“The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness.”- Fyodor Dostoevsky
Happiness plays a very important role in our lives and has a great impact the way we live our lives. Research shows that happy people are more productive, creative, are good at managing and leading others than their unhappy counterparts. But inspite of happiness being the underlying objective of many of our endeavours, it is always fleeting as we lead our lives ruled by many unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs about happiness. We adopt ideas that are widely accepted by society because ‘everyone knows they are true’. On the surface, these beliefs seem to make good sense, but these flawed beliefs are both the cause of and the fuel for a vicious cycle, in which the more we try to find happiness, the more it eludes us. So, What if your very efforts to find happiness were actually preventing you from achieving it?
As William Shakespeare said, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If it’s just thinking, why can’t we think ourselves into a good mood whenever we want? We all know it is not an easy thing to do because many of us get stuck or focus on negative thinking. The problem here isn’t that we have negative thoughts, the problem is we think we shouldn’t have negative thoughts. To find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of negative thoughts and feelings – but the harder we try, the more negative thoughts we create.
Why is it so hard to be happy?
All of us have a tendency to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. Fear and survival at all costs is still programmed into our heads as a survival mechanism. Our brains are wired to notice and remember things that are negative and this predisposition makes us focus on the negatives more which adds to our stress and unhappiness. While we can’t change this, we can always train ourselves to challenge our negative thoughts.
Most of us create numerous ways to feel unhappy and only few ways to be happy. This is because we all have different rules and standards that govern not only the way we feel about the things that happen in our lives but how we will behave and respond in a given situation. We end up conditioning ourselves to these rules and beliefs that have to be fulfilled in order for us to feel happy and good about our experiences. These personal rules become our judge and jury that determine whether we feel happy or not and what has to happen in order for us to feel happy. Everything in our lives from work, for defining success or making a difference, to be happy and secure, is presided over by these rules we happen to set for ourselves .
Also, the instant gratification and convenience of this new age has also caused us to slide down the slope of constant dissatisfaction and unhappiness. We never have enough even though we consume more food, more entertainment and more information than any other generation. We get into a habit of constantly wishing our life’s way like our life will be better if we get somewhere, or when we have something and fall into the trap of thinking that we aren’t enough and don’t have quite enough. We always tend to tick boxes what others tell us are valuable and would make us happy. We try to get to that place of happiness by doing all the things others said we should do.
How do we define happiness?
According to the dictionary definition – happiness is the state of being happy. It is the state of feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. In general, it is more of a mental or emotional state of well-being which can be defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to joy when you are happy with your choices and with the person that you are. It is not a long-lasting permanent feature or personality trait, but a more fleeting changeable state.
Do you think happiness is the same thing to you as it is to others? Happiness means many things to many people. It might mean love, friendship, success, good health, peace of mind or simple living to some. But we don’t call these things happiness, as happiness is always the result and the underlying objective of these things. Everyone has a story, their experiences, their past or future, and what they want to accomplish, and when it comes to being happy and living a happy life, those things become irrelevant because you either choose to be happy or you don’t.
*Here are some facts about happiness.*
• Your happiness is not dependent on others, what they say or think.
• Happiness is a natural state of mind with which we are born, just like compassion and kindness.
• Material possessions come and go, appearances change. Both do not result in happiness.
• Fear and happiness cannot coexist. Unhappiness always feeds on your fears and worries.
• Unhappiness is self-created. You are the own creator of your thoughts so the power lies within you to create your own happiness.
Happiness is just simply a choice …
We correlate happiness to others like friends or relationships, possessions, appearances, success and so on. In reality, our happiness is never dependent on external circumstances or factors that we don’t have control upon. Paradoxically, we pursue all of these for happiness, we say we will be happy after so and so, but we are never in alignment with what we want and the choices we make.
Also, some people walk around with the belief that everyone else is happy except for them. And this belief creates even more unhappiness. Why is it that some people who seem to have all the best that life has to offer, but still feel miserable and dissatisfied? Or why is that two people living with the same set of circumstances can experience life differently? This is because the ability to feel happy is something innate and depends upon what you choose to think and your attitude towards life. ‘Happiness’ or ‘misery’ all depends on how you choose to respond to circumstances you are in.
If you have been hoping or waiting for someone to show up or something to happen or hoping for stars to somehow align and deliver you the perfect life so you can be happy, then happiness will always be in the future. If however, you acknowledge that happiness is something you can choose to have ‘now’regardless of your present circumstances, then happiness becomes an everyday habit you can live with.
How we sabotage our happiness
When we become aware of how we are sabotaging ourselves from feeling happy, we can change our thinking from “I want happiness” to “me is a happy being.”Here are some ways how we sabotage our happiness.
•Being judgmental : Not able to accept differences in opinions and views leads to anger, resentment, ill-will and unhappiness.
•Having Expectations that others will have to match your belief systems or should agree with what you say or do. Expectations from others and meeting people’s expectations both will fluctuate your happiness.
•Dwelling on past and thinking about the future causes feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.
•Illusion of control :Thinking that we should be able to control what we think and feel. Or thinking that we should get rid of negative thoughts.
•How we perceive challenges or obstacles: perceiving challenges as be-all and end-all situations instead of problem-solving situations blocks happiness.
How to choose happiness over unhappiness
With the current crisis plunging everyone into the unknown, it is very easy to be consumed by negative thinking and emotions. It is very important to learn how to accept the circumstances and to turn your focus on the positive aspects and things you can control to actively trigger feel-good emotions. Recognise that happiness is not contained in events or situations. It is totally up to you how to respond to them and you always have a choice to choose happy and stress-free thoughts. Here are some fundamental attitudes you can learn to adapt to choose happiness over unhappiness.
Accept what’s true for you
If your thoughts or feelings are making you unhappy, the only sensible thing is to take action to change them. And this will be far more easier from a place of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean controlling your thoughts or thinking that we should eliminate negative feelings and accumulate positive ones. For instance, a work project you embark on may bring feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, but they also generally bring stress, fear and anxiety. Acceptance does not mean putting up with, tolerating or bearing your unhappy thoughts and feelings. Neither it means resigning yourself to anything. It means fully opening yourself up to present reality to find a firm foothold of your thoughts and feelings that are true for you.
Acceptance is being open to your unpleasant feelings, sensations and urges, instead of trying to suppress them or push them away. Once you accept the reality of your situation as it is, here and now, the more effectively you can take action to change your unhappy thoughts and feelings. As you open up and make space for these feelings, you will find they bother you much less, and they ‘move on’ much more rapidly, instead of ‘hanging around’ and disturbing you.
Practice thought defusion
Be aware of your thoughts and feelings but at the same time, do not try to get rid of your unpleasant thoughts, but rather see them for what they are and let go of struggling with them. At times they will go away and at times they won’t. If you start expecting them to go, you are setting yourself up for disappointment or frustration. When we become self-aware, we tend to judge ourselves most of the time and consider that we are messed up or have negative self-talk.
Defusing your thoughts helps at freeing yourself from oppression by your mind, thereby freeing up our time, energy and attention so you can invest it in meaningful activities. Instead try asking yourself: “What can i do differently to move beyond my unhappy thoughts?” “Does this thought help me to make the most out of my present situation?” your painful or unpleasant thoughts will lose their ability to frighten, disturb or depress you. And as you learn to defuse unhelpful thoughts, such as self-limiting beliefs and harsh self-criticisms, they will have much less influence over you.
Connect to your present moment
Focus on your now and remember: “you can do nothing to change the past and future will never come exactly as you expect.” Practice living in the present; focusing on and engaging fully in whatever you’re doing. Instead of dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, be deeply connected with what is happening in the ‘now’. As you learn how to access your resources in the now, it will enable you to further transform your relationship with unwanted thoughts and feelings.
When you focus on the present moment, you are much more likely to feel centered, happy and grateful. You’re also much more likely to notice the good things that are happening, rather than letting them pass by unappreciated or unobserved. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique for learning to live in the moment. When practiced regularly, It strengthens areas of the brain in charge of managing feel-good emotions and decreases activity in the areas of the brain associated with negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression.
Set happiness as your internal goal
Everyday we go through many situations. Some of them are easy to deal with, some are a bit unpleasant and some are annoying and disturbing. You need not have to let the unpleasant situations influence your reactions and feelings. You either can choose to dwell in an unhappy event all day long or you can choose to focus on other happy events. Same is the case with people’s behaviour. You can control your reaction and response and whether to let their behaviour or actions affect your happiness.
If you let external events influence your happiness, you will be at the mercy of these influences. Instead set happiness as your internal goal and consciously strive towards it by choosing to be happy. This also insulates you from other people’s views swaying your own, swishing your happy thoughts and bending your beliefs.
Focus on solutions not on problems
If you have a habit of ruminating over your problems without a plan to take action, you are not only wasting time, but you are also making yourself more sad and unhappy. Many of us are great at finding problems and being critical about our lives without ever thinking of a possible solution or alternative to the situation. Focus on your problems to find a solution and learn from them instead of making excuses for why you are so miserable and unhappy. Acknowledge your problems and think of ways in which you can actually respond to these problems and change your circumstances.
Problems undoubtedly give rise to unpleasant thoughts and feelings – and spending time and effort in trying to escape from them or to get rid of them will only result in negative self-talk and self-criticism. It is important to remember that we have less control on our emotions and thoughts and more control on our ‘actions’ in finding solutions. Ask yourself, What is significant and meaningful to you? and What is the bigger perspective? Connecting to your values provides right direction and motivates you to take committed and meaningful action to solve your problems.
• Do you try to avoid or get rid of your unhappy thoughts and feelings?
• Are the choices or rules you subscribed to make you happy? Or have you clung to rules that made you happy in the past, but not to in the present?
• What has to happen in order for you to feel happy– Does it has to be external validation? Does someone has to tell you how much they respect and appreciate you? Do you have to be acknowledged by others for your achievements? Or Do you have to achieve all your goals?
• If you let go of others’ opinions of who you should be then, What do you choose to become or What things you enjoy doing?
• What is the evidence for your unhappy thoughts? Reflect on these questions to make yourself aware of your choices.
We certainly want to use the power of goals and the allure of a compelling future to pull ourselves forward. But we must also make sure that at the bottom of it all we should make choices that allow us to be happy and not otherwise. And Happiness is a goal we must all choose to set. As long as we structure our lives in a way where our happiness is dependent upon something we can control, and make choices that make you happy, you can make happiness a consistent experience. Be committed, creative and flexible in constantly applying and practicing the above strategies to direct your focus towards experiencing happiness.
“The secret of happiness is not in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
— * — * —