How did you feel this morning when you woke up? Did you awake filled with joy and expectation for the day ahead or did you wake with a feeling of heaviness at the thought of what was to come? How would your life be different if you were to awake every morning feeling happy? Do you even know what happiness feels like and how do we embody happiness into our lives, making it more than just a mysterious, fleeting feeling?
This question of how to be happy and what it means has been asked by many teachers, spiritual leaders and philosophers for centuries. Today the same questions are being asked. How do we achieve the elusive state of happiness whilst living real lives in the real world?
I believe that we all do what we do because we believe that by doing it, or having it, we will be happier. The pursuit of health, wealth, fame, possessions and love; all appear valuable because of our belief that once we have them, our lives will be transformed and we will finally be happy.
But would we? Does having something lead to long term happiness; is happiness something we can find outside of ourselves? How long does the elation that comes with the purchase of a new car/pair of shoes/set of golf clubs actually last? Could it be that this is only ‘relative’ happiness, and that true ‘absolute’ happiness cannot be gained from an external source, it can only be found within?
If this is so how can we actually embody the energy of happy? Can we turn it on at will? Could it be that the state of happiness is actually a choice? Is it true that we do have the ability to see what we want to see? For example, take a look around the room in which you are sitting and make a mental note of everything that is brown in colour. Really look and remember.
Once you have done this close your eyes, pause and visualise everything in the room that is blue. What can you remember? The chances are that you did not see anything that was blue, because you were not looking for it. We see what we want to see, so perhaps we can feel happy when we want to, regardless of what is happening around us. Aristotle certainly believed this, saying; “Happiness depends on ourselves.” So, how do we do it? How do we find internal happiness when external circumstances seem to be propelling us towards misery?
Could it be that many of us do not believe we actually deserve to feel happy? How many times were you chastised or punished as a child for being too happy? Or told to settle down when you were having fun, because of the adults fear that ‘’it will all end in tears’’. Children know how to live in the moment, for most of the time ‘now’ is the only time that exists in the life of a child. This ability to be present in the moment, is what enables the child to access more happiness than their preoccupied parents.
This concept is easier to understand if we think of happiness as a function of how we are relating to the present moment, rather than as something that is ‘’outside of us’’ waiting to be found. If our happiness is dependent upon external circumstances that we cannot control it continues to be something out of reach and not quite attainable. If it is viewed merely as the way in which we relate to the moment in which we find ourselves, we have a choice; we can choose whether we improve the quality of this moment or not, and by doing so we regain control.
So how do you infuse your life with more happiness?
One way is to cultivate friendships with happy people. In a recent study Deepak Chopra discovered that if you have a happy friend your chances of being happy go up by 15%, furthermore if your happy friend has a happy friend that you don’t know your chances of being happy go up by another 10%, and if your happy friend has another happy friend that also has a happy friend, that you don’t know, your chances of being happy go up by another 7%!
If your pool of happy friends is limited you could try these 10 strategies to bring more happiness into your life.
- Adopt an attitude of appreciation. Spend the first few moments of every day appreciating what you have rather than dwelling on what you have not got. If things are really tough, just appreciating your lovely warm bed is enough to get you started. Your happiness levels can be further elevated by spending another few minutes at the end of every day writing down three things that you have done well during the day. These things can be small or huge, their size is unimportant; recording them is what will bring benefits.
- Give more hugs. A study carried out at Pennsylvania State University showed that giving a minimum of 5 nonsexual, two armed, front to front hugs a day to people other than your partner, increases your level of happiness.
- Do what you are good at more of the time. When you do what you excel at on a daily basis you will become significantly happier for months to come.
- Deliberately and consciously carry out acts of kindness. Choose one day a week on which you will carry out 5 acts of kindness for others, without any expectation of receiving anything in return. The happy feeling that follows will stay with you for days.
- Create something to look forward to. You can increase your happiness levels not only by planning to do something you will enjoy but by anticipating it. So plan ahead early to maximize on the benefits it will bring you.
- Spend more time with friends. Studies have shown that having a better social life and spending time with people with whom you feel an intimate bond, increases your level of happiness.
- Lower your expectations. We all have high expectations of ourselves and others. We often set standards so high that we cannot fail to be disappointed. It has been said that “expectations are resentments in training” so, if you want to be happier expect less out of yourself and others.
- Love more and judge less. Love your own company and forgive yourself your imperfections. Practice being non-judgemental and love your fellow humans, knowing that they are doing the best they can with the information they have available to them at the time.
- Give yourself permission to be selfish and put yourself first. Learning to say ‘no’ is one of the most important things we can learn to do as adults. Constantly putting the needs of others before our own is not going to result in our ‘absolute’ happiness. By all means be kind to others most of the time, but not at the expense of our own needs.
- Spend time in quiet contemplation. Make your life a living meditation by returning to your breath and enjoying the moment, whatever it holds. Life happens now, in this moment, not yesterday or tomorrow, enjoy it.