I’ve been giving some thought lately to what makes us happy, as humans. Is it having enough food? A great sex life? A big family? A winter home on a tropical isle?
If so, think for a moment, you know of people who possess one or more of these happiness-magnets, and no happiness. Some you might imagine have them all, still no happiness.
How is that possible? Could you have all of these things, and still be unhappy?
We all know the answer’s yes, but most of us are stumped by the why.
The big misconception that people have about happiness is that it exists outside of ourselves and is dependant on factors we can’t control.
Another misconception is that happiness and pleasure are the same thing.
But there’s a difference.
Pleasure is a more visceral, in-the-moment experience, whereas happiness can be described as having feelings of satisfaction with one’s life or current situation.
Pleasure refers to the positive feelings we get from experiences like eating good food, intimacy with loved ones or a visit to a place we love.
Happiness can exist in the absence of any pleasurable stimuli.
And that’s really the secret of happy people. They recognize that nothing can take away their happiness unless they relinquish their contentment. And relinquishing contentment is something humans tend to do when they are focused on the past, an alternate present, or the future.
If we look back and say If only my parents had found the money to send me to dance school, I could have been a famous ballerina or my life would have been so much better if I’d taken that other job 15 years ago, contentment goes out the window.
We also lose our contentment when we focus too much on the future. We decide we won’t be happy until we’ve made that first million or have that perfect marriage. We’re no longer appreciating the journey we are on, partly because we’ve been taught that discontentment is a useful tool for motivation. We’ve relinquished our happiness, designating it to a future that may never happen. Or we do things that are not in line with our virtues and morals believing the ends justifies the means. Pretty much just flushing any contentment down the drain.
Happiness for me is about accepting the truth that life will always contain stress and pain, and that these things can help us or hinder us dependant on our attitude towards them. Life is not a consistent walk on the beach on a perfect summer day. Life is far more chaotic and interesting than that.
Rain falls and you need to deal with things like boots and umbrellas and feeling soggy… You feel encumbered and put upon. You tell yourself the Universe is picking on you, picking the day you planned a picnic to send you a storm. It feels so personal. You feel as though the sun will never shine again.
The sun does have to come out eventually, but now it’s Monday and you have meetings all day at work and you’ll never get outside. It’s a potentially happy day in your life that you’ve lost and can never get back. If you didn’t have to work, you could go to the beach and be happy. It feels so personal…
But, imagine it’s the first day on that job and you’re grateful and excited for the opportunity…now the sun seems like a blessing from the Universe. Same meetings, no chance to get out in the sun…but somehow, we’re content with that.
And when we have contentment in the moment, we can experience happiness.
We’ve been so conditioned to think about happiness as pleasure that we think they can’t be disconnected, but it’s not true. We can be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the demands of family life or a challenging new job, but experience gratitude and contentment. We can accept that every life has pain and stress and struggle, and these are a part of being alive. These are the interesting changes in environment that make a hike memorable.
When we accept that we can control our own happiness it’s easier to face the trials and tribulations that come with life. No one actually ever lives a life free of pain, but in return we’re given an amazing ability to cope with pain and make it the best thing that ever happened to us. You hear people say it all the time.
Take a moment and really listen the next time you hear someone say a car accident, losing a job – or any other life experience we’ve labelled bad – was the best thing that happened to them. Their story holds the key to gratitude, contentment and happiness.