People have been chasing happiness for as long as mankind has been on Earth. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when the snake told Eve that she would be on the same level with God if she would just eat the forbidden apple. Eve obviously was under the impression that it would make her life better in some way. In essence it would make her happier to have complete knowledge. In the end her search for happiness simply revealed to her that she was naked and got her kicked out of Paradise for all time. One wonders why she wasn’t already happy, living in a beautiful garden with all her necessities provided for her without even having to work for them.Pleasure Versus Happiness
Mired in Misery
That was just the beginning. Down through time people have spent countless fortunes and thrown away marriages, families, homes and reputations all in the name of trying to find happiness. Cave men knocked each other over the head with clubs so they could take another man’s woman, his dinosaur, or his cave. In the Wild West, men would stage shoot-outs over something minor, and then ride off into the sunset with the wife of the man they had shot. Nowadays, men and women hire hit people to do away with their spouse or the spouse of the object of their illicit affections, because they think they would be happier with someone else. Millions of people lose the best things they will ever have all because they get the notion that they are not happy. They are fooled into thinking that someone else or some other situation will make them happier than what they already have.
You Can’t Buy Happiness
Countless people pay therapists truckloads of money because they believe that they can tell them how to find happiness. Divorce lawyers are able to live in luxury because so many people believe that the key to finding happiness may lie in finding a new spouse, or perhaps living the single life. Bankruptcy courts, credit card companies, finance companies, and mortgage companies continue to grow, in part because people believe that the key to happiness is having a magnificent home or fine furniture, clothing, and cars. Too many women believe that if they could just get that diamond necklace or ring to show off to their friends, then they would be happy. That fur coat, which would be the envy of all the girls, would surely make her life complete. Those same women may be married to men who are working ninety hours per week in order to maintain the type of lifestyle which affords for them their brand of happiness. Perhaps they, themselves, work long hours in order to help keep up the pretense of opulence in their lives. For too many people, things never seem to satisfy the thirst that they identify as the absence of happiness.
What is happiness, and why is it so elusive for so many people? Why is it that millions of people spend multi-millions of dollars trying to find something that doesn’t have to cost a cent, and may be right under their noses? Why do scores of people have to look so hard to try and find something that other people seem to possess naturally? What do happy people know that others don’t? Are you among the millions of people who wish they could feel happy again? Have you forgotten exactly what happy feels like? There are some basic things that you can do to introduce happiness into your life again. If you will begin to practice these basic things until they become habits, you will see a remarkable difference in the way you perceive your life.
Excessively Seeking Pleasure Destroys Happiness
Culturally we have confused the difference between pleasure and happiness, with profound negative impacts.
The extremes of pleasure lead to addiction.
Pleasure is driven by dopamine.
Happiness is driven by serotonin.
Dopamine down-regulates serotonin. Thus the more pleasure you seek the unhappier you become.
Define Your Happiness
Take some time to take stock of your life as it is. Figure out why it is that you think you may not be happy. As crazy as this may sound, sit down and make a list. Write down the things in your life that you think may be prohibitive to your concept of happiness. Is it your job that you don’t like? Do your in-laws make you crazy? Does your spouse do a million things on a daily basis that you don’t think you can stand much longer? Have you looked in the mirror and found yourself to be a perfect specimen of human kind, and deserving of much better than what you have? If so, it may be time for you to don your grown-up panties and admit that you may be your biggest problem. A biggie for most people is to admit that fairy tale lives exist only in fairy tales, which exist only in story books. The rest of the story is that real life is better than fairy tales. There is profound satisfaction in dealing with day-to-day issues and normal people. You will be at your most free point in life when you fully realize that you are not perfect and that life is not going to be perfect for you, but it can still be soul-stirringly satisfying.
Now, let’s get back to the list. On the other side of the page, list everything you can think of in life that brings you pleasure and the things that used to bring you pleasure, but don’t anymore. Figure out why they don’t. Have you stopped doing them? If so, try doing them again. Give your inner child another chance to play.
After you have completed your list, take a moment to study it. Ask yourself again what it is in your life that makes you feel unhappy. Consider whether your feelings may be situational. This means that there may be a situation, perhaps temporary, which is causing you angst. Remember that the key word here is temporary. In this case, there is a good chance that your negative feelings will be temporary too. Consider changing those things that cause you unhappiness only if the changes would not hurt other people. You should be very slow to make major changes in your life if they will negatively affect other people. Making someone else unhappy almost never makes you happy in the long run.
One of the most basic common traits of a happy person is thankfulness. This is an excellent starting point for anyone who wishes to feel happier almost instantly. Every person has some things for which he or she can feel thankful. It is true that in some situations you may have to dig deep to find things to include on your thankful list, but they are there. The old adage about counting your blessings has remained good advice through the years for a reason. It works. Start with the very basics. If you were able to get out of bed this morning, be thankful. If you weren’t able to get up, but had someone to help you, be thankful. Do you have a healthy family who has a home in which to live? Be thankful. Never mind that this same family may drive you crazy on a daily basis. At least you have a family who most likely loves you. If you have food to feed that family and your other basic daily needs are met, you are blessed. If you have a job to help pay your bills, you are better off than so many others. By now, surely you are getting the idea of how to be thankful. Don’t start with being thankful for the new car or new house. Those are the gravy on life. When you are making your thankful list, begin with those things that you would choose to save first if you were faced with losing most of the stuff of life.
You would be very thankful for your family if you stop to think for a minute how it would feel to lose them. One therapist actually suggests for those who can’t feel excited about their life to play a kind of game. Pretend for one minute that you have lost everything you have, including your family. Try to imagine the devastation you would feel in your very soul. Then imagine the unspeakable joy you would feel if you suddenly found out that it was a mistake and you had it all back. The therapist advises to concentrate on that feeling and hold onto it every day. You will find that your most basic blessings are your greatest ones. Pretty soon you will find that the gravy will matter less, and the basic meal will be your mainstay.
It has been said that a day hemmed in prayer is less likely to unravel. If you aren’t already praying daily, it can be the most helpful habit you will ever form. Thank God for your blessings and ask Him to help you find your true happiness again. You will realize a change in your thinking as you come to depend on the Lord.
Notice the Small Stuff
Have you ever noticed the way that a child will examine everything in nature very closely? This is a habit that most adults have grown out of, but which is a highly helpful one to re-establish. Take a minute from your busy day to look around you. Make sure you notice the sunset, the moon rising, and stars twinkling. Get up a few minutes early and watch the sun rise. When was the last time you actually smelled a rose, or any other kind of flower? You don’t know what you are missing. Meditate for a few minutes on the splendor of these miracles, and realize that your problems are actually very minor in the scheme of things. Breathe in the fresh air and feel it going into and out of your lungs. You will find yourself feeling much more lighthearted almost instantly.
Positive thinking is a close relative of thankfulness. Remind yourself as often as you can how blessed you are. Tell yourself and others that things are going to turn out okay. Even if you are only giving lip service in the beginning, say it anyway. Continue to repeat this over and over to yourself until you begin to feel it. Some say you can fake it until you make it. That means to act like you believe it even if you don’t, and soon you will believe it. It’s like playing football and running for a touchdown with the ball. There may be four giants from the other team in the way, but you would keep on running and trying to get to the goal. That is the way we should live life. Yes, there may be giant problems, but keep on going anyway. Tell yourself that you are going to make it. Many preachers will tell you that you should speak of those situations in your life as though they were already what you want them to be. That is excellent advice. Medical professionals agree that positive thinking is vitally important for our health. Staying positive lends exponentially to helping our bodies operate at their maximum potential. All these things are not just coincidence. There is really a magnificent benefit to positive thinking.
This could be the flip side to positive thinking. Don’t spend any of your precious time thinking about all the things that could go wrong in your life. It has been said that worry is like paying interest on money you didn’t even borrow. It is a sad waste of time to sit down and ask yourself if you are truly happy. Many times your psyche can be influenced in its thinking simply by introducing negative thoughts into it. Think about putting salt into something that is supposed to taste sweet. It taints the taste of the food. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to tell yourself that you are happy as to ask yourself if you are? Sometimes less really is more. In this case, less negative is more positive. Don’t pick apart your life until you find something wrong with it. Refrain from turning over every rock. Therapists who make their living from your troubles probably would really like it if you looked for every negative in your life and tended it until it was grown, but truly happy people know that some rocks are better left unturned.
Select Your Friends Carefully
It is possible that the source of your discontent isn’t coming from inside your own life. Do you spend time with people who make you uncomfortable? Sometimes this is unavoidable, as in a job atmosphere. We all have people at work on whom we must turn a deaf ear, in order to avoid murder and mayhem. With those who would purposely try to intimidate you, be professional and don’t let them endanger your job. Take the high road.
It is your so-called friends who can really impede your happiness if you let them. If you have a friend who tries to make himself or herself feel better by pointing out your faults to you on a regular basis, cut them loose immediately. They are not your friends. They are using you to feel better about themselves in a way that is not okay. Your time is too important to waste it on people who purposely try to bring you down. Try to stay away from chronically negative people. If you are already feeling less than happy, you don’t need help to be that way. Spend time with happy, upbeat people. It will rub off on you.
In these days when it is very popular to look out for number one, this may sound like corny, or even dangerous, advice. If you have helped someone before, you already know the high you get from doing so. If you have never been in a position to help someone else, you are missing out on an excellent happiness booster. It is sad to say, but it is a sure thing that you have to be selective to a point about whom you help. There is a scam on every corner. Helping someone can be as simple as carrying groceries for your elderly neighbor. Next time you are going to the store, call that neighbor and see if they need anything. Or just call them once in a while to check and see that they are okay. You may see a co-worker who seems to be having a particularly bad day. Take a minute and ask if she wants to talk. Perhaps someone needs help that you could give them on a work project. Think of it as time invested in you as well as in them. By helping someone else, you are investing in your happiness quotient. Remember that it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be considered help, and to make you feel better.
Every medical and psychological professional highly recommends exercise as a happiness booster. Studies show that exercise raises levels of endorphins, which are the happiness hormones. Whether it is doing housework, working in the yard, or working out in the gym, exercise is a great benefit physically and mentally.
You can be the best friend, neighbor, husband, wife, or parent there ever was. But if you are not your own friend, you will not feel happy and complete in your life. Before you can truly love others and love your life, you must love yourself. If there are things about you that you don’t admire, what can you do to change them? Don’t equate loving yourself to loving your physical body. Most people, especially women, do not love something about their bodies. It is our heart and soul that we should be concerned with accepting and admiring. Take a look at yourself inwardly. Examine your attitudes. Are you someone that you would like to have as a friend if you were not you? If you detect things inside that you don’t admire, think about what steps you can take to change those undesirable attributes. However, don’t be more critical of yourself than you would be of someone else. You are the one who will be with you for all of your life, no matter what. It is vitally important that you like yourself.
Forget About the Joneses
Don’t give in to the temptation to measure your happiness by what you have in comparison with what other people have. No one else is living your life. An important thing to remember about the Joneses is that you may not know what is going on behind their closed doors. Years of living will reveal to you that everyone you will ever see has their own set of problems. Do they live in a mansion that you wish was yours? Do you also wish that you had the gigantic mortgage which they probably have? Be very careful when admiring the Joneses, that you realize that whatever you admire about their life may not be exactly what it seems. All you know is what they choose to let you see. What you do not see may be even more disillusioning than anything you have going on in your life.
It is vitally important to maintain a healthy perspective on your life, before you declare yourself to be unhappy. Consider whether your feelings may be due to a hardship in your life which will turn around at some point. If this is the case, hold on and draw strength from knowing that your life will get easier again, and know that you can make it through the rough patch.
One final but priceless pointer as you search for happiness is to know your limitations. If you are truly sad, do not be afraid to reach out for help from trusted friends or even professionals. Only you can make the decision of when to reach out and seek help beyond that which you can give yourself. Life is too short not to take advantage of every viable and positive resource as you seek to find happiness.