Wanting Happiness
Wanting Happiness
Dear Tacit,

How can I create happiness I want in my life?

Signed: Wanting Happiness

Dear Wanting Happiness,

What a deep and thought-provoking question!  And one that I suspect many people contemplate on a regular basis.  Life has a funny way of pulling us into a rhythm that gets filled with responsibility and routines and habits.  But because we are so busy with living that life, we don’t always have the time to consider whether it is truly making us happy.  What typically happens is that we hit a wall – perhaps triggered by a crisis (or a series of stressful days, weeks, months or years) or perhaps brought on by an exhaustion that reminds us that we are maybe not living what we had once imagined would be our “best” life.  We become aware that we are “getting by” (we might even be really good at that), and we are handling everything that needs handling.  But we start to recognize that something is missing.  We might not be able to put a finger on what that something is, exactly.  But our brains search for a phrase to describe it, and often “not happy” or “feeling a bit lost” comes to mind.

Happiness is a funny thing.  It is more a fluid process (ebbing and flowing, depending upon the choices we make at any given moment) than it is a tangible, concrete destination that simply happens when we get to a certain point.  Sometimes, we think that if we just get or achieve enough, in some way, the switch inside of us will turn on and we will suddenly wake up feeling happy.  We decide that the goal for our happiness rests with finding a partner, or being at a certain weight, or having enough money, or being able to travel someplace.   But when we succeed in achieving these goals, we are often shocked at how fleeting the happiness ends up being. To be truly happy, we need to be living a life filled with a sense of purpose and meaning that is connected to who we really are/want to be.

There are 3 basic levels to build upon as we try to truly create a full and balanced sense of happiness.  The first is a Pleasant Life – where external goals and accomplishments bring us moments of pleasure and enjoyment.  This is how we start to get to know ourselves better.  But this level of happiness is a bit of a chase process.  As soon as we meet the measure we have set for ourselves, we outlive the happiness factor and need to create a new one, to start the process all over again.  The second level of happiness moves us towards a strong sense of connection within our own self.  It is defined as an Engaging Life – where we turn inward and reflect on the values that are most important to us.  We determine if we are making life choices that allow us to live in harmony with what we are needing and seeking from this life, based on who we truly are and what we believe to be genuinely important.  And the final stage of happiness comes when we live a Meaningful Life – where we share the joy and the fulfillment that we have created in our Pleasant Life with others.  This is where a state of happiness naturally radiates out from us with little effort (so not much energy or effort is required) and as it touches other people, we are enveloped in the joy that boomerangs back to us.

Often, people try to jump to the third level of happiness without having first completed levels one and two.  It’s a wonderful thing to be giving to others, and to try to brighten someone else’s day with our actions or presence.  But when steps 1 and 2 are ignored, this giving of ourselves takes a lot of effort and energy and will drain us. If we have not figured out who we are first (and how to live congruently within ourselves), we create an imbalance in our life.  If we jump over the foundational building blocks and expect happiness to result solely from a connection to an outside source, we will eventually burnout and our feelings of unhappiness increase.

We cannot live thinking “one day” I will be happy – always waiting and trying to move towards the idea of true happiness.   We need to create the feeling of happiness in every aspect of our lives – now, in the present moment.  And when we learn to do this, the peace and satisfaction becomes constant.  The feeling of being whole and fulfilled is a regular occurrence.  And the joy and serenity it brings becomes the rhythm that we live our lives with. We do this by figuring out who we are, by knowing what values matter the most to us, and by living in genuine harmony with those values.  (If you are looking for help to know what values define who you are, try using the Valued Living Questionnaire, by Kelly Wilson – or the VIA Character Strengths Inventory.  Both are free and available online, and they offer great suggestions for how to make choices that amplify the values that you prioritize).

Take care!

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