Happiness is new the Black.
From the best selling book The Happiness Project to the inundation of social media where everyone seems so overjoyed and in love, ridiculously successful, and appearing not having a care in the world, many others fall despondent and desperate compared to their elated counterparts. The pursuit of happiness has almost a desperate ring to it—we as a culture are striving to attain it, to grasp it, to earn it, while simultaneously and without a sign of letting up, study after study show an increase in anxiety and depression in our society, particularly in our youth. All you have to do is turn on the news to witness it for yourself! Take me away, Calgon!
And despite our Positive Psychology theories that have infiltrated our culture since the 1991 release of Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, we still continue to suffer from an overall malaise and discontent. In a culture, where the terms “It’s all good” and “No problem!” are thrown around like rainbow sprinkles, clearly, it’s time for a happiness shake-down.
So, what gives anyway? Why are so many of us actually, well …. unhappy?
To understand the “why” of the core of unhappiness, I believe it’s time we that we, as a culture, open up to a broader acceptance of the full spectrum of human emotions, so that we can move from a place of overwhelming to a healthier place of loving-kindness to ourselves and others. Heck, it’s even written in our Constitution as we all have the “inalienable right in the pursuit of happiness”. Isn’t it time we defined and embraced it?
In a 2015 study, a team of researchers investigated the cultural differences comparing Russia, Germany, Japan and USA and our differing approach in the pursuit of happiness. And what the study found was this: that pursuing happiness for happiness’ sake only equates to higher rates of depression, greater loneliness, and increased anxiety.
Yikes! What gives?
What the study highlights are that the pursuit of happiness yields higher well-being kudos in cultures that promote a socially engaged aspect to the pursuit, ie., spending time with friends and family and helping and being in service to others. The bottom line: engaging in social connection is one of the most robust predictors of well-being (Helliwell and Putnam) and without it, our happiness factor falls like a lead balloon.
Looking at how we define happiness is a great place to start in order to re-boot our thinking on the happiness pursuit and at the same time come to understand that greater joy doesn’t come from just being positive all the time. Happiness comes from embracing the full spectrum of human experience and finding ways to draw more joy and peace out of life, despite the many challenges we all experience.
In truth, if we look at happiness not defined by being positive, but more on the process of embracing situation emotions, even the negative ones and not overly attaching to the positive or the negative emotions that arise. In other words, being present to what is, observing the emotion that arises and then letting it float away like clouds drifting through the sky. This is actually a Mindfulness tool I teach to my clients.
Now, if we can learn to accept our whole range of emotions, especially the unpleasant ones we have tried to ignore or stuff away (sadness, rage, despair, loneliness, etc), we are much more likely to experience a healthier state of well-being overall. This process is initially hard for many to imagine but start by just believing it’s possible- its possible that you can be free from toxic unnamed emotions. Start there.
And what I know for sure is that our greatest personal growth and transformation usually happens through our biggest mess.
Take my mess for example.
After my son Will took his life last October, my emotional mess was real and frankly public. (And once again, thank you to my community for embracing me and my family as we continue to grieve the loss of Will). So, as I work through my grief, I have given myself full permission to experience all of the varied emotions that have arisen through the process. And what I have discovered, (frankly, out of necessity) is that by experiencing the whole gamut of what profound grief brings about and embracing the messiness of it, it has allowed me to move slowly and often painstakingly into a new place of profound acceptance, and may I even say, happiness and an increased sense of peace and well-being that I have ever known.
Wait. Is that right, you may ask? And I say yes, you have read that right. Not some crazy jacked up happiness, but the serene kind, built on a full emotional spectrum where I weave all the emotions together with grace and gratitude. And to me, that is happiness at its highest form.
In addition, the benefit of having a healthy emotional life allows us to engage with others more fully, with greater kindness and compassion. We become less triggered, less reactive. We heal ourselves and as a result, a new level of happiness and well-being reveals itself to us. And THAT is something to be happy about!
Here are some happiness tips that you can use to sprinkle some goodness in your life starting today:
Determine activities that bring you joy, peace. Do more of them.
Scheduled fun. Yup. Fun. Remember that? It’s the best. (Warning: laughter may ensue.)
Ecstatic happy or serene happy?
Focus on the happiness that doesn’t need to be jacked up on caffeine
Redefine the feeling of happiness as it evolves as we age
Listen to music – just listen – (I lean towards Vivaldi, Thanks Dad)
Focus on the small moments- See happiness in the small ways: a smile from a stranger, helping others, a good meal, a great sleep, puppies
Do small things for others, random acts are the quickest happiness fixes to lift my mood
Savor the good moments. When something good happens, however small, breathe it in. Stay in the moment just a little longer. You deserve the time and it’s good for the soul.
Do less. Schedule in “doing nothing time.” As high energy as I am, I spend a whole lot of time chillaxing. When I am not active and moving about, my kids will most likely find me lying down. When you have the option, lie down. It’s delicious!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share!