“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”-Eric Hoffer.
If there is one thing most people have in common, it is the desire to be happy. The desire for happiness is so common that they include it in the preamble to the American declaration of independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately, as Hoffer notes, the “pursuit of happiness” can cause more problems than it solves. Happiness is elusive for so many because people measure it by externals. The marketing machine tries to convince us we’ll be happier if we are driving this car, wearing these clothes, living in this house, have this hot new thing, look this way, or by how many likes and followers we have. These are external temporary fixes that quickly wear off, and the pursuit begins again.
When we learn that happiness is a mental state rather than something we pursue through temporary external experiences, we will experience the true essence of happiness. There are three conditions I think need to be present in one’s life to arrive at that mental state.
There are few things as depressing and demoralizing as a sense of helplessness. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to cultivate a mental state of happiness when you feel you have no control over the direction of your life. A sense of helplessness can quickly deteriorate to hopelessness, and at that point, any idea of happiness becomes an illusion. Having some level of autonomy or what psychology refers to as “locus of control” is an important piece to the mental state of happiness. While there are things that happen that are out of your control, autonomy begins with recognizing that our response to what happens, and the meaning we assign to it are completely in our control.
We have autonomy over our attitude, how we treat ourselves and others, and to choose optimism over pessimism; to name a few. We can strive to get as much autonomy over as many areas of our lives as possible, but we can start with these few things right now.
An age-old question of humankind is: what is the meaning of life? There is no magic answer to this question that will satisfy everyone, but one thing is for sure: a life without meaning is a life without happiness. An acceptable place to start with meaning is the idea that we are all here to be the highest expression of ourselves as possible. Few people would argue with that. Striving to be a better person each day is a great place to define what life means for each of us. Another way to build on finding meaning is being of service to others. Giving of ourselves can bring just as much joy and happiness to our lives as the person on the receiving end. Find a cause to volunteer your time, talents, and/or treasure to and the happiness one feels by doing so will be the result. Knowing that you’ve made a positive difference in the life of another; what has greater meaning than that?
Regarding relationships, the great Walt Disney once said:
“There is great comfort and inspiration in the feeling of close human relationships and its bearing on our mutual fortunes – a powerful force, to overcome the ‘tough breaks’ which are certain to come to most of us from time to time,”-Walt Disney.
Quality relationships are the third factor to experiencing true happiness. It pertains to both professional and personal relationships. Establishing positive working relationships with customers and co-workers goes a long way in maintaining a peaceful and productive professional life. This results in minimizing or eliminating stress in the workplace and supports peace of mind. Spending quality time with friends and family is also essential to cultivating happiness. Few things add to the state of happiness than loving and being loved. It is a joy to get with people who love and care for you just for who you are, and where you can relax, unwind and be yourself. If you have people in your life to share your victories, defeats, joys and sorrows with, count your blessings. If you are lucky enough to have this in your life, happiness will be a common experience.
When autonomy, meaning, and quality relationships are present we do not have to pursue happiness. If you are going to pursue anything, pursue autonomy to the greatest extent possible. Get involved in something that provides a sense of meaning and purpose in life and develop quality relationships. When these three elements are present, true happiness will be your common experience.