I remember the moment quite vividly. Loaded up in a 15-seat passanger van, my 8 other siblings, parents, and I made our way through the Appalation hills to our annual vacation at Virginia Beach. Admist the crying, punching, singing, and name calling, some of the older siblings were in deep conversation about if they could have anything in the world they wanted–just one wish–what would it be? A fascinating question to ask a 10 year old.
My brother Mark’s response stood out the most to me: “happiness,” he answered, “because if you were always happy things like money, power, or the ability to turn invisible wouldn’t matter.” His response perplexed me. It’s the earliest memory I have of trying to grasp a concept of what happiness is, and weighing it’s value against other coveted virtues.
How Happiness is Often Perceived
We often externalize a trait that is internally derived. It is quite common to get trapped in the mindset of associating happiness with some future orientation.
I’ll be happy when I get such-and-such promotion, I’ll be happy when I land that gig, I’ll be happy when I get this type of girlfriend, I’ll be happy when I get my dream job, my dream car, etc etc. And that finish line then becomes feverishly fantisized. We chase and chase to climax at that pinnacle apex moment. Then I’ll be happy.
What This Is Not Saying
Happiness is not the lack of “negative emotions” and saying that they should be avoided. It would be foolish and strange to imagine a society where everyone walked around bug eyed with big toothy grins all the time.
Being happy all the time would dillute the feeling of what it means to be happy. You’re going to be angry, sad, or depressed at times. Rather than trying to flip a switch and saying to yourself, “ok, I am going to be happy now” fully embrace those emotions. They are a natural part of what it means to be human. Be thankful for them; without them a notion of happiness wouldn’t really make much sense.
Happiness doesn’t provide any contextual meaning if you are always happy. By being aware of what it feels like to be sad and depressed, it makes those moments of glory that much more prominent.
The ironic part is that often times fully embrassing and accepting those moments of sadness leads to happiness with the knowing that you can have those types of feelings. There is a certain poetic nature to it.
What This Is Saying
My attept with this blog post is not to try and convince you to just shut-up and be happy all the time. You simply can’t, nor would you want to. You’re going to have those moments of indescribable inspiration and pure elation when you feel like you can tackle any problem in the world, and then ride off into a golden sunset. Other times, you want to just curl up and lie in bed all day. That’s fine; that’s perfectly normal and again, what it means to be human.
Instead, think of it as raising your equilibrium point. Most people have a level of where they commonly reside. My goal is to raise this point where you spend most of your time at. There are a lot of well documented and scientifically verified ways of doing this. 3 stand out in particular to me.
It has been demonstrated study after study the benefits of meditation (you can read about some of the effects in my blog post here). Even just 10 minutes a day show drastic change in the brain and it’s ability to cope with stress, yet few of us make an effort to do it. As the video above discussed, stop obsessing over some future career, job, or house and take some time to enjoy where you are at. Listen and take note to the various noises around you; the clothes resting on your back; the pressure of your feet against the floor; the extra burden and weight carried in your shoulders.
Compartamentalize your life into 24 hour periods. Being present focused 100% of the time is tough. I don’t pretend to be an expert at it. What helps me is focusing on strictly what I am doing today, and today only. Don’t worry about tomorrow or what you’ll be doing in 5 years! It doesn’t matter right now and will probably change anyways. Focus on how you can make the most of today, so that at the end of the day before going to bed, you can look yourself in the mirror and say I got a little bit better today.
It blows my mind the number of excuses people come up with for not spending at least 30 minutes a day exercising. Exercise leads to increase cognitive function, better sex life, elevated mood, higher self-confidence, less stress, better nights rest, and improved health conditions. All for less than 3% of your total day by exercising 30 minutes. I can hardly think of a better trade off.
The last one, in my opinion, has the biggest effect on improving your equilibrium state of happiness. There are a lot of things in life that we are thankful in life, but do not express it enough or acknowledge the person responsible. How much money would it take for you to amputate your legs? To lose your eye sight and go blind? What about in relationships. How much would it cost for you to lose your brother or not be able to talk to your mom anymore?
We have all these things of innumerable value all around us, yet hardly are they recognized for their true worth. Take the time to acknowledge the every day things around you. Write out three things you are thankful for before going to bed. Better yet, express to the people and relationships in your life what they really mean.
Is this some “stop-the-press” radical concept or new theory that I just now developed? No, certainly not. This is a message that has been written a thousand different ways, translated across hundreds of different languages, and told over again and again for centuries. But still, it’s nice to have a little reminder every now and then.