Happiness

We all want to be happy, but what is happiness? And what makes us happy?

How happy are you? Give yourself a mark out of ten, where ten means blissfully happy in every way, and zero means totally miserable all the time.

Most people exist somewhere between 5-8, not totally happy but not miserable enough to do anything about it. Why? The problem is, many of us have adopted beliefs that make it hard to be happy.

What chance have you got if you believe you have to earn happiness or that it’s selfish or irresponsible to seek it?

Can happiness be learned or taught?

Some believe that some people are just born ‘the happy type’, but recent studies suggest that this is not entirely true. It seems that happiness can be taught.

We know, for example, that happy people tend to be hopeful about the future. They assume things will work out alright and don’t indulge in blame and self-pity if things go wrong. They don’t rely on money and ‘stuff’ to make them happy, but they know how to get the most out of it. They have a wide circle of friends and don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re able to laugh at life – and themselves.

All of the above traits can be learned, although there are opposing views on how we should go about it. Some believe that you can set happiness as a goal, just as you would work on your next career move, and work towards it. The argument goes something like this:

‘If you were totally in control of your life, healthy, free from worry, prosperous, had good family relationships and lots of friends, an enjoyable and fulfilling career, rewarding hobbies, social activities and fun, and were loved and respected by others, would you be happy? The obvious answer is yes. And since all these can be set as goals, planned and worked for systematically, it follows that happiness, too, can be tackled in this way.’

Try it. You’ll find it works – to some extent, depending on where you’re starting from, but you’ll find that you eventually hit an invisible barrier. Why?

  1. People who set impossible goals become frustrated by the gap between their aspirations and their attainments. Keep your sense of direction (aimlessness is a serious threat to contentment), but don’t be obsessed by it. Research has repeatedly shown that happiness is unrelated to wealth (once you have enough to feed, clothe and house yourself, each extra £, $ or € makes little difference), intelligence, educational attainment or age.
  2. Happiness can only exist in the here and now. It’s a fallacy to think that happiness will arrive when some future event takes place. ‘When…. then I’ll be happy,’ simply doesn’t work. Fill in the gap any way you like – ‘when I achieve all my goals,’ ‘when I make a million,’ ‘when I meet the man or woman of my dreams,’ and so on. Unless you already have the foundations of happiness in place, they are unlikely to make much difference.
  3. Goals anticipate and look to the future, but happiness can only exist in the here and now. Entertainer David Baddiel put it like this: ‘My idea of perfect happiness is not having to believe that happiness resides elsewhere.’

You will never be happy if your happiness depends on your achievements. Have a sense of purpose and goals to aim for, and enjoy the process. If you succeed – great! If you don’t, at least you’ve had fun trying.

To return to the question, ‘Can happiness be taught as a skill?’ – Yes it can. Happiness is a combination of attitude and emotion, and the key to changing attitudes and emotions is the I-T-I-A Formula (see below).

Happiness is an inner state.

You can’t buy happiness, nor sell, drink, drive or wear it. You can’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch it. You can’t go on holiday to it, or give it or receive it as a gift. In other words, it cannot be determined by factors external to yourself. Some live in poverty, yet are happy. Others (including many famous and successful people) are worth millions, but are not.

Applying the I-T-I-A Formula to happiness

I-T-I-A stands for Intention, Thinking, Imagination and Action.

Intention

Are you willing to be happy?  This may seem a trite question, but it’s not. Some would have to give up certain things if they became happy, such as sympathy from others and attention.

You are responsible for your happiness. How can it be any other way? If your happiness depended on the feelings, actions and words of others, how could you ever be truly happy, since you cannot control any of these things?

Thinking

  • What absolutely must happen in order for me to feel happy?
  • What would I prefer to happen for me to feel happy?
  • What would be nice, but not absolutely essential?

Your answers define your rules for happiness. Over zealous rules can destroy your chances of being happy.

  • Realise that happiness is not an absence of problems. Life is a school. Every event, every obstacle has something to teach you so look for the lesson. See problems as challenges that can be turned into opportunities and learning experiences.
  • Let go of the need to be right. Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? It’s hard to be both.
  • Look on the bright side. Focus on  pleasant, happy things and count your blessings.
  • Happiness demands complete self-acceptance. If you’re not happy, this is the place to start. No amount of accomplishments and possessions can make up for a lack of self-acceptance.
  • Understand that happiness does not equal fun. Happy people certainly have fun, but happiness and fun are not the same. Fun activities help us temporarily forget our problems – but they do not bring permanent happiness, because the effect fades once the fun ends. Fun is what you feel during the activity; happiness is an on-going state of being experienced before and after. If you rely on fun to bring happiness, you’ll have an empty feeling once the party is over because you’re not addressing the real issues that bring the genuine thing.
  • Embrace change. Change is a natural and inevitable part of life. There’s a saying attributed to Helen Keller:

‘When the door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one which has been opened for us.’

Imagination

Imagine yourself surrounded with happiness, feeling happy, enjoying life, cheerful and contented no matter what is going on around you. Your unconscious will take this as an instruction to create happy feelings for you. Try it – it works!

Action

  • Mix with happy people. Happiness rubs off. So does unhappiness. It’s hard to be happy when surrounded by unhappy people, so mix with people who know how to enjoy themselves. Life is meant to be fun! Comedian Victor Borge described laughter as, ‘The shortest distance between two people.
  • Laugh loud and laugh often. The ability to laugh is a good indicator of mental health. It also alters your body chemistry – endorphins (the ‘happy hormones’) are released into the bloodstream bringing a feeling of well-being. When you’re happy, your body is relaxed, your facial expression changes and you laugh often. It also works in reverse. If you laugh often, it makes you feel better.
  • Smile often. Every time you pass a mirror or see yourself in a shop window, smile. Also, practise the ‘inner smile’ – the more you smile inwardly to yourself, the more you will experience a feeling of happiness. If nothing else, other people will wonder what you’re up to.
  • Do unto others… The happiest people enjoy helping others. Give – not just material things, but yourself. Make time to listen. Be cheerful (even if you’re having a bad day). Not only will you feel better, you’ll find others return your kindness.
  • Be here now.Living in the ‘here and now’ is one of the biggest steps you can take to happiness and peace of mind. How can you be happy if you continually wallow in the past, agonise over old mistakes, wishing you could relive parts of your life, and blaming yourself for wasted opportunities? Stop beating yourself up. Now is the only moment over which you have any control, so make the most of it. If your mind wanders to what might happen tomorrow, bring it back. And finally, remember the last line of ‘Gone With The Wind’ – ‘Tomorrow is another day.’

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.4.2016

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Life Coach book cover

How to Books, 2004

 

 

 

 

Do you know what makes you happy?

Most of us think we know what makes us happy, but do we? We chase after money and status, seeking happiness by pandering to the senses. We think these will do the trick, but if we knew what really makes us happy, we would crave little.

Take responsibility for your happiness

We gain a wonderful feeling of freedom when we know that it is not events and circumstances that determine our happiness, but our state of consciousness.

Happiness comes from inside. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. Unless you are happy with yourself, you will not be happy with what you do, where you are, who you’re with, what you achieve or what you have. In fact, you’ll never be happy with life.

Abraham Lincoln famously remarked that, ‘Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.’ A happy person sees things which justify their happiness; an unhappy person see things that justify their unhappiness. Bad things happen to everybody, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. It’s dwelling on the negative that wrecks lives.

Happiness is impossible without the decision to be happy. Start every day as you intend to go on, with a cheerful attitude and cheerful thoughts that boost you in body and spirit. Then keep it up for the rest of the day.

Happiness doesn’t have to be earned

Western culture spreads unhelpful beliefs about happiness. We are taught that it has to be earned, worked and paid for. Otherwise we are expecting something for nothing.

Not so! As spiritual beings, it is right that we should be happy. What is more, it’s our birthright. It’s available to all. Claim it!

This is not a selfish attitude. If you don’t have happiness, how can you share it? And how can you make anyone else happy by being miserable?

Happiness is not an absence of problems

Happiness is not the absence of problems. It is faith in our ability to deal with them.

Problems are part of life, and every problem has something to teach us.

If you’re waiting for all your problems to be solved or hoping for a life without problems to be happy, you’ll wait in vain. Part of happiness is enjoying challenges, overcoming difficulties and learning from the process.

Don’t confuse happiness with fun 

Happy people have lots of fun, but happiness and fun are not the same. Happiness is an lasting and stable state of being, while fun is transitory. Fun pastimes bring pleasure for a while, but the effect wears off once the activity ends.

To be happy, we don’t need everything to be fun. It’s necessary to undertake unpleasant tasks and put up with tedium from time to time. I’ve laboured in factories, lifted soaking bags of manure from a leaky barn onto a lorry, done mind-numbing office work and sold cleaning products door to door. All these jobs were unpleasant but tolerable because I knew they were just stepping stones to a brighter future.

Many people are drawn into fun activities that distract them from our problems only to find that they’ve made matters worse. Instead, focus your mind on what brings true happiness and lay down the right causes. This is the way to find happiness that endures.

Happiness is infectious

When you radiate happiness, you attract happy people. Be cheerful even if you’re not feeling 100% inside. Why let your physical or emotional states detract from someone else’s day?

Smile a lot and look for the funny side in every situation. Put your ego to one side and don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh loud and often – laughter has been proved to be an effective medicine just as sadness is at the root of many physical ills.

Stop making comparisons

Commercial interests have a great deal to gain by making us feel dissatisfied with what we have. They know full well that only an unsatisfied need motivates, so they encourage us to compare what we have, what we look like and what we do with others. Advertisers skillfully encourage us to want what others have, hoping this encourages us to buy.

Happiness, though, has nothing to do with one’s appearance, wealth, achievements, possessions and so on, so why compare? What’s the point of weighing one set of delusions against another?

Let happiness come to you

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, ‘Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you sit down quietly, may alight on you.’ Happiness is an attitude or state of consciousness. Have you ever tried chasing an attitude?

When we discover what makes us unhappy, stop doing those things and instead act in harmony with Universal Law, happiness comes and gently sits on our shoulder.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 17.11.2016

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Life Coach book cover

How to Books, 2010

 

 

 

 

Laugh with Buddha

Laughing does you good. Laughter can help you deal with many things including the stresses of our daily lives. A good laugh can stimulate your organs as you take in more oxygen, and leave you with a pleasantly relaxed feeling.

laughing-buddha

The Laughing Buddha is a wandering monk who symbolises happiness and smiles knowingly at the absurdity of human behaviour. According to legend, if you rub his pot belly, you will have prosperity and good luck.

Buy yourself a Laughing Buddha and laugh with him. The Laughing Buddha reminds us that life is a game. Play well, but remember that a great deal of human behaviour is just a game in the wider scheme of things.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 16.11.2016

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365 Spirituality book

How to Books, 2007

 

 

 

Most of us think we know what makes us happy, but do we?

I spotted a competition in a newspaper recently. ‘Change your life forever!’ it announced in huge letters. ‘Win a new home, a car, a dream holiday, £20,000 a year for life to help you maintain your new, luxurious lifestyle, and enjoy VIP treatment from celebrity experts.’ Well, obviously if you won this handsome prize your life would be different, but would you be any happier?

History suggests you would not. Possibly you would feel better for a few months, but more likely the effects would be temporary. It would still be you with these things. If you were unhappy before, happiness would still elude you.

We seek happiness by pandering to the senses, but if we knew what really made us happy, we would crave very little. Why? Because happiness cannot be earned, owned, travelled to, worn or consumed. It is the experience of living every moment with love, style, and gratitude. And it comes not from external things, but from within. Research shows that happiness is largely influenced by non-physical factors such as our values, attitudes and beliefs. For example:

  • Across all cultures, people who have a happy marriage, spend time with their families, enjoy caring friendships, a varied and rewarding social life and worthwhile goals which are enjoyable to pursue tend to be happier than average.
  • People only grow happier as they get richer if they start below the poverty line. Lottery winners, for instance, are no happier than the rest of us, and despite the massive increase in wealth in developed countries in the last fifty years, levels of happiness have not increased.
  • Age, gender, wealth, education, nationality and race are unrelated to happiness.

Spiritually inclined people are generally happier because they have a sense of meaning that brings hope, purpose and optimism, all of which are closely linked to happiness. Once, this would have surprised me since my religious programming taught me that life is suffering. But I now know that suffering is not inherent to life. We bring suffering upon ourselves through ignorance. We let our ego control our behavior and we flout the spiritual laws – Cause and Effect and Attraction. When we let go of unhealthy desires, accept ourselves and other people, and stop resisting ‘what is’, we allow life to flow.

Take responsibility for your happiness

We gain a wonderful sense of freedom when we understand that it is not events and circumstances that determine our happiness. We have no control over what others think, say or do, and if we cannot rely on these for our happiness. As the philosopher Epictetus said, ‘There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of your will.’

Happiness comes from inside. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you are unhappy with yourself, you will be unhappy with what you do, where you are, who you’re with, what you achieve or what you have – with life, in fact.

Happiness is an attitude

Abraham Lincoln famously remarked that, ‘Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.’

Broadcaster Hugh Downs, concurred. ‘A happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.’

Attitudes are spectacles through which we see the world. A person with happy attitudes sees things which justify their happiness; an unhappy person sees mainly things that justify their unhappiness. Bad things happen to everybody, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. It’s dwelling on the negative that wrecks lives.

Western culture spreads unhelpful beliefs about happiness. We are taught that it has to be earned, paid for and deserved, otherwise we are expecting something for nothing. Not so! Happiness is our birthright and is available to all. Claim it! This is not a selfish attitude. If you don’t have happiness, how can you share it? And how can you make anyone else happy by being miserable?

Happiness is a journey, not a destination

There’s an Eastern proverb, ‘There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.’ It reminds us to treasure every moment.

If you believe that your happiness depends on getting somewhere, you’re mistaken. When you arrive at your destination, you find that the elation soon wears off and you’re no happier than before. Why? Because achieving your goals takes place in the future, but happiness can only exist in the present.

Take pleasure from achieving your goals, but don’t allow your happiness to depend on achieving them. Instead, enjoy the process. If you succeed – great! If you don’t, you’ve had fun trying, grown as a person and probably done some good along the way.

Some things I’ve learned about happiness

Happiness is not an absence of problems; it is faith in our ability to deal with them. Problems are part of life. Every problem has something to teach us. If you’re waiting for all your problems to be solved or hoping for a life without problems, you’ll wait in vain. Part of happiness is enjoying challenges, overcoming difficulties and learning from the process.

Don’t confuse happiness with fun. Sure, happy people have lots of fun, but happiness and fun are not the same. Happiness is a lasting and stable state of being, while fun is transitory. Fun pastimes bring pleasure for a while, but the effect wears off once the activity ends. To be happy, we don’t need everything to be fun. It’s necessary to experience tedium from time to time. I’ve laboured in factories, lifted heavy bags of stinking manure from a leaky barn onto a lorry, done mind-numbing office work and sold household products door to door. All these jobs were unpleasant but I knew they were just stepping stones.

Many people are drawn into fun activities like getting drunk, eating, drugs and sex, only to find that they merely distract them from their problems and in the long term make matters worse. Instead, focus the mind and lay down the right causes. This is the way to find enduring happiness.

Count your blessings. Look for the blessings in everything; there always are some. You may not be able to see the bigger picture, but behind the appearances all is in order. The world is a beautiful and bounteous place. Be grateful for it all.

Be cheerful. Happiness is infectious; cheerfulness attracts happy people. Be cheerful even if you’re not feeling 100% inside. Why let your physical or emotional state spoil someone else’s day?

Smile a lot. Look for the funny side in every situation. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Laugh loud and often. Laughter is good for you. It can help deal with many things including depression and stress. It stimulates the organs as you take in more oxygen, and leaves you with a pleasantly relaxed feeling.

Buy yourself a Laughing Buddha. The Laughing Buddha is a wandering monk who symbolises happiness and smiles knowingly at the absurdity of human behaviour. According to legend, if you rub his pot belly, you will have prosperity and good luck. The Laughing Buddha reminds us that life not to be taken too seriously. Play well, but remember that much of our behaviour is a game in the wider scheme of things.

Music and song. Some music has an uplifting quality, and some (e.g. heavy metal, gangster rap, electro-disco beats etc.) has been shown to weaken the body’s immune system and bring on depression. So choose what you listen to carefully. Singing and chanting are also good for you.

The Inner Smile – not a movement of the lips, but an attitude. Imagine your whole body smiling and project the smile into the world around you. The Inner Smile dissolves inner blockages, invigorates, and enhances your ability to love and be happy. Start by relaxing your forehead and imagining your brow chakra open and smiling. Let the smile spread into your eyes, down the entire length of your body, and into your internal organs. Then let it radiate into your aura.

The ancient Masters of India and China taught special meditative techniques to enhance the Inner Smile. It is said that the enlightened Masters had incredible smiles which came from within and affected everyone in their presence.

Stop making comparisons. Commercial interests have a great deal to gain by making us feel dissatisfied. They encourage us to compare ourselves with others knowing that only an unsatisfied need motivates. Advertisers skilfully encourage us to want what others have

Happiness, though, has nothing to do with one’s appearance, wealth, achievements, possessions and so on, so why compare? What’s the point of weighing one set of delusions against another? Dropping comparisons from your thinking and speaking is guaranteed to increase your happiness and wellbeing.

Let happiness come to you. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, ‘Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you sit down quietly, may alight on you.’

Happiness is an attitude, a state of consciousness. Have you ever tried chasing an attitude?  When we discover what makes us unhappy, stop doing those things and endeavour to act in harmony with Universal Law, happiness comes and gently sits on our shoulder.

Before he came to power, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that in the not too distant future, governments will be judged on how they contribute to the happiness of their electorate!* Now there’s a thought!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 17.4.2016

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Life Coach book cover

How To Books, 2004

*These fine sentiments evaporated, though, once he came to power!