In my experience, happiness is a decision we make; it is not derived from an event, nor is it dependent on somebody else. Happiness is not a stroke of luck. Too many people say, ‘I’d be happy if I had a boyfriend,’ or, ‘I’ll be happy when I make partner.’ When I hear this, I get a bad feeling about their chances of happiness. It’s perfectly legitimate to want to be in a loving relationship or to make partner, but pinning our happiness on something that has yet to come to pass is a sure-fire way to miss the happiness available to us in the here and now.
Money isn’t the answer
A huge amount of research has been carried out into what makes people happy. One of the inescapable conclusions is that the answer isn’t money. Being poor makes people very miserable but more money only makes them happier until they have just a bit more than the average income for their country. After that, there’s no correlation between more cash and more happiness. Much more reliable indicators are the strength of a person’s links to friends or family and their ability to focus on the positive rather than the negative elements of their situation.
Success comes after happiness
Positive psychology has demonstrated that we can learn the happiness habits, chief of which is flipping our belief that being successful will make us happy. In fact the opposite is true. You are much more likely to be successful (however you define it) if and when you are happy.
What is happiness?
Despite the mountain of wonderful books that have been published on how to be happy, there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about happiness. Many people associate it with the euphoria of falling in love or getting a new job. Or they think of it as something a bit more modest but still connected to an external activity: a night out with old friends, say.
We often assume that happiness is the preserve of extroverts who always have exciting weekend plans, or it’s a by-product of having kids or being able to buy a new dress every week. It’s contingent on others, external events, and the acquisition of ‘stuff’.
The problem is this makes happiness incompatible with the bulk of our experiences, which are not that high-octane. Some of them are downright unpleasant, dull, sad or painful. It also puts us in a position of powerlessness, just waiting for something or someone to come and light up our lives.
I think that’s a terrible idea.
Finding our own happiness
We will never live a life of sizzling success unless we make a deep emotional commitment to creating our own happiness, every day, no matter what’s going on in our lives.
That doesn’t mean faking positivity. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be cheerful in the face of financial crisis or a deep disappointment, much less the death of someone who was dear to us.
A better approach is to seek out the lesson in the challenge we’re facing or, if we have suffered a loss, to grieve it with all of our heart and soul.
Setbacks do not rob us of our happiness unless we are stuck with the definition of happiness as a hedonistic whirl or constant success. Unhappiness is not the enemy, so long as we know how to face it, learn from it, process it, and then leave it behind.
Get the happiness habit
I practice choosing happiness every day. The first thing I do after I’ve woken at 5.30am, washed and dressed, is go for a brisk power walk. I look for things that will boost my sense of peaceful joy in the world. This is a quiet kind of happiness that is always available to us. And it doesn’t depend on anything fabulous happening, or on anyone else. Happiness is my decision, and that puts me in control.
In life, bad things happen. Hard thing happen. And to everyone! But if we can accept that fact and continue to search for meaning during those moments in time, if we can maintain our sense that however low we may go, we will come back up, then we give ourselves a much better chance of coming through sadness, disappointment and grief, and living with peaceful, calm happiness as a constant state.
Personally, I like living like that. Plus it puts me in control of my life, and I like that even more!
Action: What are your thoughts on happiness as a decision and as a constant state? I’d love to hear them. How about sharing your views below?