First, let’s talk about what happiness is in a fundamental form. The word is thrown around a lot, like the enigmatic goal we all strive for, but we have no idea how to get there, or even where “there” might be for us. Looking at the definition of happiness, the dictionary lays out, “the state of being happy”. Thanks for clearing things up Webster. When looking up what other terms go along with happiness, these words popped up – contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, cheerfulness, cheeriness, merriment, joy, joyfulness, and the list goes on. According to the dictionary, the definition of happy is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment” or a second option, “fortunate or convenient”. As you can guess, what can cause contentment and satisfaction in one person will not in someone else. For example, for those people that don’t like kids holding a newborn baby can be very nerve wracking, but for a mother that has tried for years to get pregnant, holding that newborn baby could be pure bliss! So let’s narrow down what some facts about happiness and how we can find it.
- Happiness is an individual and unique emotion composed of other sensations.
- Happiness is displayed differently in everyone.
- Happiness is created by you, not other people or the world around you.
- Happiness is transient and just part of a broad spectrum of sensations, each with their own value and merit.
- Happiness requires effort.
- Happiness has physical benefits to the mind and body.
- Happiness is contagious.
- Happiness increases when shared.
- Happiness makes us more resilient to the obstacles in our lives.
- Happiness comes from living in the moment.
First, happiness is an individual and unique emotion composed of other sensations. People can experience happiness in so many ways, even within the same person. One moment of happiness may be a silent few moments of snuggling with a loved one before a busy day starts. In that few minutes of the day the world is still and it feels perfect, you are the very definition of content. In that moment, to be up jumping around smiling, laughing and being joyful would ruin the mood you are currently enjoying. Does that make that moment any less happy than one people traditionally associate with happiness that is cheering, laughing and smiling? Not at all!! Happiness is an amalgamation of a variety of feelings and sensations that come together in the moment that result in the emotion we call happiness, but it has many faces.
This brings up to your second point, happiness looks differently to everyone and one everyone. Some people are quite stoic, so if they are trying to force themselves to bounce around and yell from a mountain top how thrilled they are to be alive, that would be incongruous with who they are as a person. It would feel unnatural, and probably the exact opposite of happy to that person. On the flip side, someone who is personable, outgoing and emotive may struggle to hold in their excitement about anything, so telling them happiness is silent contentment would be equally difficult.
Another common mistaken belief about happiness is that people are in search of this elusive happiness thing somewhere outside of themselves. They think they will be happy if they married that person, got that job, moved into that home. Or, even worse, they delay happiness for “someday”. People will say “I’ll be happy when I graduate college.” or something like “I’ll be happy when I have a better job.” That some day may never happen! Even if you are totally miserable at your current job, there is something you can do to make you happier about it having it, even if that means quitting it! But the point is, delaying happiness until some future event will ultimately lead you to never being happy. On the off chance you get that moment you have been desiring, chances are once you are there you won’t feel the happiness you were searching for in the first place. You may have built up that moment like some picturesque rom-com scene, and if something is “off” when your precious moment happens, it may not be as fulfilling as you envisioned.
This leads us to the next point, happiness is transient. There isn’t this permanent state of happiness we are in all the time. We may feel contentment for a period of time, we may walk around smiling with glee at the beginning of a new relationship, but these moments come and go. Does that make the moments we aren’t happy worth less? No! We need the ups and downs, the good and bad. Life is about balance, and happiness is no different. Enjoy the moments while they last, it makes them even sweeter! They are nice sneak peaks into how life could be if we had MORE happiness in our lives, so it gives us a nice goal to shoot towards.
Speaking of goals, did we mention that happiness will require effort. People don’t often like to hear that, especially since many view happiness as something that happens to them, something they are waiting for in some point in time. Happiness takes some time to develop, like building muscles in your body. The more you use your happiness muscle, the easier it will be to get you into that state of happiness. What sort of effort are we talking about? Largely mental! Try just taking a few minutes a day to find something you are grateful for in that moment. Could it be the children you have that are currently running a muck upstairs? Are you grateful for having a car after you remember having to walk everywhere or rely on bus schedules just a few years before? Happiness has a deep root in gratitude. It is easy to be happy about something when you are grateful for something. Remember that moment we talked about being cuddled up with someone you love, I bet you are grateful for that person! So if you want more happiness in your life, try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. Another way people seek happiness is through physical exercise. A nice picturesque walk, maybe with your dog, goes a long way towards getting you out of some funk you may be experiencing at the time.
Besides feeling better mentally, happiness also has positive physical effects on the body. Studies have shown benefits such as lowering blood pressure, increasing the immune system capability, decrease pain sensations, and improve mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Happiness isn’t necessarily the cure for ailments, but it may help improve those conditions and make life a lot more tolerable during those difficult moments. Mix happiness in with some diet and lifestyle changes, and you are well on your way to living a longer (and happier!) life.
Happiness is contagious! That’s right! Ever sit in a room and watch people? You can admit it, we all do it, it’s a fun game. Look at the groups of people closely. Do you ever see a group of people where half are laughing and having a great time and a few are just sitting there pouting? (adults, lets me clear I’m talking about adults). I would vote no! The group together being happy helps elevate all the people around them to be happier. Just picture going to a football game or baseball game. You get excited and involved in the cheering for your team when the people around you are also standing up and cheering! It makes the game better for you because of the shared happiness of the experience. On the flip side, if you are happy but stuck in an environment that just drains the life out of your by chipping away at your happiness, that can also affect you should you choose to let it. You can be that bright light in the harbor, but that may wear you down as well. Just keep that in mind, happiness is contagious! (but so is negativity and unhappiness, so tread lightly in those areas!).
Along the same lines, happiness also increases when shared. In the age of social media and everyone sharing their dinners and key highlight moments for life, it may be hard to be happy for someone else. You may see that great Caribbean beach vacation photo your cousin posted this week and feel jealousy or envy, instead of feeling happiness that your relative is having a great vacation. But how nice would it be to send them a message and tell them how great they look on vacation, or it is wonderful they are finally getting time away, or you miss them and should plan a beach getaway together next year. Spread happiness and watch out for how much happiness you will get back. It will shock you! Smiling at strangers, compliment someone, do a small random act of kindness, you will feel better, and you will have left an impression with people that may life their spirits and inspire them to spread some happiness.
Did you know being happy allows you to have more resilience? It is true! Studies have shown that happy people handle daily life stress and unexpected major life disruptions better. Research has even shown that happy thoughts physically change the brain, and negative thoughts alter the brain in their own way as well. It may be a little scary to think WHAT you think can physically alter your physiology of your brain, but from this perspective, if happiness changes your brain, when those moments of trial and tribulation come your brain is in a better place to handle it. Physically your brain has been altered by the happiness you have been experiencing, putting you in a better position to tackle whatever challenges life may throw at you.
Lastly, happiness comes mostly from living in the moment. Sitting in a quiet room watching loved ones interact, or sitting on a beach watching the sunset. Really being there in the moment, not capturing that perfect selfie for a social media post, not dreaming about that great vacation you will take someday. Genuine happiness comes from allowing that moment to happen, appreciating that moment as it happens, accepting it has passed, and just enjoying it. So much of our lives is lived rushing from place to place, worrying about the future event. Yet, happiness isn’t fostered that way. The constant worry and stress is the exact opposite of happiness. No wonder we have so many stressed unhappy people around! Slow down, take the moments in, appreciate them for what they are in that moment, talk to your loved ones, not just text them, say good morning to people as you pass them at work. These small moments in life are fleeting and wonderful, and in reality quite powerful! Happiness can be found in the here and now, and some circumstances may require a more thorough investigation, but it is there. Being grateful and in the moment will lead to an overwhelming feeling of peace and joy you can carry throughout your day. It won’t be something you have to stop and think about. “Oh right, I’m suppose to be happy right now,” is not the way to appreciate the moment. Choosing to look at what you are grateful for, what about this moment makes you calm or stressed, and is there a way to address it if you are having a negative emotion about it? If you can flip the script from victim in your own life to active participant in the play, you will see changes you didn’t think were possible. It will start small, but those small deeds add up to a wonderful life!