Discovering Happiness

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the highway to heaven is littered with suicide, addiction, anxiety and fear. Why is it so hard for us to find our heaven, nirvana, happiness, and serenity? Why do so many people fall by the wayside while trying so hard to find it?

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

Eric Hoffer

We don’t find heaven, we don’t find nirvana, we don’t find happiness or serenity. They are not places that we can travel to, nor destinations or goals. How many of us seek a goal with the idea that happiness will come at a certain moment in the future. When I graduate I will be happy.’ ‘When I find the love of my life, I will be happy.’ ‘When I get the promotion, I will be happy.’ We look forward to a magical, mystical moment when, I don’t know, we think that the sky will open up and the bluebird of happiness will land on our shoulder. But that doesn’t happen. We graduate, get married and get the promotion and we do feel momentary happiness but then, it’s fleeting pause is over and we work for the next moment of happiness.

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There is also, of course, the obverse. Not everyone graduates, finds their soul mate or ever gets more than an entry level job. Are we living in a society where people will never attain a true feeling of Heaven on Earth? Is the seeking of that feeling of happiness the source of our own despair? When we reach a goal, we do feel that momentary jolt of ‘Yes, I did it’, which fades quickly. Like the wonder of Christmas fading before the week is out, we push toward the next ephemeral moment.

Perhaps our challenge is not to seek happiness. Perhaps what we need to do is to define what actually causes us to feel the emotion of happiness? What would give you not a momentary but a continued sense of wellbeing, contentment and serenity? Few people can answer that question. Sure, they can tell us that a party makes them happy, or a wedding or a birth; events and goals. They can tell us that being with other people and making them happy leads to happiness, but even this is an interim fix; what if they can’t make others happy? I don’t think happiness is a temporary state of excited emotional bliss, a goal or destination. Then what is it?

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Happiness is not something that we can seek. It is not something that we can do. We can’t pursue it. We can’t buy it. We can’t attain it. Nothing ‘makes’ us happy.

Happiness comes from within. I think that discovering our own happiness is the true purpose in life and our true measure of success. The recipe for happiness varies from person to person. It results from our choice to live a life that is congruent with one’s principles and beliefs. People who are happy focus on the people that they care about, the things that they value, a conducive environment and activities they enjoy. It requires self-discipline and effort to create it and maintain it within oneself. I don’t find happiness when I get my diploma or promotion; I feel it as a result of doing what I need to do to achieve those goals. I don’t find happiness when I make a certain amount of money or win the lottery; I experience happiness knowing that I am being true to myself and my the things that are important to me. I don’t find happiness by trying to control all of the variable that have a part in my life; I find it by focusing only on those things I have control over, and those things are within me. My attitude, my judgement, my actions, my choices and my perspective are all within my circle of control.

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Happiness is within my control as well, it follows. If I feel happiness, perhaps I can analyze why at this particular moment I feel it. I can pay attention to those things that result in feeling unhappy and maintain my distance in the future. If I know that I feel happiness when I take a walk by the ocean or through the woods, then why not do that more often? If sharing a deep conversation with a friend invigorates me and brings a smile to my face, then I should seek out times to have those conversations. I have to do the work. My answers won’t magically appear. But with time and practice I can make the right choices for me and my happiness.

Finding Nirvana, Shangri-La, or Heaven, as well as their opposites is a very Earthly proposition. Despite of all I do, I will sometimes feel fear, anxiety and suffering. But I don’t have to stay in that misery any longer than I wish to. I have a choice. I choose to be happy.

The ‘Good Enough’ Trap

John left university with a business degree and a lot of debt. He had a dream of owning his own retail business but because of his student debt, he was unable to get a loan. So, he took a job as an account analyst at a financial institution. It was a decent paying job to begin with and John soon moved up the corporate ladder. And with each promotion came a raise in prestige and pay. As the years passed, he cleared off his student debt, married, had children, and moved from their townhouse to a comfortable suburban home with an easy commute to his job. He has the ability to buy what he and his family need, has a small amount of debt, and he and his family take amazing vacations every year.

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Yet…

John would be the first to say that he is not really happy, fulfilled or enjoying his life. He has a good life but he has a nagging feeling that there is more. He is not complaining. He’s done what society expects of him. He knows that life has treated him extremely well and he’s living the dream.

But it’s not his dream.

Life for John is good, but it’s not great. It’s not what he really imagined it 20 years ago when leaving university, nor is it a life he really wants. He’s not really happy with his life. He did what he thought he was ‘supposed’ to do and has found what he has achieved is lacking something. But he is comfortable, he has a nice family, home, income and his future will probably continue the same way.

So…

He doesn’t change a thing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘good enough’ trap. Things are ‘okay’. Life is ‘fine’. The family home is ‘nice’. What possibly could make someone like John want to change? Little or nothing.

The ‘good’ keeps us from achieving the ‘great’. The mediocre prevents us from the extraordinary. The average halts an investigation of the ‘incredible’. We bury our dreams, our hopes, and our desires and settle for what we have. It should be enough, we have been told. We don’t think we should want more than what we have , nor should we think we deserve more.

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 “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

The ‘good enough’ trap keeps many of us in a life of quiet desperation. We want to fulfill our dreams. We feel the need to push ourselves further. We long for a feeling of contentment and happiness in life. But why rock the boat? Why risk what we have right now for something that is not guaranteed and could wipe out everything that we have achieved so far in my life? Is it not better to accept what life has given us and just bury those feelings of unfulfillment? We have responsibilities we feel we can not abandon. Sure we know we could accomplish so much more and live a life of our dreams, but we’re not willing to pay the price for that kind of happiness.

And that’s what often happens. The ‘good enough’ wins out over the ‘spectacular’ and the ‘extraordinary’.

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What was John’s dream business? He wanted to open a small tackle shop near a lake where his family vacationed. He wanted to help make the vacations of others more memorable by helping them to discover the joy he found in fishing and everything associated with it. He wanted a simple, small town life where he could walk down the street and know most of the people he saw. It wasn’t a huge dream. It wasn’t complicated and requiring enormous amount of money to fulfill. Perhaps he could have designed and marketed series of fishing lures, or a better type of reel. He could have passed along his love of nature to his children and shared quiet walks with his wife along the local rivers and lakes. He would have had a greater sense of completeness in his life by fulfilling his dream.

But the ‘good enough’ got in the way.

John may not have made as much money, lived in as large a house and travelled the world if he had pursued his dream. And his shop might not have been a success. He’ll never know. He hasn’t the motivation for change, for something new, for adventure in life. He figures that life’s ‘good enough’ the way it is.

Is your name John?

Happiness is My Choice

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon

I just finished reading a book called “Happiness is a Choice You Make,” by John Leland. He’s a journalist who followed six elders for a year. Through interviews he gained a great deal of insight into what keeps these people alive in spite of the many challenges of aging. Leland shares what he learned as a result: that happiness is a choice.

When I look outside myself for happiness I will probably never find it. Happiness that is linked to something outside of myself doesn’t last. If I tell myself that I’ll be happy when I get a new car. If only I get to go on that vacation I can be happy. Or when I finally publish that book I will be happy. What happens when the car gets old, the vacation is over or the book stops selling? Sorry to say, you probably won’t find happiness.

What our elders can teach us is that we find happiness when we choose it. In spite of the pain, the losses, the changes and the uncertainty of the future, the wisdom of old age demonstrates that it is up to us. Despite our problems, we can be happy. They don’t have to prevent us from being content right now, in this moment. Happiness is the choice of those who accept what is happening around them and move along through life with a positive attitude. Add a good dose of ‘selective forgetfulness’ and you’ll find a way of life that is pleasant regardless of storms raging around us.

The lesson was to find happiness not in the absence of pain and loss, but in their acceptance.” John Leland

The mind will always be able to find reasons not to be happy. Is dissatisfaction our ‘go-to’ way of thinking? Perhaps that’s how we were raised. No one will deny that inventions and changes have been the result of this dissatisfaction with the way things are. But perhaps I can be accepting of the way things are and still work to change the things I can.

There will always be things that I can focus upon that will bring me down: politics, violence, poverty, weather. However, I can also acknowledge their existence without letting it send me into a depression. So, in spite of these things, I choose to be happy. I choose to focus on the present, the gift of today. Yesterday may not have been so good, but that doesn’t mean that today can’t bring many gifts.

two men holding red heart balloons

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The key to life, as John Lennon said, is happiness. And while the aged many have fewer moments in their future that I do, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone. It is up to me to use happiness as the key to open the door to a life which is full of happiness, joy and freedom. It’s my choice to make. I choose happiness.