We all want to be happy. To feel content in life. But what does that mean? What is true happiness? Is there even such a thing?
Being on a constant quest to find happiness can be a frustrating journey. We all have our own interpretation of what we believe it is. What it must feel like. We want to feel it, but at times it seems so unattainable no matter how hard we try to bring it into our lives. At times we don't know what it actually is that will give us that sense of complete happiness.
It doesn't help that many of us compare ourselves to others with the belief that they are the epitome of happiness. They look happy on social media. They have a luxurious home. They look social and loved by all. So, of course, they must be happy all the time.
But ah, the deception of the online world. Of putting up a front of perfection. We can all appear to have a perfect life if we choose. But deep down we know that life can be tough. That it's full of challenges that test our strengths and at times it can send us into emotional turmoil. And leave us feeling far from happy.
And so my thoughts on happiness:
1. It's not possible to feel happy all the time
It's unrealistic. And we can't expect ourselves to.
I consider myself to be a fairly optimistic person. Happy a lot of the time. But did I feel happy when my mother commit suicide? Of course not. It felt like complete shit. Like my heart had been smashed to pieces. It sent my emotions spiralling out of control. But I dealt with it. And have come out of it with a greater understanding of life and myself.
If a great love who you shared five years with breaks up with you, do you feel happy? No. It hurts. It can feel like your world is crumbling. You possibly feel vulnerable and completely lost. But after crying it out you can decide if you keep moving forward, or stay standing still in this space of sadness.
Feeling happy all the time just isn't possible.
In the face of adversity we need to feel it and grow from it. Doing so will help us move forward.
It's in those moments on the other side of adversity where we can feel incredible joy for life. A gratitude for the good things we have. And an appreciation of our journey. For who it shapes us to be as a person.
We often look back on times past as being the happiest moments of our life. For example when I lived in California. My immediate thoughts now are so warm and fuzzy. The times I'd go walking with my son discovering the neighbourhood, our weekend trips to San Fran. But I know that at the time it was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was a new mother in a new country. My husband would come home to see me in tears because I felt so lonely and lost. But we tend to forget the hardship after a while. And look back on those moments as an incredible journey where we discovered so much about who we are.
So despite not being able to feel happy all the time, even those rough times shape us and leave us with fond (although a little cloudy) memories.
2. Happiness is finding joy in all the details of daily life
Really noticing the beauty around us. Feeling gratitude for what we have. Finding joy in the simplest of things, in the ordinary and mundane.
Let's face it, much of our daily life is repetitive. How we look at this large portion of our day is what matters. And essentially what can bring us much-unexpected happiness.
For example, playing the same board game with the kids day after day is rather repetitive. We're currently going through a 'Guess Who' and 'Snakes and Ladders' phase ourselves. But our feelings can change when we begin to notice the subtleties. Like how your child frowns as they contemplate their next question. Or the excitement in their eyes as they climb a ladder. The way this boring repetitive game is bringing everyone squished together on the rug of your tiny living room floor.
It's easy to dismiss at the time, and be caught up in your thoughts about how boring or uncomfortable it all is. The challenge is to pull back from those thoughts and see the moment for what it is. It can completely change your perspective. And how it leaves you feeling.
I know I keep harping on about mindfulness. But seriously, it's where much happiness can be felt if we can bring this practice into our daily life. Mindfulness isn't a new concept. It originated in Eastern meditation and has been practised for many years. So it's not just a fad, even though it's spoken about everywhere lately.
Being mindful is how we can feel true appreciation for what we have right in front of us.
3. There is no one source of happiness
Chances are we won't feel completely happy when we are financially stable. Or when we lose that 5kg. Or when we find true love. Sure, they all help. But happiness doesn't just come from one source.
To live a happy life we need to feel joy across various areas of our life. Finances, health, meaning, relationships, fun, our physical environment, freedom, mindfulness... It's not about striving for perfection in one area but finding a sweet balance across all that leaves us with a feeling of contentment.
It means looking at our lives as a whole. And asking how we can shift and nudge areas here and there, to reach a place where we feel most at ease. At times a few areas may be off balance, but by being aware of it we can gently make a few changes to return to a smoother path.
4. Diversify your sources
As the saying goes, don't put all your eggs in one basket.
The journey of life is not linear. It's up, down, backwards, sideways and so on. It's amazing at times, and just plain shitty at others.
If we put all our eggs in one basket, or all our focus on finding happiness in one area (i.e. finances), then what happens if our financial situation turns to custard? We could lose our job, or have an accident which results in much time off work. It's at that time that we would hope to have the support of friends and family. Kind ears to listen to us and show empathy. Or to have a deeper sense of meaning, of interests other than our work to bring us joy and carry us through the tough time of being unemployed.
If work is all we have, if finances are all that we care about in life, then it's hard to feel positive and optimistic if we have nothing else to fall back on when we have a financial setback.
If we have a balance across the various areas of our life, then we have a stronger foundation to support us when life throws its challenges.
There are no real secrets to living a happy life.
But rather there is living a life.
Moving forward on the path. Bumpy parts and all. Pausing to notice the beauty right in front of us. Having the knowledge and strength to climb over obstacles that present themselves along the way.
And when you finally arrive at the very end, chances are that you will look back on this path in awe and with acceptance. Feeling proud of your journey. Grateful for the experiences you have had. For the people you shared your life with. And with pure happiness in your heart.