After much contemplation I’ve come to realise that most of us have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to happiness and the approach we take to being happy. Happiness is not mutually exclusive of grief, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, fear, frustration or any other ‘negative’ emotion or experience. We can and will feel all those things and can still consider ourselves to be happy.
So I’ve come up with three things that I feel essential to cultivating happiness, three things anyone and everyone can apply to their life.
1. Stop equating happiness with ‘stuff’
I know people say that they know Coca-cola isn’t selling happiness or that happiness is not about owning a nice car or having a nice house but what we say and how we go about living our lives doesn’t really match up.
I once had a conversation with someone about the phrase ‘Money doesn’t buy you happiness’. At the time I totally agreed with him when he said that this was a lie we’re all fed. That people say it but actually, because money can buy security (shelter, food, clothing etc) it totally does mean money can buy happiness.
But I've done a lot of contemplation since then and read a lot of commentary on happiness and actually, I think this is bull. Money DOESN’T buy happiness.
I mean, first, there are multiple studies that show happiness only increases with income to a point. Once a person is making enough to cover their basic needs, anything over and above that doesn’t contribute to a sense of happiness. But if money genuinely brings about happiness then team playing athletes, actors and celebrities must be the happiest people in the world, right?
Of course I’d be more comfortable if I earned more money and could pay off my debt, but genuine lasting happiness is not a measure of comfort. If we equate happiness to comfort we’re never gonna be happy because *newsflash* life is going to be uncomfortable sometimes. It can’t be helped.
2. Make friends with yourself!
The happiest people I know and have known have one thing in common: Love.
They have a lot of love. They are genuine and open and kind towards themselves and others.
They love themselves.
They love their families.
They love their friends.
And I’m not talking about being loved - although they do tend to be pretty darn lovable. No, it doesn’t matter if they get the love in return, that’s not what’s important for them. To them it’s important to be loving.
This kind of love isn’t a default. It comes from learning to appreciate life and what matters. For me, it’s not about whether I am loved, but how open and big-hearted I can be in loving myself and others.
Genuine love for ourselves and others isn’t a measurable thing. It’s about embracing our human-ness, embracing the human-ness of others. It’s seeing EVERYTHING about ourselves, foibles and flaws and neurosis, and not beating ourselves up but approaching our mind with kindness, gentleness, and care.
Not that we are condoning unskillful things we may do or others may do, but that we don’t expect ourselves or others to be perfect. It’s about getting to know ourselves and in doing so, learning to see and appreciate our shared humanity.
Love is flexible. Love is liberating. Love is generous.
When we love wholeheartedly we can’t help but be happy, regardless of what’s going on.
3. Develop appreciation/wonder/curiosity ie. Take joy in every day miracles.
Think about how happy a child is when they discover something for the first time. When a kid is learning something new it’s like it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever encountered!
The older we get the more we tend to lose this. In fact, it’s almost actively encouraged for us to not get excited about discovery, to not be delighted by the things we see. This kind of delight is labelled ‘childish’ in a way that implies childishness is a negative thing.
But I invite you to reflect on your own experience as a child. Wasn’t it wonderful to feel so delighted by something as simple as watching a spider make a web or finding shapes in the clouds or climbing a tree to see how high you could get? How can something so joyful be considered a problem?
Wonder is an amazing thing to have. It’s about an ability to see miracles in the every day mundane. How absolutely stunning to watch the sun rise! So what if it rises every day. Every day it’s new and the only time you’ll get to see THAT particular sun rise. And it’s always different. The colours, the clouds, the breeze, the smells, the sounds - always changing.
I don’t equate the miraculous with the inexplicable. I can totally know the process of a flower blooming and still find utter wonderment and joy in smelling a blossoming rose or buddleia. If it’s childish for me to feel joy when I see a fallen leaf as big as my face or when I discover a lady bug on the windowsill or when a thunderstorm rolls across the sky with deep purple clouds and flashing lightening then, well, so be it!
Here’s to being childish!
Here’s to taking joy in the every day and appreciating that this is what it is to be alive.
If we decide that happiness has to come from owning the right car or finding the perfect partner or our children turning our in a certain way or our careers following a specific trajectory, we are also choosing to put limitations on our ability to be happy. Happiness with strings attached is difficult. It does not allow for life’s inconsistencies.
We can say that people and things and certain circumstances make us happy, and it’s true. They do. We choose for ourselves where happiness comes from because happiness is a state of mind.
So - why did I write this blog? Because I don't think there can be enough out there pointing us in the right direction.
Happy people are kind.
Happy people are generous.
Happy people have empathy.
Happy people make the world better!
Go forth and be happy.
You can totes buy a print of the art piece accompanying this post from The Gallery.
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.