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How to be happy

Money doesn’t buy happiness, right?

We all know, at least in our most logical brains, that buying a bigger car, earning more money, or being more ‘successful’ in our careers won’t ultimately make us happy. So, why is it that we tend to ignore what we know about happiness and strive for these things anyway?

Stories of some of the world’s most rich, famous and successful people being totally miserable and even suffering with crippling depression and anxiety are not unheard of. In fact, they’re very common and we’re hearing more of them as our society begins to better understand mental health. And yet, despite this, many of us tend to disbelieve the tales of caution that we’ve heard about trying to find happiness through wealth and success. How often have you thought to yourself “Sure, but if I just got that promotion at work, I’d be so much happier”?

In fact, it seems that we understand very little about happiness itself and what it means to be happy. We understand it so little that we are often caught in the trap of trying to seek happiness through these external means because we’re at a loss for how to find it otherwise. And therein lies the problem.  

So much of what we read online today is focused on how to be happy and what’s stopping us from being happy. The search for the elusive happiness is actually quite a new-aged idea. The American right to ‘pursue happiness’ as written into the constitution was in fact quite a radical idea for its time, and one recent study showed that nowadays, 45% of Americans set a New Year’s resolution to ‘be happier’ each year. It’s hardly surprising that there are countless self-help books, motivational guides and an entire industry created around the idea of seeking (and holding onto) happiness.

However, the idea that happiness is a state that we can reach and maintain indefinitely is an entirely unrealistic and unattainable goal for most of us. In fact, the pressure to be happy, stay happy, and appear happy is a significant burden facing people today. And despite popular opinion, it’s not something that has always been an integral part of being human. Happiness, like any other emotion, is a fleeting feeling. It comes and goes just like anger, sadness, giddiness and passion do. The key to being happy lies in our understanding of happiness.

Here’s a radical idea for our age: To be happy, stop trying to always be happy!

Understanding happiness as just an emotion can be the first step to finding what we’re all really after: Long and lasting contentment. Being content and satisfied with life is a much more realistic pursuit, and to truly find ourselves ‘happy’ with our lives, we need to redefine what we mean by happy.

Most of us pursue a happy life over a meaningful life, and this can lead to a lot of disappointment. We feel guilty for not being ‘happy’ all the time, even when we know we should be grateful for what we’ve got. We try to pursue things that will make us happy, only to find that once we’ve attained these things, we’re right back where we started as far as our happiness goes. There’s actually a name for this phenomenon: Hedonic adaptation. Psychologists have long studied this concept, and studies have shown that not only do things like winning the lottery – something many of us dream of – not make us happy in the long-term, but that thinking we should be happy all of the time has negative effects for our wellbeing.

 “Eventually, the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off,” Melissa Dahl of The Science of Us writes. “If all things are judged by the extent to which they depart from a baseline of past experience, gradually even the most positive events will cease to have impact as they themselves are absorbed into the new baseline against which further events are judged.”

This means that those things we are striving for, like a new car, a new job, a bigger house or more money, will excite us for a brief while. They’ll result in happiness, sure! But the problem with that happiness is that it’s fleeting. The more we seek out new, bigger, better things to make us happy, the more we feel we need, as soon, nothing is enough!

According to studies, searching for a meaningful life, over the fleeting feeling of happiness, is a much more reliable means of feeling better about our lives and feeling more content. Searching for a meaningful life means something different to everyone, but it involves pursuing things that bring us a deeper satisfaction. This might include the meaning that being a parent brings to our lives. For some people, it’s volunteering their time to a worthy cause. For others, it’s building their empowerment and self-confidence as well as working on cultivating gratitude. And for some people, it’s their faith. Finding what is meaningful to you is what’s important.  Sometimes this can be difficult for some, and this is where a great life coach can really help!  Contact us if you need help to discover what is most meaningful for you!

In conclusion, recognising that happiness isn’t meant to last might sound like a depressing notion, but it’s all about understanding more about ourselves as human beings. Striving for a meaningful life over just happiness, is the key to feeling more happy! Or, as psychologist Frank T. McAndrew puts it,

“Recognising that happiness exists — and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome — may help us appreciate it more when it arrives.”

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen