Most of us are lucky enough to no longer have to focus daily on simply surviving. As a result, we have had more time to ponder on those age-old questions of what life is about, why are we here and how we find happiness. There is a growing belief that happiness as something we are entitled to, and something there must be a recipe for. And then we are shocked when we don’t find it.
During the 2nd half of the 20th century, we associated happiness with material success. We are gradually realising that when our basic daily needs are met, wealth has little to do with happiness. We are now more focused on authenticity and with good reason. Starting with authenticity, here are steps you can take towards happiness this is International Happiness Day.
- Authenticity is about being who you really are, stripping away the personality and behavioural traits that you have picked up from others. It is having the courage to be really and truly yourself. That may mean you throw in a lucrative career that friends and family have wanted for you, to follow your heart as an artist. You may refuse to have the children many still expect to automatically appear after marriage. It may just mean stopping behaving in small ways because you think you “should”. It is about re-establishing contact with the real you inside you were born as, what you were like and how you wanted your life to be, before other people’s voices started making you feel you should be something else.
- Purpose is another buzz word that people are using as part of a magic pill of happiness. Some imagine purpose must be a full on, grandiose vocation; that if we search inside ourselves we are going to find a way to make our own personal contribution to changing the world. Some of us are not made that way. Not everyone is a world-saver. If your purpose is to be happy and productive in some simpler way, that is ok to.
- Forgiveness. In this litigious society, we have become obsessed with blame. When we get hurt, we become fixated about how bad it is, why we hate the person responsible. All that makes us feel worse. If instead, we take a moment to look at the reasons that have made that person behave how they did, we then move towards compassion. Given the wrong circumstances, all humans behave in ways they should not. Many perceive forgiveness as approving the wrong doing which it is absolutely not, but it is to strive to understand human flaws. Retaining hate, anger and negative emotions is proven to be physically and mentally bad for you. So instead of being right, do yourself some good; acknowledge the wrong, but be compassionate.
- Giving: when you are feeling miserable and sorry for yourself, giving to others may be the last thing on your mind. However, science proves that giving actually brings greater happiness than receiving. In the book the Paradox of Generosity, authors Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson argue that generosity causes neuro-chemical changes in the brain that increase pleasure. The found people who donated more, be it time or money, were not just happier but physically healthier as well. Both Berkeley and Michigan Universities have carried out studies showing that volunteering could prolong life expectancy. Of course, one big, generous gesture is not going to make you into a happy person. We are talking an overall lifestyle.
- Gratitude: this can sound a bit happy-clappy, but it is actually common sense. If you are focussed on what you have (and appreciating it) you will feel a lot happier than if you focus on what you don’t have, which would make you unhappy. This simple concept is at the heart of Positive Psychology. There is real, scientific proof of gratitude’s long term positive effects on mental and physical health. A study on athletes even found a correlation between practicing gratitude and optimizing performance. When you are grateful, you cannot be self-pitying. You become instead more in flow with the universe, less fearful, less stressed and more able to let happiness into your life. Try practising writing down three things you are grateful every day, however small. Make more effort to say thank you to others. When something makes you smile, pause and say thank you. All these little thank you’s start making a difference.
- Laughing: Laughter is the best way to look after yourself. Literally, it lowers the blood pressure, reduces risk of heart disease and strokes, boosts the immune system, reduces stress, and helps you relax. It even burns off the same amount of calories per hour as walking slow to moderate paced. It helps communication with others, diffuses tensions, and encourages empathy and co-operation. So, make a conscious decision to seek out a lot more laughter. Work at bringing it into your relationships, business and personal. Find funny things to watch or to read. Humour can be found everywhere.
Be spurred on this International Happiness Day to be more authentic and true to your personal purpose: to find forgiveness, generosity, gratitude and laughter. You will be well on the way to finding happiness.