.”
I read a blog post recently in which the author writes about a course she took about miracles. She listed 3 miracles that we could practice every day but the one that really stood out for me was that “a miracle is a shift in perception.” I apply this idea to happiness.
Happiness is a shift in perception.
Getting truly, bitterly, vulnerably honest within ourselves is the first step toward happiness. By my truth of admitting how happy I feel working from home I am that much closer and in touch with all of the implications of that truth and of my happiness. If my perception of my own happiness is going to change for the better, here are some questions that will help get me there:
Are the things I am doing meaningful to me?
What is my mind telling me I should be doing differently with my time?
What is my heart telling me I must change?
What do I value most about myself and my life?
My children grew up hearing me constantly say to them to have patience and tolerance. It’s become such a repeated moniker that I now just say to them, “P & T honey, P & T.” This is a reminder and a reset of not only our perception of a situation but also of our heart because after all happiness lives and grows from the heart.
The other miracle that the author spoke about was to remember that infinite patience delivers immediate results. It sounds backwards but…. time becomes a non- issue.
For example, if you got a late start on your day it is not the fault of anyone you will come in contact with throughout your day.
Imagine this: you are at the grocery store and I don’t know about where you live but where I live our grocery store has 3 express check- out lanes as well as 6 self- check-out lanes. I don’t enjoy using self-check-out so I try to stay within the minimum grocery amount and use the express lane. Without fail each and every time I use the express lane I do not make it out the door in any express kind of way. I watch some of the longer regular grocery lanes and those larger orders in most cases are done long before I am even up to my turn. It is so easy to get frustrated and upset because if you are on express you truly are in some kind of hurry to get done quickly.
The next time this happens to you take a deep breath and remind yourself to have P & T and see how that works for you. Did it really matter that you were longer in the store than you wanted to be? How did time slip into oblivion because you decided to not let the long wait negatively affect you? Did you smile at the check-out employee even if you weren’t feeling a true smile? If so, how did that make the employee feel and how did you feel passing along that smile?
How we affect other people makes a great contribution to our happiness or unhappiness.
Hyrum W. Smith is not necessarily someone you might hear a lot about but he is a distinguished author, speaker and businessman. He is the co-founder and former CEO of Franklin Covey, Co., a global company specializing in helping organizations achieve results that require a change in human behavior through performance improvement. It may not sound very interesting to most of us but he has been quite successful in using his gift and wit and enthusiasm in the field of perception and communications. This week I attended a live webinar about the idea of living happier. Mr. Smith was one of the speakers and gave me what I think is the most important 3 questions in determining each of our personal levels of happiness:
“Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”
Is this something I have to do? This is considered the lowest level of happiness. Feeling as if you have to do something puts you in a place of fear. If you are acting from a place of fear you have no chance of being or feeling happy unless fear is such an adrenaline rush that you thrive on its energy.
Is this something I ought to do? This is the medium or middle level of happiness. Feeling as if you ought to do something puts you in a place of duty. When you act out of a sense of duty you are more authentic to your happiness but there is still some fear residing inside. There is never anything wrong with doing the right thing so it’s not a bad place to be in action from.
Is this something I want to do? This is the highest level of happiness. Feeling as if you want to do something puts you in a place of love. When you act from a place of love you are initiating happiness from within and spreading it outward with every move you make and every word you speak.
From my perspective of life being backward you would think that being happy was easy to achieve but in reality being happy is hard to achieve but it doesn’t have to be if we make a habit of pursuing happiness with perspective, patience, tolerance and heart. Let your life reflect your values in all that you do and happiness will not be hard to find and maintain.
Call to Action
Here are some small ways in which you can live happy today:
Send an encouraging, flattering or loving email to 5 people today, this minute, this week. The way they will feel after reading what you wrote will undoubtedly be passed along to everyone they come in contact with that day. You can change a life today by doing just that one thing.
Ask yourself, what went right today?
Keep a tally this week of all the times your actions fell into the 3 levels of happiness then figure out how you can move up the ladder to the highest level of happiness:
*What were your have to’s?
*What were your ought to’s?
*What were your want to’s?
Please share with me how this action agenda has helped you. I love to hear your feedback.