Judging by the number of ‘How to be Happy’ books published over the last decade, everyone must be looking for it. I, too, once wrote about finding happiness not too long ago. Since then, my perspective on this has somewhat evolved, and refined.
The thing is, happiness is not the point. If you are going to be fixated at being happy, then you’re not going to be happy. The irony is that happiness is not the end or destination. It is the fruit or effects of on-going life experiences.
You see, sometimes we get this wrong. We think happiness is the goal itself. We think we can buy something and be happy, or achieve somewhere to be happy. But really, we can’t buy happiness just as we can’t achieve happiness. Happiness flows out from the process, the journey.
Happiness is not having a Porsche. It’s working to afford one, and then enjoy driving the perfectly balanced, precise and fast car. Happiness is not that promotion. It is your capability recognised, and then contributing positively in your new position.
Happiness is the wrong thing to focus on. It is the wrong question to ask. The word ‘happy’ is overused. Its meaning is too broad to be meaningful. If you want to be happy, focus on positivity instead. Be mindful and grateful first for all the blessings (big or small) and opportunities life has presented to you.
You don’t have to and should not wait for life to be perfect or your dreams to be fulfilled. Happiness is found in your pursuit of a better life. It is there when you work towards your dreams.
Happiness does not come from tomorrow. It comes from today. It is all too common for us to succumb to the ‘arrival fallacy’. “I will be happy when I lose 10kg.”; “I will be happy when I get that promotion”. We think that we will only be happy when the desire of our hearts materialises.
When we pin our hopes on the future, we miss the good stuff that is part of the journey. Living in the future may bring us misery or cause us disappointments instead of happiness. When we keep looking at what is missing in our lives, it is hard to be mindful of what is going well.
Happiness is a learned behaviour. That explains why some people are happier than others. We may have little control over our genetic predispositions and some life circumstances are beyond our control. But we have the power to manage our behaviours and change our mindsets and even attitudes. With proactive actions, a happier life is always within reach.
We need to then think of happiness as a skill, just as how we would learn to play the guitar or golf. There is no specific end point in our guitar or golf journey towards mastery. We play because we enjoy it and it brings us satisfaction. Happiness is in the process. You work on it just as you would to develop your skill at guitar and golf.
Sometimes we confused pleasure with happiness as well. There is this quote by the late George Sheehan, an American physician, senior athlete, and author, that explains best the difference between the two:
“Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness is something to do with struggling, enduring, and accomplishing.”
That explains why running a marathon makes us happier than indulging in our favourite dessert. Raising a child makes us more fulfilled than watching all 10 seasons of television sitcom Friends.
Needless to say running a marathon is hard and raising a child is harder. The journey can be exceedingly unpleasant and require a lot of effort. There will be pain, anger and even despair. Yet, when you look back, these will be some of the most meaningful moments of your life. Remember, happiness has to do with struggling, enduring and then accomplishing.
And this is the reason why trying to be happy will inevitably make you unhappy. You cannot pursue happiness. Happiness occurs when you decide to pursue what’s in you instead.
Life does not give you happiness just as cow does not give you milk. You have to get up at five in the morning, walk to the barn, hobble the legs of the cow, sit on the stool, place the bucket and do the hard work yourself.
That is the way it is. The cow does not give you milk automatically. You milk her or you don’t get the milk. The most important lesson here is the things that one receives are the effort of what one does. Lack of effort creates frustration. Happiness is the result of your effort.
I know by now you must be asking but how? And what can we do to be happy? The short answer is to stop trying to be happy. Instead, do the following:
1. Engage in meaningful activities
2. Build strong relationships
3. Practise gratitude
Do these correctly and consistently, in time, happiness will take care of itself.