By Stacey Rose, Phd, LCSW
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” (John Lennon)
When I ask people what they most want out of life, I often hear, “I just want to be happy.” Yet, when asked what wouldmake them happy, the answers are not as clear. So, what is happiness and how can you get more of it? One of the first emotions we learn as children is happiness. While this emotion may be easy to define as kids (e.g.: ice cream, more tv time, being outdoors with friends), we need to let the word ‘happy’ evolve as we evolve into adulthood. If you ask 10 different people what makes them happy, you will likely get 10 different answers. Thus, happiness is whatever you define it to be. What has made you happy in the past? What makes you happy now? How can you recognize the emotion of happiness? It may not be as easy as it sounds. For some people, happiness is a feeling of contentment where there are no major crises happening in their lives (the lack of conflict). For others, happiness is a feeling of peacefulness. Write down 10 things/people/experiences in your life that bring you the feeling of happiness. This list will be your guide to increasing your level of joy. Being happy can be feeling grateful, showing kindness or receiving kindness, or can be a true sense of appreciation; focusing on the positives in your life.
In recent years, Martin Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness” and also known as the “Father of Positive Psychology”, talks about 3 kinds of happiness. The first is the ‘pleasant life’ where basic human needs are met. The second is the ‘good life’ where one discovers their strengths and virtues. The third is the ‘meaningful life’ where a person discovers their life purpose and the meaning behind it. How would you define your life at this point? What would it take to get to a ‘meaningful life’? Begin to think about the times in your life where you felt true depth and meaning. Could you re-create any of these experiences? If so, how? One of the messages Seligman gives is that so much of our happiness lies within our own hands. While it may not be easy, if we use gratitude and forgiveness to help let go of things from our past we may be holding onto, it is completely possible to shift gears and think more positively. Furthermore, we can incorporate altruism to help bring us joy. Helping others often helps us.
One of the biggest challenges in the path to joy can be the notion of comparisons. In other words, when we compare our lives to our friends (even our facebook friends), family members, colleagues, or anyone for that matter, we just blocked our own happiness. There will ALWAYS be someone in the world who has more /better_________(fill in the blank…money, home, job, body, kids, car, success, etc.) than you. There will also ALWAYS be someone in the world who has less___________(fill in the blank) than you too. While it is normal to want to ‘fit in’ to groups in life, it is critical that we know how to be ourselves. Comparing ourselves to others does not often bring us true happiness. Set specific and attainable goals for yourself.
We all want to be happy. Happiness, like all emotions, may come and go; but it can play a predominant role in your life if you do what is necessary to bring it about and help sustain it as much as possible. So, go out and make yourself happy today… No need to wait, start right now and maybe you can go from a ‘pleasant life’ to a ‘meaningful life’. John Lennon understood it for sure.