If there’s one question I really don’t like and never liked it’s: “Are you happy?”
Podcasters and lifestyle experts have joined the legion of psychologists of our time to bring to the forefront of our attention the question, “am I happy?”. Combine this with the massive rise in talking about mental health, the question and the pursuit of happiness have gained a lot of momentum in recent times.
Until my 40s, I didn’t even concern myself with the question “am I happy?”. I think this is because I took an interest in philosophy and spirituality from an early age and in these spheres thinkers generally are less concerned about ‘being happy’, rather, they are interested in exploring how to ‘find fulfilment’ in life. Well, that, and me generally being a sceptical old Capricorn who grew up in the 70s (when no one was happy ;)).
“Are you happy?” – what does that even mean?
Are you happy right now? Could you be happier but for now you’re happy-ish? Were you unhappy before ergo to put you in a state you can name as happy now?
What was wrong with before anyway, and happy by who’s standards?
Bear with me…
I do understand the question when it’s in relation to something specific and objective. For example, “are you happy with the pizza you ordered?”, or, “are you happy with your new face cream?”. If the pizza is hot, fresh, tastes good and is what I ordered, I’ll probably be happy. If the face cream hydrates and doesn’t make me break out, I might be happy.
But, the pizza could potentially be better than it is, go that extra mile in deliciousness and even offer a surprise. Would that not make me happy versus just satisfied? The face cream could take a few years off me and add a glow that belies tiredness and life. That would make me happy. So does that mean until I find that face cream I am unhappy with what I am using till then?
You see, I find there’s a real icky-ness and temporal quality to the idea of being happy. Tell yourself you are happy and it’s eclipsed by knowing that feeling will go or change. Maybe the question needs to be rephrased to, “are you happy in this moment?” or “for now?”
It’s when the question is posed more ‘generally’, about our state and wellbeing, that things get really icky. When I get asked the question “are you happy”, or see it written it down or talked about, I answer it in my head with, “what does it matter if I am or not?”
Not because I’m a nihilist. But because of its whole transitory nature. Today could be sunny, tomorrow cloudy. Our moods and states are like the weather: real and changeable.
Happiness is a subject I can get more on board with. Happiness suggests a bit of happy. That a moment or a state or something has a flavour of the happy but neither it nor your life are being judged as being all of that.
Which brings me to the nub of this blog post (we got there eventually), what creates happiness? How can we bring happiness into, or alleviate sadness from, our lives?
Well, yours’ truly has done spadework on this question. Thinking of the modern psychology I’ve read and engaged with, the self help books past and new, the ted talks, the spiritual teachings and the substance of daily life, here is a top 7 list of things found to bring happiness into our lives– applicable for whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever your personal status. Admittedly this list is based on my own research and views so it’s bound to be arbitrary, but I’m sharing here what seems to come up as truth, again and again. Take with a pinch of salt, but I do hope it provides some grain of help too.
7 Ingredients for having happiness in your life
–live (more) in the present moment
By constantly striving towards goals, or even towards happiness, you cannot inherently be happy in the now.
But what if the present moment sucks? (Good question). In unpleasant or difficult states of phases, the meaning is more that we should appreciate the small things and nice things when we have or feel them. To do that appreciations requires living in the present moment when we feel we are able to, and the more we develop an ability to do this, the more accessible it becomes.
–don’t make life about ‘you’
If you focus your life on ‘you’ and what you want and how you feel, you’re bound to be unhappy (according to a lot of psychological research out there). Yogis and spiritual teachers have being saying this since the dawn of time. This does not mean we should not take care of ourselves or have desires (we must, we do!), but life needs to include more than this, more than the “I”.
When you are unhappy, depressed, low or stuck, go outside. Yes, just that, get outside in the fresh air.
-connect to at least one other person, or a group of people, over a common interest, once a week ( in person or online, as long as it’s live) – this could be any particular shared interest
This is a good one isn’t it? A solid practical piece of advice – brought to light through various psychological studies.
I get it, do you? I’ve seen it in action, and felt it in the context of yoga and meditation. Doing these things with another person or others has more power and positivity than when you do it on your own.
Ok, this is a big one. Warrants an essay doesn’t it?
But the idea is to have some kind of purpose existing in your life. That doesn’t mean save the world, or solve big problems (though do try if you feel inclined). We are encouraged to find something positive that we genuinely feel and care about, outside of personal gain. This, it is said, contributes to fulfilment.
Ha, who knew? Moving the body, be it a stretch, dance, walk, sport, whatever, not only keeps the body happy but is integral to mental contentment too.
So there you go. How does this recipe sit with you?
I’ll close with one more thing. It comes from my studies and training in mindfulness but I’m sure it’s been said and discussed in many other disciplines. And that is, that it’s important to acknowledge the authenticity of how you feel. I’m not saying announce it on social media or bore people about “how I feel” whenever you talk to them. But, to acknowledge it to YOUR SELF.
Happy and happiness come and go, just like all emotions and states of wellbeing. Like clouds in the sky. Getting real and feeling into the moment will not necessarily put you in a happy state but knowing you can be with the truth of things taps you into an underlying, eternal place of heartfelt aliveness and connection. From here, positive and helpful feelings will flow, when ready.
In the meantime…. here’s to moments of happiness (and a face cream that lives up to its claim).