As Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim . . . of human existence.” One of the greatest achievements we can attain in life is leaving this world a better place than we found it. So, how can we make that a real accomplishment, and not just a hope? For one, we may need to re-think some of our attitudes about the sources of happiness. Taking a fresh look at what we believe, can open up a world of possibilities. Ultimately, happiness boils down to small course corrections made daily. They will help us to become happier people.
There are many people who are knowledgeable and highly educated, yet who are quite unhappy in their lives. They know intellectually the steps to happiness, but knowledge without application is really just education. We can learn all the things that contribute to true, lasting happiness, like gratitude, forgiveness, love, and being of service, but if we don’t apply them in our life on a daily basis, not much will change.
The good news is, we have quite a bit of control over whether we are happy or not. Although much of our natural disposition for happiness is based upon our genetic makeup, and therefore varies from person to person, it is merely an inherited tendency, not our destiny. Our destiny is, and always will be, what we work toward, what we accomplish in our lives.
Happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside, compared the genetically determined happiness “set point” to our inherited tendency to stay thin or to put on weight. She wrote “All the set point means is that in the same way some people have to work on maintaining their weight, [a person] may have to work to achieve the same level of happiness as someone else. It may be harder, but it can be done.” So if we’re not as happy as we’d like to be – we can actually do something about it.
What does being happy feel like, and do we recognize happiness when we are experiencing it? Feeling happy can be defined as a sustainable sense of spiritual contentment that arises from deep within. It is a condition of the heart. It is not giddiness, silliness, or ecstasy. What many people don’t realize, though, is that happiness is the result of many decisions made (whether consciously or unconsciously), to be happy.
There are many people who prefer to blame their unhappiness upon their circumstances, but if our happiness were dependent upon our circumstances, then most people would rarely be happy, because no one has a pain-free life. We all experience many challenges, hardships, adversity, and disappointments. It’s a part of our human existence.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, the bestselling author of Man’s Search for Meaning and a renowned Austrian psychiatrist, survived the holocaust in Germany. While watching his fellow inmates in a Nazi concentration camp, he observed that all things could be taken from a man except the final freedom: the ability to choose how he will respond to any situation. He wrote that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” And I would add our happiness.
Is happiness truly worth the effort? Absolutely! There are many reasons why life is more fulfilling when we’re happy. Our happiness, or lack thereof, influences our daily interactions and all of our relationships with others. If we’re happy, we are much more likely to positively impact our spouse, our children, our neighbors, friends, our co-workers, and our community. The world is a better place when the happiest version of each one of us is walking around.
Here are some additional reasons why the effort to become happier is worth it:
1) Happiness is success: Albert Schweitzer said that “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
2) Happiness is healthy: Our physical health is directly impacted by our emotional and mental state. Happier people tend to be healthier in every aspect of life.
3) Happiness is being connected: If I smile, make a polite gesture, or say something welcoming, the majority of people will respond in kind.
4) Happiness is attractive: People are drawn to those who radiate happiness, warmth, and positivity.
Our happiness depends on the way we live our lives and how we view the world. We each create the lens through which we view the world.
How often do you run into somebody, ask how they are, and hear the answer,
“Oh, I’m all stressed out!”
That has become so commonplace in our society, it’s almost synonymous with “good morning.” Imagine instead the following conversation:
“How are you today?”
“I’m doing great! I have zero stress in my life!”
It sounds funny! In fact, many people wear their stress and busyness as if it were a badge of honor. Being overcommitted gives some people a false sense of value, almost like an unspoken “I’m busier than you, so I must be more important than you.” But that road can become filled with loneliness and regret farther down, as we realize that we’ve been spinning on our hamster wheel so long, that we’ve lost touch with the people and practices in our lives that truly matter most.
Sometimes we’re so busy, we even deprive ourselves of the most fundamental things: sleep and healthy food. Can you imagine having the following conversation with a child?
“You need to stay on the computer until 2:00 a.m. to keep checking your email and read the news!
“But Mom/Dad, I’m tired, I want to go to sleep!”
“NO! Go back to the computer and check to see if you have any new emails!”
Similarly, if a client is putting harmful substances in their body, I ask them if they would give it to their child, and the thought of doing so is shocking to them. But why is it so easy for us to say no to our kids (when it’s in their best interest), but not take care of ourselves? I believe it’s because we lack adequate self-parenting. Mismanagement of time and stress becomes a long-term neglect of our needs; it can make us physically sick or lead to emotional and mental breakdowns.
So, how do we change our mindset from dealing with crises all the time to taking charge of our lives? We literally need to stop, ponder and meditate on the direction of our work, our relationships, and every other aspect of our lives. It’s a key ingredient to successfully managing our overall stress levels. I’ve had quite a few clients who are business executives that way too many hours. They don’t take time for themselves, and they become so overwhelmed, that their lifestyle is more reactive crisis management than crisis prevention. When doing executive coaching, I frequently have to ask,
“When was the last time you actually took a day or two off to contemplate, to think about the direction of your life? When did you last take time to do something others might think of as nonproductive, when you didn’t make appointments, go to meetings, close any deals, answer any phone calls, or return any emails? When, instead, you sat, pondered, and meditated about the direction of your life, the direction of your company, and/or the direction of your family?”
The typical pushback is, “I can’t afford to take a day off!”
And my immediate response is, “You can’t afford NOT to take a day off!”
It is the same for the rest of us. To effectively manage our stress, we need to take time to ponder the direction our lives are taking. The result might be that you’ll make a necessary course correction. This may not only add quality (and quantity) years to your life, but it will also add balance and perspective. As a result, you’ll be a better spouse, employee, parent, friend and, ultimately, a better person. Your most vital relationships will receive the benefit of the best you, including your relationship with yourself.
The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do! If happiness is what you seek, then reading, pondering, and applying, the 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness is a great way to begin!
Excerpted from 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness by Dr. Elia Gourgouris, with permission from the author and publisher.
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