“If you want to be happy for the rest of your life…”
It’s the first line of a song sung by Jimmy Soul, released in 1963. It’s also something that most of my clients (and in fact most people I know) talk about. Here’s what I often hear:
• “Sometimes I’m happy, but I just can’t seem to hold onto that feeling.
• “I thought that would make me happy. I wonder why it doesn’t?”
• “Can I can be happy and successful?
• “Happiness eludes me.”
• “Nothing makes me happy.”
• “I’ve given up on being happy.”
When I searched for “books about happiness” on Amazon, there were twenty pages of books listed. Clearly, lots of folks have opinions about this topic and have offered many solutions. There are organizations whose missions are focused towards the pursuit of happiness, there’s scads of research about what makes people happy, and tools for measuring happiness.
So why is happiness still so elusive?
What I’ve discovered when my clients say they’re not happy, is that they can’t answer the simple question, “So what makes you happy?” And here’s what else I know for sure: what makes me happy is bound to be different than what makes you happy.
Here’s my point: happiness may continue to seem slippery and fleeting until you create a personal definition of happiness. Without a framework upon which to assess your happiness, you can never know if you’re actually happy. What if the pursuit of happiness was not so complex?
Maybe it’s just a matter of figuring out what happiness really means to you.
The following are some ideas on how to do it:
- Try asking yourself this question: if my best friend were a fly on the wall and watching me “be happy,” what would they see me doing? Be very literal: “they’d see me playing soccer with my friends every Sunday; they’d see me playing with my daughter at the park; they’d see me on the couch reading a book.” As you get more specific with your answers, you’re essentially creating your “personal game-plan” for happiness.
- Play the “notice game.” As you’re going through the week, notice when you’re feeling content, satisfied and serene. Then pause for a minute to notice and appreciate what you’re doing. Where are you? Who are you with? What happened earlier in the day? Then notice if any patterns occur. If you discover that you feel grounded, calm and centered every time you walk your dog, then put that on your “happiness list.”
- Imagine that you’re at your 90th birthday party and each of your friends talks about what they love about you. What do you hope they’d be saying? Chances are that your answer to this question is list of all the things you aspire to do in your life, i.e. things that make you happy.
- Think about your perfect day. How does it start? Where are you? What activity does every day include? What are doing in the morning? Mid-day? Evening? What are you eating? How are you feeling? What makes your work feel right? What’s your living space look like? What’s the weather? Are you alone or with other people? How are you making a difference? This exercise will highlight what’s most important to you: You will be choosing the things that make you happy.
Once you’ve got a working idea of what happiness really means to you, you’ll want to take action.
- Choose one thing from your list that you believe you’re most likely to start doing.
- Think about the smallest step you can take to bring that one new thing in your life. I like to ask myself “What can I do to move 1% closer to making that one thing happen?”
- Create a “reasonable plan.” If you’ve discovered that working in the garden is something that makes you feel content, start by doing that once a week for an hour. Don’t commit yourself to a daily schedule that doesn’t take into account all your other responsibilities.
- Set yourself up for success by having all the “tools” you need to engage in your favorite activity. If it’s gardening, make sure you have a trough! If it’s reading, be sure to have a book on your nightstand or downloaded on your computer so that you’re ready to go.
- Keep yourself accountable by telling a good friend what you’re trying to accomplish and promise to keep them updated on your progress.
I’ve learned that sometimes I’m happy doing simple things and other times, it’s more grandiose and complicated activities that make me feel joyful. It’s OK either way. I’m happy when I’m sitting on my couch at home with my partner David and my dog Sasha and we’re binge watching a new Netflix series. I’m delighted when I travel because I have an opportunity to learn new things.
I feel happier more of the time because I know what I need to do to feel happier. Happiness is not an elusive pie-in-the sky kind of thing for me. Happiness comes when I’m involved with some very specific activities, when I’m engaged with particular people and when I’m having certain types of experiences. I no longer have to yearn for happiness: I create it because I know what it is.
Are you ready to be happy?
Take some time to think about what you really mean by that!
If you’d like support determining your framework for happiness let’s schedule a time to talk today!