Happiness is something that we all strive for. Many of us spend our whole lives trying to obtain it, perfect it and master it. It has led people to make significant life changes, choices and sacrifices in its name. But what is it?
Everyone has a different idea of how to obtain happiness, where it can be found, how to maintain it and who holds the key to it. So too is the variety of definitions attached to it.
Abraham Maslow suggests happiness is being motivated to participate in life, self-development and spirituality. Carl Rogers say happiness is freedom from internal conflicts between who we are now and who we’d like to be. The Dalai Lama suggests happiness is freedom from negative mind. That is freedom from unhelpful and non-nurturing thoughts about the self and others. Many say happiness cannot be defined, it simply is and you know it when you feel it.
In western society, happiness is something to be accumulated and measured in terms of material wealth, hours spent working and effort applied to its accumulation. Many see happiness as something you earn or something that is attached to an easy lifestyle.
Dr. Timothy Sharp of the Happiness Institute defines happiness as “a positive state of well-being characterised by positive emotions”, but not the absence of negative emotions. He suggests that happiness can be described as a spectrum of positive emotions experienced at different times, in different ways and due to differing situations/circumstances.
Through conducting the happiness survey, asking people to take their time and consider how they feel currently, how they would like to feel tomorrow and how they could get there, it became clear that happiness has a very clear definition; it is the path to happiness that is misunderstood.
In the survey, participants described happiness as consisting of positive emotions like joy, contentment and satisfaction or freedom from negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness. Rarely did people associate happiness with the absence of negative physical states or the presence of positive physical states. Happiness was not associated with good health, safety, access to clothes or shelter. Sorry Maslow.
As I’m sure you know, stress is the biggest inhibitor to happiness if experienced over prolonged time periods. Psychology research has found stress as a motivator or a stimulus for people to find solutions to meet the needs and progress. A circular pattern of engagement with the world, as too is the cycle of happiness. But over long periods of stress, we become mentally and physically exhausted and happiness and growth seem a long way off.
So how do you put happiness back on your life map?
Dr. Timothy Sharp suggests making happiness a choice. As highly evolved and intelligent life forms the key to long lasting happiness is choosing to be happy and practicing a few techniques daily will keep us close to happiness most of the time. Coming along to yoga will help you build a foundation.
The number one technique suggested by Dr. Sharp is a self-inventory. This again reinforces the importance of understanding self in the maintenance of happiness.
The self-inventory includes:
Evaluation of lifestyle and making changes so you are living a healthy lifestyle
Don’t tolerate negative thoughts
Plant optimistic or positive thoughts
Develop meaningful relationships
Live in and enjoy the moment
So, how do we achieve happiness?
Be familiar with yourself; get to know who you are, or who you’d like to be. Shift focus, place more value on non-material, qualitative qualities rather than quantitative, external, material objects and possessions. Do things you enjoy and that bring joy to others and if you find yourself using words like can’t, don’t, shouldn’t or won’t, try replacing them with can, do, could and will.
I am reminded now of my favourite quote: Life is such that is requires constant care and attention. No one can live your life for you. Only you and you alone can give it a meaning.
In being present in our lives, instead of focused on consuming more, having more, and being seen as more than we are, we will find happiness. This is by no means a permanent state, all things are transient, but when it is there we can enjoy it to the full and maybe, just maybe for longer.
If you would like to work through the self-inventory, develop a personalised plan for happiness, or delve deeper into yoga philosophy and practice, please book in a one-to-one meeting with me on Monday’s or Tuesday’s. Or dip in your toe by coming along to Yoga on Wednesday nights 6:30pm at Cobbity Cresent Church hall.