We all want to be happy. In my work, nine times out of ten when I ask a coaching client that fundamental question – what do you want, their answer is ‘to be happy.’ When I enquire as to what that would involve, I’m usually met with a blank stare.
If we are looking for more of anything, including happiness, it makes sense to ponder what happiness means or represents to us. How do you know when you are happy? How will you know when you have enhanced your levels of happiness?
I came across some beautiful definitions of happiness recently in a small book titled ‘The Majesty of Calmness’ by William George Jordan.
Happiness is –
Whilst poetic, these definitions still feel elusive. Happiness often appears difficult to pin down. Perhaps that’s why it’s not happiness but the ‘pursuit of happiness’ that is referenced in the US Declaration of Independence (Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness.)
Deep down I think we know the secret to happiness. When asked – what do you want, we respond with ‘I want to be happy.’ The word ‘be’ is key. You can’t do happiness. We are human beings and not human doings. With ‘doing’ we put in effort, we can strive towards a goal. ‘Being’ is an internal quality. Perhaps this is why we see some people who are inherently happy, or can find moments of happiness even in the most challenging situations. We also know people with all the trappings of success but who are far from happy.
Happiness is not something that can be planned or organised, you can only be happy in the present moment. We can scan our memory banks and recall times in the past when we were happy as a way to connect with the feeling in the present, but that’s more nostalgia, a facsimile of happiness. We can also think about future situations where the odds of us being happy are high, like a party or a wedding, but that’s more excitement than happiness. True happiness is only available in the present moment.
Happiness has several understudies, words we use as synonyms but that are subtly different.
For example, pleasure. Pleasure is satisfaction of the body, whereas happiness is satisfaction of the soul. As William George Jordan puts it – ‘pleasure is a note, happiness is a symphony.’
Satisfaction is another understudy to happiness. This term is often used in a career context. Satisfaction is when our expectations are matched by reality, where what we have matches what we wanted. As humans, we are hot-wired to grow and evolve, so when our current desires are met, they are replaced by new ones. You can be satisfied after a meal, but a few hours later you will be hungry again.
Then there is the word content. Content for me includes an element of peace, but I also equate it with the word ‘fine.’ It contains a hint of ‘making do.’ Content is synonymous with staying within your comfort zone. I can be content with what I have wrapped around a sense of appreciation and gratitude. I can also be content with progress I’m making in the direction I wish to travel. But content is not the destination.
Then there is joy. The best definition of joy I’ve come across is being at ‘peace with who you are, where you are, how you are and why you are.’ It is a state of being. Interestingly, the Bible uses the words happy and happiness about 30 times, whilst joy and rejoice appear over 300 times.
The first step is to simply make the decision that you intend to be happy or happier. You make the commitment to you own levels of happiness and well-being. Now this can bring up issues around worthiness – do you feel you deserve to be happy?
When I think of happiness I think of a butterfly, they are difficult to catch but if you are still one may land on you. We can work on creating the space and getting into the state to be open and receptive to happiness. Ease, peace and calmness are stepping stones in the right direction. A sense of optimism and openness also helps in raising our happiness quotient. I like the Robin Sharma quote ‘let organisation and planning be the springboard, let fun and spontaneity be the splash.’
Happiness is not compatible with worry, stress or struggle. Cutting out the nagging, the gossip and the incessant negative news is often the quickest way to boost our levels of happiness.
Research has found that whilst we will have different recipes for happiness, a common ingredient is a constant and unchangeable element of love. Love for a person, a place, an activity or a cause. In short, the love of something outside ourselves. It might include being of service to others (but not being servile) or it might simply be connecting with a generosity of spirit, or performing acts of kindness in an instinctive and unconscious way. Unhappiness is the hunger to get, happiness is the hunger to give.
We’ve all heard of the phrase fake it until you make it, but how about fake it until you feel it. Happiness is a state of being, a quality that radiates from within. We have to know what happiness is, to know when it’s absent. If happiness starts by making the decision to be happy, can we fake it until we begin to feel it? It’s worth giving it a go.
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