“Everyone is chasing happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.”
– Bertolt Brecht
Your job is going well. Your relationship too.
It’s maybe not as thrilling as Jack and Rose in the “Titanic,” but it is fine.
You have good friends, a nice house, a comfortable lifestyle — and yet something essential is missing.
You are not happy.
And it is really getting you down.
You try to rationalise it.
How, with so much to be grateful for, you SHOULD be happy.
How there are so many people in the world less fortunate than yourself — people who have REAL problems to contend with.
But you can’t rationalise your unhappiness away.
You feel ungrateful, depressed, guilty even… and wonder what is wrong with you.
You suspect that a different job, house or relationship won’t make much difference— or not for long anyway.
What to do?
Have You Been Following The Wrong Happiness Roadmap?
Many of us are told as children that the roadmap to a happy life is to work hard at school, graduate, find a well paid job, get married, build a secure nest, have kids… and then live happily ever after.
Like in the fairy tales you heard over and over as a kid.
Parents, who have, in most cases, lost touch with their own inner fountain of happiness, tell children, who are still very much connected, all the things they should do in order to be happy!
It is quite bizarre.
Kids are already happy without any of these things. Their joy is unconditional. It is uncaused and naturally bubbles up from within, whatever their situation.
Few of us, however, manage to survive years sitting in dreary classrooms, learning stuff we have no real interest in, cramming in information to get through university exams for the dubious ‘reward’ of a well-paid but soul destroying job that sucks all the life out of us — with our natural joy intact.
And we wonder where it has all gone wrong.
We have been fed a false promise, promulgated by the images of impossibly shiny looking people with big houses and even bigger teeth that we are spoon fed in TV ads and movies.
If fame and fortune could deliver true happiness, you would expect Wall Street and Hollywood to be the happiest places on earth.
In reality, it is not far from the opposite of the truth. If anything, the rich and famous seem to attract more than their fair share of unhappiness and despair.
Three Common Myths That Will Keep Happiness Forever Out Of Reach
True happiness—by that, I mean happiness that doesn’t come and go according to our circumstances—can never be found outside of ourselves.
Most people have a scattergun approach to finding happiness. We chase after the ‘good’ stuff— shiny objects, sensory pleasures, temporary thrills— and do whatever we can to avoid undesirable experiences.
Happiness and unhappiness are mostly by-products of how this game unfolds.
When we get what we want, we are happy for a short while. We then become attached to the coveted object and when life inevitably takes it away from us at some point, we are plunged back into unhappiness.
This is the cycle that most people are caught up in for their whole lives.
These are the three ways in which we typically chase happiness.
Myth #1: More Stuff Will Make Me Happy
Think of all the achievements and things you thought would make you happy in the past, but didn’t.
How long did the satisfaction of getting the latest iPhone last?
What about the joy of driving the new car?
Or the buzz from the holiday in Thailand?
How long before the happiness needle settled back to its usual set point?
Lasting happiness is an inside job. It is not about getting more stuff or having better experiences.
Stuff doesn’t makes you happy. Comfortable, maybe. But happy, no.
“Myth #2: I Will Be Happy When Conditions Are Ripe
Another myth that many people succumb to is the myth of future happiness.
I will be happy when I :
- find the perfect partner
- get out of this relationship
- have managed to pay off my debt
- receive an apology
Future happiness is conditional happiness. It stems from the belief that, if only our life looked a certain way, THEN we would be happy.
This is also an illusion. As soon as one item on the list is ticked off, a new excuse appears.
Happiness is a state of mind and can only be experienced right now.
“Myth #3: I Will Be Happy When All Of My Issues Are Resolved
Although therapy can be of great value to help heal deep-seated personal issues or mental health problems, it can also be a trap that endlessly postpones our happiness.
Even the most troubled individuals experience moments of joy, moments of OK-ness.
Nobody wakes up from deep sleep unhappy. It is when the mind kicks in that unhappiness arises.
Although you may well wish to work on resolving your anger issues or developing more self-esteem, happiness is there anyway—ever lurking beneath the surface.
In spite of our many imperfections remaining intact, we have all had moments of happiness. You don’t have to wait until you have healed everything before you can be happy.
Happiness Now Or Happiness Never— Your Choice
As long as you are waiting for the perfect set of conditions to arrive, you will continue to live life in a state of ‘becoming’ happy.
As you have little control over how your life pans out, you could be in for a long wait.
Besides, as long as you attach conditions to your happiness, it will always be short-lived—for all conditions change with time.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do right now to experience more happiness, irrespective of your life situation.
It begins with a simple choice… a simple decision.
As Abraham Lincoln famously said:
”Most people are about as happy as they decide to be.”
5 Ways To Feed The Happiness Wolf
One evening a Cherokee elder was telling his grandson the story of the battle that goes on inside people.
He said: “The battle, my son, is about the two wolves that live inside us all. One is unhappiness. It is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity and resentment. The other is happiness. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, kindness, truth and compassion.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked: “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The elder replied: “The one you feed. You decide.”
Let’s look at some ways to feed the happiness wolf… some ways to choose for happiness now.
1. Make The Simple Decision To Be Happy
Ridiculously simple as it may sound, this is the most profound tip you will ever receive on happiness. Both happiness and unhappiness arise as a result of what you choose to give attention to.
Focusing on what is ‘wrong’ with your life will cause you to suffer. Giving thanks for the good that already exists will make you happy.
So, make the firm decision upon awakening: “Whatever happens today, I choose to focus on the good. I choose to be happy.”
2. Ditch The Excuses And Choose For Happiness Now
Choosing happiness means taking full responsibility for our own inner state.
- letting go of the idea that other people or the world are to blame for your woes.
- being willing to look beyond the mind’s stories of how things should or shouldn’t be, how others should act or not act and to give attention instead, to the good things in your life—which can always be found if you are willing to make that your focus.
- giving up the compulsion to complain about (and especially voice out loud) the things that make you unhappy.
3. Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin G
Complaining can have a catastrophic impact on your happiness and the best medicine is a healthy dose of gratitude… of vitamin G.
Whenever you become aware you are entertaining any old negative thinking patterns—moaning, complaining, wallowing in unhappy feelings, feeling sorry for yourself— stop, take a deep conscious breath and make a list, either written or in your head, of three things that have gone well for you this week or three things that you love about the world.
Ask yourself: “Where do I choose to put my attention right now? On complaining or on being happy?”
4. Focus On Giving To Boost Your Happiness
“Happiness is not having a lot. Happiness is giving a lot.” – The Buddha
Show me a happy person and I guarantee they will also be a giving person.
Self-centredness is the hand maiden of unhappiness. The best way to break free is to focus on making others happy.
It is a simple choice that will make you feel so good about yourself.
If you are someone who feels the world revolves around you and your needs, ask yourself: “Does putting myself first make me happy?
Do I really want to be happy?”
Actively look for opportunities to serve others.
Let someone go in front of you in the supermarket queue. Buy a coffee for the person behind you in the coffee shop. Befriend a homeless person. Sign up to do some voluntary work. Learn to celebrate the happiness of others. This will transform your life in miraculous ways.
5. Free Yourself Through Releasing Your Prisoners
Are you holding anyone prisoner in your mind… bearing grudge against someone you believe has harmed you or wronged you in the past?
This can be a big barrier to experiencing happiness now.
You may think that, in an ideal world, you could go on hating just this one person and still be happy, but it doesn’t work that way. To be truly free and happy, you cannot be in opposition to any part of your world.
Ask yourself: “What do I want more? To continue creating these feelings of contraction inside or to let go and be happy?
To forgive is not to condone the person’s behaviour. Forgive because you don’t want anything to stand in the way of your happiness.
So, there we go. I could make the list longer but I am sure you get the idea.
Chasing happiness doesn’t work. Choosing it does… and straight away.
Your Happiness Is Just A Choice Away
It can be downright depressing when you seem to have everything going for you in life but are missing one vital ingredient — true happiness.
Acknowledging the futility of finding happiness through possessions, relationships, accomplishments or indeed, through anything outside of yourself, can be an important turning point along the way.
It can provide the impetus for turning the searchlight inwards, where you may discover that what you have been chasing after has been within you all along.
Happiness is there inside, whatever your life situation.
So, start by making the firm decision: “Whatever happens today, I choose to be happy.”
Use the tips above to help you put this into practice.
It is so liberating and empowering to know that your happiness is only ever a choice away. It mostly comes down to how much you want it.
So start choosing today. You will be amazed at the difference it makes.