With the craziness of the world not looking like it’s going to abate any time soon, how can we live the happiest possible life in the face of such chaos? Is it even realistic to strive for consistent happiness these days?
What is happiness really?
Happiness means different things to different people, and its worth taking some time to explore what you actually mean when you say something like “I just want to be happy.” When you drill down, what happiness actually is is a feeling in your body which comes and goes (like all feelings), based on your interpretation of external events. By their very nature external events are constantly changing, as are our interpretations of them, and therefore our feelings around those events will be constantly changing too. This is why most people experience happiness sometimes but not all the time, and it isn’t actually realistic to expect to be “happy” all the time. It is wiser to strive for a life which is satisfying, meaningful and purposeful as the baseline, as these states allow for some positive and negative variation in experience, while “happy” tends to only refer to things that are deemed desirable and positive.
That said, there are certainly principles you can apply to increase your experience of being happy – and the lines between feeling happy, satisfied, content, purposeful and so on, are blurred in any case.
Here are some suggestions for you to try:
Take an inventory of how you are spending your time. Doing things you don’t really want to do drains your energy and sucks the fun out of life. How much of your time is spent on things you don’t actually value or enjoy? Why are you allowing this to occur? Now, I’m not saying you should shirk your responsibilities, and there are some things that just need to be done, but if you are chronically unhappy there’s a good chance you aren’t prioritising your own joy, time or doing things that actually matter to you. What is one thing each week you could take out of your life that would bring a sense of relief? What is one thing you could add each week that you do just for the fun of it? Do you need to make a bigger change such as finding a new job or new place to live? Make the effort to explore new possibilities and keep an open mind about the kinds of things that could be good for you, that you might not have considered before.
Make your life about more that just yourself. With so many worthy causes to get behind, pick one that matters to you and take some regular action to make a difference, even a small difference, in the life of someone else or the planet.
Focusing too much on your own personal issues can lead to self-absorption, and you can lose the wider perspective which is that many of our issues are actually petty and will resolve themselves when not ruminated on to such a heavy degree. Making your life about something bigger than yourself expands your perspective, gives you something to feel proud of and contributes to the greater good.
Be grateful for what you do have. What you focus on is amplified in your awareness, so make a concerted effort to be disciplined about what you are focusing on. The research on the positive impact of gratitude is irrefutable. The more grateful you are for what you have, the happier you feel, and the more things you will find to feel grateful for. Pick a consistent practice, such as listing 3 things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
Release expectations. So much disappointment in life comes from expectations that do not get met. The desire to predict the future and have things turn out a particular way may be understandable, but often it is not realistic and can instead be based on fantasy and wishful thinking. If you can stay open to what life brings you, and resist judging a situation or person too quickly, then you will be more effectively able to deal with circumstances as they actually are, rather than how you wish they would be. This ultimately results in a happier life.
As much as possible, stay in the present moment. No matter how much you have on your plate, or how much uncertainty lies in the future, all you ever need to be able to deal with is the moment you are experiencing right now. Bring your lens of awareness into your direct sphere of influence, don’t try to put out future fires that haven’t even been lit yet.
Stay present, and you’ll naturally be happier!