Happiness is essentially a byproduct of our search in life. When we make it our goal, it becomes elusive, ethereal and unattainable.
We all struggle in life wondering when we will feel better, happier, more comfortable, in less pain, or having fewer worries. Many times, we feel that the answers do not seem to be forthcoming in our lives and we end up wondering if we will ever find it. However, we sre more stressed when we focus on problems and this only makes us have more physical problems and sadness. Understanding a few key points regarding happiness can be of some help.
If we want to be healthy over time, we have to stop focusing on the problems and the negatives in our lives. By seeing all the problems we have and forgetting how to just accept things the way they are, we end up missing out on the very thing we’ve been searching for all along.
Part of the problem is that we are always waiting for “something” to happen which will “make” us happy. We like to think that if we were older, younger, had more money, better chances, etc., that our lives would be much happier. Or perhaps we think that if others would just “be different” or stop being negative, then we would feel better. Regardless of these “external” solutions, the only result is that we end up feeling even more trapped.
When our focus is on what we don’t have, or on what others do or don’t do, we miss the point. Happiness has little to do with external events. It has more to do with our state of mind. The more we search for external answers, the more we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, sad, tearful, alone and uncertain about what to do.
The reality is that the only control we have is over ourselves.
When it comes down to it, happiness ultimately has to do with our perceptions — how we see the world — and how satisfied we are with what we have at this point in time.
As a result, it is deeply connected to our attitude and how we interpret the events that happen to us in life.
Table of Contents
How to Find Happiness
Happiness is not easily defined because it is not a simple concept. It is more complex than we believe; mostly because of our old habits. Increasing one’s calmness and peace of mind increases one’s capacity to enjoy life and be happy. This takes discipline and a focus on one’s mind in order to bring about the conscious decision to be of a calm and peaceful mind. As long as we continue to be in a panic, to be upset, and to feel desperate, we find oursevles avoiding the conditions that are necessary to find the true happiness that we want so very much in life.
Ultimately, it has to do with everything that you do in life. If you are wanting quick solutions, there is little chance that you will find what you want. What is most important in determining whether a course of action is beneficial is not the immediate pleasure or happiness. It has more to do with the ultimate positive or negative consequences to your act. This requires a future focus for each of our decisions, realizing that they do have a long-term impact on how we function.
We can approach life looking at our problems or by focusing on what we already have in life. Focusing on immediate pleasures only leads to an unstable way of being happy. However, focusing on your state of mind, your attitude, and how you are approaching life in a positive way even in the fact of problems, can make all the difference.
Making the right choice is not always easy. In fact, making the right choices in life may require:
- Accepting things the way they are.
- Understanding that the outcome from our choices may take some time.
- Being willing to put in the work and time to bring about a desired outcome.
- Keeping our mind focused on our ultimate goal while enjoying each day as it comes along.
Training for Happiness
We always think that someone who is more deserving — the person who is brighter, wealthier, or even anyone besides you — seems to be the one who is able to obtain happiness. The real training has to do with how we use our mind. This is the basic equipment that is required to find happiness.
The first key is learning to understand how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful and cause one to feel even more depressed. Positive emotions, and being optimistic, are much more helpful to our healing and well-being. Once one becomes convinced of the importance of positive emotions, a decision can be made to cultivate, develop and enjoy each moment and experience of each day.
One has to learn to analyze each thought and emotions as helpful or harmful to our daily life. Out of this one develops a determination to change one=s feelings and thoughts to more positive ones. This takes time, work, and a commitment that has a future focus.
What helps is to realize that your future is in your hands. What is required is a change in your thinking and your outlook toward life. This has to happen on a daily basis from the moment you awake in the morning, i.e., focusing yourself on the positives no matter how hard it is.
It is waking up thinking about how best to utilize the day, even if one is stuck. It also involves thinking at the end of the day about what you have accomplished during the day to bring about the positives into your life.
It is also not seeing one or two events as being the factors that will bring about happiness. IT IS A PROCESS that happens over time as you develop new habits to think differently.
Training, discipline and structuring our lives toward the positives are what is required if we are to be successful in life. Negatives come easy; usually because remembering negatives helps us remember to learn from our experiences. However, only thinking of the negatives stops us from learning and focuses our experience on being stuck.
Have a routine in your life (a structure). You have to stick to it and not get side-tracked. Those who do get side-tracked are always running and exhausted and feel overwhelmed. Then they have no time for themselves.
It is heathy to say no. It is healthy to not have to do everything or to fix everyone. Instead, say to others, “…well, you know best and I am sure you can figure it out.” Others may not like to hear this and yell louder, or demand more, but they are only trying to make you feel guilty.
The Importance of Compassion
Training for happiness takes an entirely different focus than one would expect.
Compassion, kindness, and feeling warm toward others are the central way toward finding happiness and health. It is the way in which we find that other human beings are just like us, struggling with the same issues, and wanting to, or fearing to, relate. This allows us to relate to them in a intimate way.
From birth, our basic nature is one of gentleness. It is only later that we develop our intelligence and have the means to develop in unbalanced ways that can lead to negative thinking patterns. We were meant from birth to be gentle and kind. Many things influence the “why” we become “trapped in negatives.”
No matter how many problems, conflicts, and difficulties we may have had in life, we have to return to our basic nature of kindness and gentleness. To do this, we have to overcome our shyness and fears, our underlying anger and frustration, so that we can work on developing the compassion for relatedness. We have to let go of our tendency to wait on others to make it easy for us to relate. We have to take the first step toward relatedness.
Happiness in a Nutshell
The goal of life is to turn toward building a life that is based on happiness in each day no matter what does, or does not, happen. Making this change requires that one develop a trained mind that has a structure that is focused on making the changes from negative to positive feelings.
Even though there are no guarantees, we have to commit ourselves daily to hope and finding happiness.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, in the midst of crises and problems, it helps to remind ourselves about our fundamental goal in life — compassion, hope, kindness, with a focus on happiness. The key is to make the best use of our time so that we keep that goal in front of us even when we are overwhelmed.
In everything we do, it is critical that we have our eye on the positive or negative consequences that our actions, thoughts and feelings have on the future and your goal toward happiness. This does not mean that we are naive and should allow ourselves to make negative choices in life, relationships, and other affairs that will bring more negatives into our lives. We need to avoid such situations by thinking about the long-term consequences of any decisions.
Working on one’s attitude is the only way to overcome loneliness and isolation. Social skills are helpful, but it may be more important to understand that the real solutions are (1) to be focused on positive emotions; (2) to avoid focusing on negative emotions/problems; (3) cultivating compassion and kindness; and (4) insuring that one=s goal is on being happy and having the discipline in each day to train one’s mind for happiness.
This is all based on our willingness to open ourselves up to others, friends, colleagues at work, strangers in line at the grocery store, and knowing that we were meant to be gentle and happy people. All of this is going to take work, time and effort with a real commitment to make this happen on a daily basis.
Nothing will happen fast. It will take time. It is a focus on growing beyond the moment to enjoying the moment as one things about moving toward the future in a positive way.
The only person you have to explain this to is to yourself. They will have to figure it out themselves and find their own happiness.
In the end, we have a straighforward choice before us. We must choose either embracing happiness in the here and now, or the unending pursuit of happiness.
Acceptance and Commitment to Happiness
In our efforts to escape pain, loss, and suffering, we often miss the very happiness that we are searching for in life. When painful feelings get pushed to the side, we find ourselves falling apart, our relationships suffer, and often we just simply “shut down” in an attempt to avoid feeling, experiencing, and changing. Paradoxically, our attempts to “not feel” robs us of our own growth, which requires us to be vulnerable in the present moment.
Irritability, anger, tension, outbursts of temper are common during times of stress and problems. Sometimes we end up dealing with things by getting divorced, falling deeper into depression, or we simply run away hoping to escape our pain and suffering. All of this is known as they myth of control. In reality, there is only one approach to suffering that has any permanent benefits that is critical to making any lasting changes.
Life as a Journey
We all enter life searching for how we fit into this world that we have been born into. We reach out like we are in a small boat that is setting out on a journey into the new and unknown. The more we experience this journey, the greater our wisdom. This provides us with many more ideas and inspirations.
However, as we become more involved in our life’s journey, we start to encounter the universal experience of fear. Though we might become anxious when facing fear, it’s important to realize that this is a part of being alive in the world. It is a universal feeling that we all have when facing the new and unknown.
The experience of fear provides a deeper understanding of feeling vulnerable in the present moment and situation. However, what is important is that we need to know fear. We need to become familiar with it and to face it directly. The goal is not to solve problems, but to use our feeling and experiences as a way of undoing our bad habits from the past.
In other words, there is only one way of finding happiness in life. It is through facing suffering and moving toward the painful situations to with curiosity. We have this mistaken belief that we need to “run from fear.” No one tells us that the solution is to move closer to it so we can become familiar with it. When we don’t face fear, we experience panic, anxiety, and become upset at even the slightest hint of fear.
What is required is that the next time we are faced with fear and pain, we have to consider ourselves lucky. It takes courage and an understanding that even brave people experience fear. The key is to keep exploring the feelings and not run away from them even when you encounter something which may not have been what you had thought or what you had wanted.
When Things Fall Apart
When we face pain, suffering, loss, grief, or other crises in life, we experience it as having nothing to grab hold of at a time when the pain is so deep. However, when things are falling apart, we should realize that we might be close to a new understanding and way of living. We have choices to either shut down or to reach out to touch that new experience and understanding.
Difficult times are a “kind of testing” and a “kind of healing” all put together into one. The goal is not to solve things. The goal is to encounter the change that is happening. This requires “feeling things fall apart, change, come together again, and then fall apart again.”
To do this we have to all for “room for feelings” such a grief, loss, suffering, and joy. Most importantly it is critical that we allow “room for not knowing or having all the answers.” Suffering is something that all human beings have to know and experience. We need to realize that things are always in transition in life whether or not we even realize it. We rarely every find things ending up like we had dreamed or hoped that they would be in life.
The Teachings Of The Moment
Our feelings offer us moments that can teach us about what we are holding back in life. These feelings teach us to face the fear, lean into the fear, and to let go of our desire to collapse and back away from what it is that we need to face and grow from.
Humans rarely see change, or new situations, as opportunities for teaching. We actually hate change and want to resist it or run like crazy. When we face fear, we have to see that it is “telling us” that we are entering “unknown territory” and the course of our journey in life is now changing. There is always more to learn in life if we give ourselves a chance to experience the moment of fear.
The job is to not try to rid ourselves of the thoughts, but rather to open ourselves to their true nature and meaning for us as we are on this “new journey.” The trick is to move toward allowing gentleness and letting go in our lives. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become in our lives.
Much of the pain that we experience in life are the ones that we give ourselves. This is because we “buy into disapproval from others and then continue to practice it on ourselves.” We are not trying to be perfect, to make pain go away, or even becoming a better person. We come to realize that whatever we experience is neither a beginning or an ending. We come to understand that our emotions have the power to run us in circles and away from facing ourselves.
This is when people tend to run from marriages, get upset and angry, and blame others so as to “avoid feelings” and to “get the upset out of ourselves.” It is a time when we want to “do something” to avoid the pain of the stress and problems of the moment. This is especially an issue when we have been having problems over an extended period of time (“one thing after another”) and it seems overwhelming and never ending. This is really when we try to “control something” and to “run from our problems.”
Embracing Change and Growth
Change requires understanding that obstacles are not our enemies. Problems and sufferings are our friends. Problems, suffering, and obstacles are the way life shows us where we are stuck at in life.
We are all “addicted” to avoiding pain and suffering. We reach for anything that will block it out. However, nothing really goes away until it has taught us what it is that we need to know.
What we have to know is that the essence of life is that it is challenging and “ever changing”, requiring more of us as we grow to face the unknown. We have to understand that to be alive and fully human, we are constantly being challenged, thrown out of the nest, and forced to face those feelings that we have tried so hard to avoid by our constant busyness.
In our efforts to “be perfect”, we keep seeing our imperfections. We need to accept ourselves with these imperfections and learn to slow down so that we can experience ourselves in the moment. Wisdom can only be found in our own experience. What helps is learning to be kind to ourselves while learning to respect ourselves the way we are at this point in life without needing to do anything through acceptance.
We become free when we regard our thoughts and emotions with humor and openness to others. We fear openness to others because it triggers old messages of confusion which, in the past, we did not feel brave enough to deal with. When we begin to just try to accept ourselves, with all the various emotions that people normally experience in life, we can let go our attempts to be busy to block our fears and insecurities.
There is no certainty in life. Everything is always in flux, always changing, and always challenging us to grow, face, change and find new ways of being in the moment. The mistaken belief is that you had to be perfect and responsible for others happiness. In reality, none of us are perfect. It is critical that we accept ourselves as we are: Flawed human beings who are trying to the best we can to “experience this journey of life” that is so full of numerous emotions and feelings.
Learning to Endure Conflict, Tension & Emptiness
One of the most important things that human beings can learn to do in life is to endure the hard times. This is not always easy because we are always hoping that things will be comfortable, easy or enjoyable. Other times, we just want to have something to keep us busy.
The reality of life is that these things do not always happen. As a result, it is important to think about a few issues as part of learning how to survive.
We are all comfort seekers in life. We enter life as babies and hope that we can become comfortable in life. Good parents, though, do not always provide the comfort that their infants want. Good parents become the good enough parents who do not always rush to protect their infants when there is discomfort. In fact, good enough parents allow their children to struggle and find ways of handling things, learning that the world is not ending.
Though we keep hoping for comfort and the perfect life and place, there is a maturity that comes with understanding that this is not the reality of life. Many times conflict and discomfort scares us for many different reasons. Sometimes it relates to past childhood experiences and other issues. We have to learn to get over our fears and allow ourselves, and others, to experience and feel discomfort and difficult times.
The Dual Nature of Life
Life is full of a dual nature of good and bad, evil and good, happiness and sadness, and good days and bad. We also understand that others have their good and bad days which are many times inflicted upon us. We have to learn to get through these difficult times with other and ourselves.
We cannot run from life. We have to face life with all it’s difficulties and pains. Facing life is what gives us a tough skin of endurance in the face of suffering and uncertainty. However, we come to appreciate the fact that we can never fully understand comfort or happiness without discomfort and unhappiness. We only grow through struggles and learning to endure the changing nature of life, our bodies, our moods, and our daily jobs.
Nothing is perfect. We have to stop running to find the perfect and most comfortable place because this is not the reality of life.
The Reality of Daily Life
The reality of life is that other people’s stuff will be inflicted on us. We have to learn to not take every thing so personally. We have to learn to endure the difficult times in order to enjoy the good times. We have to know that it is okay to have anxiety because this is part of normal life and living. When we feel overwhelmed, it is usually a time that we are learning the most about life and ourselves. We have to allow ourselves to experience the joys of suffering.
Life is difficult. Jobs and people are difficult. We have to not take everything so personally and react to it with such upset, anxiety and sadness. We just have to learn to get through it and to understand that this too shall change. When facing suffering we are learning more about ourselves and life. If we focus on the negatives we will get more depressed and anxious. If we see it as an opportunity for growth and learning than we will ultimately come out healthier and more mature and happier.
Becoming Successful In Life
Becoming successful in life means that one has learned to no longer fear problems or failure. Taking risks, trying again, getting back up on the horse, and never giving up is the mark of real maturity. Struggles provide a thick skin that helps you learn to endure and get through it all and not take it so personally.
Success is always staying one step ahead of failure. This takes work, looking at the broader picture, and focusing on the positives. Failures, difficult times, and stress are only learning experiences. Those who get trapped at these times are the ones who become upset when facing problems. Successful people let go of problems quickly and don’t spend their time seeking comfort from others. They use problems and failures as learning experiences that helps them to learn what they have to do next. Successful people also look to the big picture of life and how it relates to developing their full personality. These people think and feel that if they are to develop their full potential, they have to learn to face life with all it’s problems, setback, and difficulties.
The reality is that most of the successful people in life have failed many times before. The difference is that they don’t give up. They learn to become comfortable with uncertainty, stress, problems, and risk. They are always looking for different ways of attacking the problem. Those who fail are always looking for ways to play it safe and not upset others or themselves. They seek comfort and the easy way out only to cause themselves more problems in the end.
These are the people who make quick decisions to feel better at the moment because they have never learned to have a future focus. Their quick decisions ultimately end up causing them more problems in the end. Quick decisions usually end up with the person having many fewer options later on and then wondering why this has happened to them. Many times this means that we end up deceiving ourselves over and over again.
Learning to tolerate the tough times knowing that one will get through them is critical to a healthy life. Take time to look at past upsets. See that you have gotten through them. Understand that your past quick reacting only made things more difficult for all concerned. Remember that you did survive and you will again if you learn to let go of trying to control everything so that you can be comfortable and have what you want right now.
Remember, have a focus on the future. Without plans to change your approach to life, you will find yourself lost without focus.
Why is Life Not Fair?
There’s an old story that goes like this: A man visits his doctor, complaining of pain when he raises his right arm. The doctor, looking inquisitive for a moment, responds with, “So don’t do that.” But is that fair?
It’s interesting to find that we actively resist what we consider isn’t fair. In fact, it’s something that plays out endless times every day across the globe:
- If we feel that someone has wronged us, it’s not fair.
- If we can’t do what other people take for granted, it’s not fair.
- If we want something that we can’t have but others have in abundance, it’s not fair.
Harold Kushner wrote about unfairness and suffering when his 14 year old son died from progeria (rapid aging). When unfair things happen, we have a right to be angry. It’s perfectly normal to be crushed by the overwhelming results of unfairness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a life threatening illness or if it’s something silly like someone cutting you off while driving: It feels unfair.
The catch is, if the fix is easier than the resulting feelings of anger and disappointment, what are we complaining about? The concept of fairness assumes one critical belief about the universe: That life is fair.
But what if it isn’t?
In that case, we have to assume that our expression of anger and frustration are instead signals for us to pay attention to. If our responses are self destructive, then who is really being unfair?
If our responses are fair, thought, it brings to mind the wise words of Alain De Botton (emphasis mine):
“Though anger seems a pessimistic response to a situation, it is at root a symptom of hope: the hope that the world can be better than it is. The man who shouts every time he loses his house keys is betraying a beautiful but rash faith in a universe in which keys never go astray. The woman who grows furious every time a politician breaks an election promise reveals a precariously utopian belief that elections do not involve deceit. The world shouldn’t eliminate angry responses; but it should help us to be angry for the right reasons, to the right degree, for the right length of time – and as part of a constructive project.”
Now, that understanding would make all the difference. In how we respond to life, whether fair or not.