“It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.” ~Denis Waitley
You want it. You seek it. You wonder about it.
You’re constantly reminded that you are living in one of the greatest times ever.
Violence is lower than ever before in human history.
The quality of life we experience in Western countries is higher than it’s ever been.
And you’re bombarded with advice, tips, and tricks on how to construct your diet for optimal physical health, with minimal time and effort.
However, you can’t help but wonder: Are any of these things actually contributing to your experience of personal happiness? Or are they just making the world run faster?
As an avid student of happiness, I struggled with this as well. In my research, I’ve discovered five timeless principles that lead to a happy life.
How many of the following statements are true for you?
1. You have a clear definition of happiness.
You would never pursue a career goal that was as subjective as just more growth, nor would you want your child to grow up to be just a good citizen. So why would you have a personal goal of simply being happier?
Happier can mean so many things to so many people.
We all know what happiness feels like, but do you know what specifically contributes to your happiness? You must clarify what happiness truly looks like for you.
For example, my friends are often surprised that I don’t want anybody to give me presents.
I simply do not enjoy owning objects. They decrease my happiness, not add to it. The more you own, the more things you have to manage. I would rather spend time meeting friends for a coffee than fixing my broken smartwatch.
Of course, when I get gifts, I do not express negativity; I accept them with gratitude, but I definitely do not encourage them.
How about you?
Do you prefer to be doing physical exercise rather than indoor activities?
Do you prefer to spend time doing group activities rather than solo activities?
You are a unique individual, unlike all others. What are your preferences?
Clarity here can change your life.
2. You regard happiness as a choice.
Many people believe that happiness is predetermined—that we are born with a happiness set point that never changes, and that no matter what we do, have, think, become, or create, we cannot affect our inherent levels of happiness.
But those who understand that happiness is a choice see that this simply is not true.
Two experiments were conducted to see the effect that simply “trying to be happier” has on our happiness.
In one of the experiments, two groups of people were given happy music to listen to, and one of the groups were instructed to make it their intention to feel happier.
Even though both groups were listening to positive music, the group who made a concerted effort to emotionally benefit from the music experienced significantly increased positive moods afterward.
As the researcher stated:
“[Our] results suggest that without trying, individuals may not experience higher positive changes in their well-being… thus, practitioners and individuals interested in happiness interventions might consider the motivational mindset as an important facet of improving well-being.”
3. You practice happiness as a skill.
Building on the previous point, we not only must decide that happiness is a goal we will focus on, but we must also regard it as a skill to master.
I can’t fathom how anyone wouldn’t pursue a mastery of happiness.
We spend our whole lives practicing and learning a wide variety of things, completely disregarding the most important aspect of life, our own well-being.
Instead of reading the newspaper or latest celebrity news and becoming an expert on people who you don’t know, why not read a book on philosophy, psychology, or personal development?
Instead of watching TV and becoming an expert on sitcoms and talk shows, why not watch an interview online about how to pursue your passions, deal with stress, or develop inner peace with meditation?
If you are going to spend your time developing a skill set in something, why not develop the skill of happiness?
4. You welcome unhappiness.
Of course, we must address the inevitable cycles of life: we all go through times of distress, sadness, and confusion, and they’re valuable parts of our journey.
For us to even have the experience of happiness, we must know what unhappiness feels like, just as we would never know what the warmth of the sun feels like unless we had experienced the winter chills.
Let tough times be. Acknowledge them. Feel them. Put no timeframe on remorse, disappointment, or sadness.
Know that tough times are a required part of the cycle, and when you come back stronger, wiser, and more determined, you’ll be happier than ever.
5. You choose to create happiness now as opposed to making it a future goal.
While making an effort to be happier in the present (which works, as noted in number two above), you must ensure you’re not obsessed with happiness and making it your future goal (which does not work).
Why does making happiness a future goal reduce our happiness?
The reason is simple: happiness is an emotional state. Therefore, it varies and fluctuates with time, as do all emotions.
Also, an obsession with happiness can prevent us from going out in the world and helping others, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying our present surroundings.
There was a time when I was unemployed, my health was suffering, and I had lost touch with close friends.
What saddened me more than these life events, however, was my internal dialogue. I consistently thought, “This is not what life is meant to be like” and hoped the future would be brighter.
I came to realize that it was my mental commentary on how unhappy I was that made me so unhappy.
As I let go of my mental image of “how life should be,” I gained clarity regarding my situation, and I started to appreciate what I still had.
I then decided to spend more time outdoors in nature, give to charity (where possible), and spend more time with family and friends.
I realized that I was so obsessed with pursuing happiness in the future that I was completely oblivious to how I could live happily in the present, irrespective of personal circumstances.
As I began to think more clearly, with less negative self-talk, I was able to act with more confidence and eventually turn my situation around, while living with more peace and happiness.
True happiness comes from practicing habits that increase our positive emotions and fulfillment in the here and now, pursuing meaningful activities today, and never worrying about “auditing” ourselves for the attainment of a specific happiness-goal in the future.
When we know what happiness means to us individually, we’re able to better ourselves so we can, in turn, inspire others to pursue their own journey. This also gives us the energy to better the world we live in, and allows us to enjoy this gift we’ve been given called life.
So spend today focusing your thoughts and efforts toward worthy goals. Become wiser as each day goes past, give kindly to others, and know that happiness is your right and your path, but not your future goal. Happiness is available to us all now.
Happiness image via Shutterstock