Searching for Happiness

Happiness. What is it? How do we find it? Happiness is something that we are all searching for. We all want it and we all need it. We look for it in the the perfect job, the right home with the picket fence, and especially in a compatible partner. However, even when we attain these things, happiness still so often alludes us. The search for happiness causes us to overlook the simple fact that happiness cannot be found in any of the above but is found within. The perfect partner, the right career, and the white picket fence might enhance our happiness, but it is not the cause of it. Last week I reflected on living a life of gratitude, and how that can lead to happiness and fulfillment. This week I’m piggy backing off that.  When we are grateful and appreciative of what is in our lives it is easier to find our self worth and to let go of the endless search for happiness and to find happiness in what we already have. The first step in the journey to happiness is gratitude and if you want to read my thoughts on gratitude. Go ahead and read that first, I’ll wait.

You back? Excellent. Now, living a life of gratitude isn’t always easy, but the health and happiness benefits are worth the effort. Imagine if your default setting was wonder, appreciation, happiness, and gratitude instead of stress, fear, and uncertainty. If this is already your default setting them please email me your secret, because I, like many, struggle with finding happiness in the little things and it is a daily exercise that I must do, not to get bogged down by life and all the stuff it throws at me (which sometimes does feel like a lot).

Many of us gauge our happiness on the circumstances surrounding our life. We try to find happiness in our jobs, our relationships, and materialistic things. We want or wish for more. More money, more love, more security, more success, more talent, more more more. We keep striving to increase our station in lives thinking that we will be happier. This leads to more self criticism and leads to more unhappiness. True happiness comes from our self worth and self acceptance, not the outside factors of our lives. When we truly love ourselves, we find true happiness and then the circumstances of our lives enhance that happiness and do not define it. Accepting who we are, faults and all, is the foundation of our happiness. That’s not to say we don’t want to improve ourselves, but it should come from a place of self love and acceptance and not once of criticism and judgment.

One of the hardest things for me in achieving happiness is in letting go of the things I cannot control. I never thought I was a “control freak” but there are many things in my life that (especially over the past 3 years) that I wish I could control and I know I cannot.  You know that old saying, “Let go and Let  God?” Whether you believe in God or not, this rings true in the sense we need to focus on the things we can control and not let the things outside of our control dictate our lives or our happiness. In life, there are so many things beyond our control that we could go crazy trying to control things. This is also why many of us hone in on things, no matter how little, that we can control. We can however, choose how to respond to things when they are not going our way. Instead of holding onto to anger, resentment, regret, and opinions we may be happier just letting go. If holding on to these things affects our happiness then why should we not find freedom and happiness by letting these things go and focus on the present, not dwelling on the past and things we cannot control.

When we “lose” our happiness it is often due to not being able to let go of pain from our past. We should learn from the past but not let it define our happiness. Likewise, we shouldn’t depend on the future for our happiness (a future job, future purchase, future relationship). Happiness is found in the moment. We need to let go of the past, and not worry about the future. While it may be good to have plans for the future and learn from our mistakes of the past, focusing on what we have, where we are in the present, and having gratitude for who and what is in our lives in the here and now will bring happiness. No one can predict the future and we can go down a rabbit hole of worry running through future scenarios that may never happen.  Living with gratitude and living in the moment is when we experience happiness. The greatest moments in my life were the times I focused on the moment, what was happening, who it was happening with, and not thinking about the past or the future. Though it is of course easier said than done. Uncertainty is scary, but embracing it can bring a great sense of happiness.

Unknowns such as change, risk, heartbreak, fear of the future, fear of making wrong choices can hold us back from happiness.  So much of life is unknown, but rather than view it with fear we could embrace the unknown and accept it. If we can view life in this way, the unknown becomes an exciting opportunity. This state of mind would be liberating and allow you to be fearless and sure in all your life choices. Unfortunately, this is an ideal that most of us won’t achieve, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to live life more in the moment, less afraid of the future, and less tied to the past. We should enjoy, embrace, and appreciate everything and everyone in our lives now, in the present, because life is fleeting and enjoying the moment is a path to a life full of happiness.

Part of enjoying the moment is to try and get in touch with your inner child. Play and laughter are essential to happiness. They say children laugh around 300 times a day, while adults laugh around 17 times. That is a huge difference in happiness levels. Obviously children aren’t bogged down by the stress of life and don’t have the same “adult” concerns, but the other factor is that every day they have play time.  We lose this as we get older and other priorities take precedent over “play time.” We all need to take more time out of our days to do something that we really enjoy. For me, I really enjoy writing, exploring nature, reading, being with friends, and spending time with the people I love, but too often the stress of life, work, and other adult concerns take away from the time I need to spend on enjoying myself. I am sure this is true to many of us. In the past I’ve felt like I had a good work/play balance but the past year was hard, I lost my job, had some personal issues, and felt the stress of life crushing me and my relationships and i didn’t take the time to really enjoy life. I’ve renewed the priority to enjoy life, for myself, and I know I will be happy and healthier for it.

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is an important aspect for a healthy and fulfilling life. Too often we take for granted what is around us and don’t take the time to really pause and appreciate what we have. We tend to focus on tension and stress and those things that we lack. It’s easy for us to let things go by unnoticed in our daily lives. This can lead to unhappiness. Gratitude for the things we have and appreciation for what is in front of us can lead to a healthier immune system, enhance optimism, and foster our individual happiness.  We should all focus more on that for which we are grateful. We will feel better and more fulfilled in our lives. Gratitude can help us focus and appreciate what we have in our lives instead of focusing on “what is missing.”  And, when we are truly grateful, things don’t feel “missing” and we will feel fulfilled. Gratitude can transform a sour mood into one of joy.  While we cannot manufacture emotions, we can work to form a habit of focusing on all the good things in our lives and bettering ourselves. Forming this habit can strengthen your sense of self, your self-worth, increase your happiness and strengthen your relationships with loved ones.

Gratitude can also enhance our mental health and release natural endorphines to help better cope with pain, and stress, and help block out negative emotions and help us sleep. Healthy appreciation and gratitude habits can be a natural and FREE way to increase health. Daily gratitude habits will cause our brain nuerons to “rewire” and automatically fire into more positive automatic patterns. The more we practice gratitude in daily life, the more our mind will more readily find things to be grateful for and the easier it will be to appreciate things in our life.

It’s like the old saying “appreciate the little things in life,” and it truly rings true. I’ve been practicing daily gratitude techniques every morning for the past month. Every morning I reflect on 5 things or people that I am grateful for and I thank God for placing those things in my life. It has helped me reduce my anxiety and stress, and to find happiness even when things in my life have disrupted, changed, and caused sadness and loss.

So many of us find ourselves every day saying things like “I wish” or “I want,” and we find ourselves seeking out what we think is “missing” in our lives, wishing and wanting for more. When we focus on what we lack, whether it be materialistic, or otherwise, we find ourselves in states of unhappiness and  miss out on the amazing things that we do have in our lives.  These types of thoughts cause us to seek out that new shiny video game system we’ve been wanting, or to seek out that high paying job or that perfect relationship that will make us “whole.”

When we find the next new thing we want, we are happy for a while, but it doesn’t usually last because shiny new toys don’t hold our attention forever, no job is perfect, and no relationship is without challenge. We then find ourselves in this circular cycle of wanting what’s missing, thinking we’ve found it, only to find ourselves wanting something else.

This is a hard cycle to break, and one I know I’ve fallen into many times. Gratitude and appreciation for what is going well and what is good in our lives can help break the cycle, but it’s a state of mind that most of us, myself included, probably need to train ourselves to achieve. Focusing on what is good in our lives, and not what is bad will turn us back to a state of joy and happiness.

All of us have relationships, whether they be family, friends, or significant others. Too often we take these relationships for granted.  We think that the other people know how grateful we are for them, but we don’t always share our gratitude to others. We should though because this will strengthen the relationship. One area where we often fail in this is with romantic relationships. Once the honeymoon phase ends, we get caught up in life, and tend to forget about our partners positive traits and it takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves, and our partners why we are grateful for them. Doing this daily not only boosts our individual happiness, but will increase our partners mood, and make them feel loved and appreciated. This is true with our relationships with our parents, our siblings, our children, and our friends as well.  We should all strive to live a mindful life of appreciation for ourselves and others and show those we love that appreciation every day.

Life so often throws us curve balls, and doesn’t always want to follow whatever plan we had in our heads. It is easy to be appreciative and grateful when things are going well in life, but it is so much harder when things aren’t going well. In the face of challenges, losses, adversity, and hardships we become filled with stress, sadness, anxiety, and fear. There is seemingly no room for gratefulness. How can I be grateful when so many things are going wrong? I’ve fallen into this trap many times over the years. But even in times of hardship, we can be grateful and we can learn from each setback, Through mistakes we learn lessons, through pain we can learn patience, through loss we can learn resilience, and compassion. Even when life feels more negative than positive we can make the effort to find gratitude and focus on the good. I’ve found blessings in every major step back in my life (though sometimes it took a few years to see it) and I’ve grown stronger and better through each broken relationship. I’ve lost great friends and great loves, but I’ve learned and grown from each loss.

The greatest thing that I’ve learned through all of life’s hardships is self-acceptance. For most of us, we are our own worst critics. We judge ourselves for our emotions, we feel guilty for our failings and we berate our own humanity. But we are all imperfect works in progress. Rather than focusing on our negative emotions and aspects of our self that we don’t like, we need to focus on all the amazing qualities that we have and I guarantee that the positive qualities outweigh the negatives. By focusing on what we love about ourselves, we can better focus on improving the areas in our lives that we want to improve. Dwelling on our imperfections will just breed more unhappiness, but being grateful for our positive qualities will make us feel more fulfilled.

Every day I reflect on all the things and all the people that I am grateful for.  I try to focus on what is right in front of me and all around me and appreciate it all. Noticing the little things in life are truly words to live by. By living a life of appreciation and gratitude, we can strive to become the most perfect version of our imperfect self.