I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about happiness and how to achieve it. When we see a headline like that, we are drawn to it. We all want to be happy – to find our paradise. If only we could find that magical key, then every day will be sunny. Throughout the Old Testament of the bible, the land of paradise – the place where everyone wants to be – is the land of milk and honey. It sounds truly beautiful. But when this phrase was mentioned in church recently, the [possibly inappropriate] thought popped into my head that I actually do not like milk. I do not like honey. I like them in my cosmetics I guess. When beauty products list milk or honey as ingredients, then I imagine I will have shiny hair and smooth and creamy skin. But to eat? Not my cup of tea. To me, paradise would perhaps be the land of chocolate and french fries.
I bring this up because we all have one thing in common – we all want to be happy. But that is ALL we have in common. What happiness is, or what makes us happy, is different to each person. There are a lot of practices, books, gurus, well-meaning friends, and wise people who have ideas of what can make us happy, but do they work?
Yes, I think that seeking wisdom is definitely a good thing to do, as long as we don’t expect those things we learn to make us happy. Rather, we are to learn those things and use them to teach us how to create our OWN happiness, that comes from inside of us. Wisdom and learning can help us find our own definition of happiness that will apply to our own God-given unique selves. But it is up to us to make it happen. So, here are a few things that I believe contribute to making us happier:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Yes it’s corny. Yes, when we are in certain moods, it’s hard to think of anything to be grateful for. But we all have something. Our problem is that we don’t appreciate our gratitude for what it is. I can say I’m grateful for my friends, but so-and-so has more friends who are more fun and who have perfect (so we think!) families too. This is a thought pattern that many unhappy people have. Whatever I have, someone else has a better one. So think Part A of the equation “I am grateful for…”. And STOP. Don’t add Part B to that thought! As the saying goes, the grass may look greener elsewhere, but it usually isn’t.
- See the best in people. Try to see everyone with eyes filled with compassion, even if you don’t agree with them. Even if they did something mean. I once read long ago (in a historical romance novel of all things) some wise words that I have always remembered. If you understand your enemy, he won’t hurt you, because you will know why he is doing the things he does. Seek to understand people instead of judging them. I can be just as guilty as anyone sometimes about judging and lacking understanding, and I’m a trained social scientist. So it isn’t easy. But it is necessary. Most of the time we are miserable because of things other people are doing. But if other people can’t make us happy (which is common wisdom), then they shouldn’t be able to make us mad or sad either. Those emotions come from inside of us. Yes, we will still feel negative responses from the actions of other people, because we are human. Have compassion for yourself when you feel those emotions. Accept them. Acknowledge them. But figure out why they are stirring up frustration/hatred/anger or whatever you are feeling. Understand your emotions so they don’t control you – you control them. And one final thought about people. Most people are going through life, just as we are, trying to experience the least amount of pain. Some are better at this than others.
- Don’t remain upset about things you cannot control, BUT you can control more than you think! One day I was sitting next to my mother at a children’s event. My mom was never a “kid person,” she tended to be very nervous, but she adored my niece so we would take her to loud, chaotic and crazy venues so she could have a good time. (I still have a funny memory of my mom walking into a Chuck-E-Cheese, going straight to the manager and asking where the smoking section was). One day some children were horsing around next to my mom, and she looked at me with this expression of intense pain and frustration. I pointed out to my mom that the seat on the other side of her was empty, which would leave plenty of space between those children and herself. She was so busy suffering, that she didn’t see the answer right on the other side of her. How many of us do that, either intentionally or unintentionally? Often we can do something to change a situation that makes us unhappy. And if we can’t, then we need to try to let it go.
- Happiness comes in our moments, not in the future. We’ve heard this often, but it bears repeating. Happiness won’t happen when we meet our goals. It won’t happen when our dreams come true. It won’t happen when we win the lottery. It won’t happen when we retire. It won’t happen when we lose 20 pounds. That’s the bad news. The GOOD news is that we can be happy right now. We don’t have to wait for something to happen. Happiness comes from changes in thought processes, not in our situations.
- Bad things will still happen, and we will grieve or become angry or hurt. Life still happens. This is why it is so important to remember where happiness comes from. It comes from inner peace, not outside events. Go ahead and cry, grieve, become angry. These emotions are real and they are part of us. Just remember, our happiness is still there, and the more we practice using our happiness, the sooner we will recognize it when it returns. And it will return.
There are many more steps people can take, these are just a few of them. They are very general steps for a reason – only you can know specifically what makes YOU happy. So, do you know what makes you happy? What is your paradise? Define it for yourself, then seek it.