Every time I hand out my name card, I get quizzical looks followed by an exclaimation, “Happiness Coach!” This is usually followed by, “Oh! I could do with some happiness.”
What really is happiness? And why does every one want it?
Webster's and Oxford dictionary describe the word happiness as a state of feeling great pleasure, and contentment. Someone who is happy is said to be favored by circumstances; is lucky; fortunate etc. Wikipedia defines Happiness as a state of mind or feeling such as contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. A variety of philosophical, religious, psychological and biological approaches have been taken to defining happiness and identifying its sources.
Philosophers and religious thinkers have often defined happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion The thesaurus uses words like pleasure; gratification; enjoyment; fruition, relish; zest; gusto; well being; joy; gladness; enchantment; rapture; ecstasy; heaven; honeymoon.
No wonder everyone wants to be happy.
I once sent out an email to my friends asking them to define happiness. I got some lovely responses, some rather simple and some extremely profound and insightful (too many to list here), but most said it was appreciating what we had, living in the present, showing gratitude and giving without expectation.
No one mentioned money, sex, good looks or food, but often during my chats on happiness I found that many equated happiness with extrinsic factors such as money, status, job, relationship, ideal body weight etc. Rather interesting isn't it? We all know or at least pretend to know what happiness is but when it comes down to really being happy we forget and run after all the things that only lead to momentary pleasure and not towards lasting happiness.
Let me attempt to define happiness as I see it. I have interviewed thousands on this subject and can say with some authority that “Happiness just IS”. It is not a byproduct of money, status, good looks, ideal partner or ideal body weight. All these surely help but do not necessarily ensure happiness. Happiness therefore is a way of being. According to Vedanta,( an Indian philosophy based on science and reason) our happiness depends upon peace of mind, peace of mind on self-control, and self-control on awareness of our true Self. So the search for happiness should be a search for the ‘true self’. I don’t mean to sound too profound and thereby make happiness such an esoteric term that we lose the simplicity of happiness.
Happiness is way of living. It is living a life of joy and meaning and it is entirely within us to find the path towards lasting happiness. Happiness is the ability to enjoy life unconditionally, along with the ups and downs of life. Seeing the beauty and joy in things is what makes for a happy life. Happiness is a choice and it is a skill. We are all born happy, but somewhere along the way we forget what happiness looks like and start relating happiness to want fulfillment.
So is it really possible to be happy most of the time? Yes it is, and we can start that today.
The simplest way to become happier is to find something to appreciate at this very moment. I would even encourage you to stop reading and find something right now that you can appreciate. It could be the beautiful day, uninterrupted time at the computer, a beautiful smile by your child or even a stranger, a hot cup of coffee, soft music or even smell from your kitchen. Anything that you can find to appreciate right at this moment. In the rare circumstance that you really cannot find anything to appreciate, appreciate the fact that you are breathing and pay attention to that breath. I guarantee you will feel better right away.
Next step towards instant happiness. Pick an alphabet and think of a positive word starting with that alphabet. Let’s say you picked D, now D could stand for Dream, Derive, Development, Declutter, Decide, Do etc. The next step would be to choose that word and try and think of using it in context all day. For example- if it is Dream, think of your most beautiful dream. Allow yourself to be carried away into dreamland, find ways of fulfilling that dream. Stay in that dream land for some time and then carry on with your daily activities. If the word you choose is Do, do everything with enthusiasm and hope. Give power and energy to the word Do and focus on doing things in a positive manner. You can make your own list of affirmative words and focus on that word for at least one whole day. Do this exercise for a minimum of 30 days. You can choose a different alphabet or the same alphabet for the 30 days.
The third thing to do is to move your body. If possible go in front of a mirror and look straight into your eyes and say to yourself you are beautiful and happy. Say it a few times till you actually believe it. It is not uncommon for people to find this exercise very difficult. It sounds easy, but years of repressed self love and appreciation leads to a self belief of inadequacy and self doubt that is so powerful that it almost impossible to look into your own eyes and say loving and kind words to yourself. How and why would you expect the world to love, and respect you if you can’t do it to yourself? I don’t mean to confuse self love with narcissism; self love is an expanding kind of all encompassing generosity towards self and others. According to Vedanta we are all one consciousness, therefore we can start with love and appreciation towards the self which is after all a part of the whole.
There are thousands of books and philosophies on happiness and each offers a route towards a fulfilling life. Find a path that gels with your thinking and adopt it. Do whatever it takes to develop the skill of happiness and as with any other skill the more you practice the better you get.
More to come, but as of now let’s start with the above three simple routes to happiness.