I have never seen happiness as a choice. I actually considered it a feeling that you would magical find yourself in when all the pieces of your life fit perfectly together. Like one day I would wake up, look at the amazing life I created for myself, breathe in deeply, and say "now I am happy". But that day has not come. Not because I have not felt intense states of positive or pleasant emotions, which is the textbook meaning of happiness. But rather because that "perfect" life I was longing for, never came to pass. I am actually still in the midst of creating it. So if my whole concept of happiness was contingent upon certain achievements that have yet to come into fruition, Am I happy? Maybe I am not...but not so fast. In order for us to understand if we can make ourselves happy then we have to define what happiness means.
So then what is happiness? Humanity has been grappling with the meaning of happiness for centuries. There are many different definitions of happiness, but here is the one I like the most;
In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky elaborates, describing happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Our lives consist of choices. What you decide to eat, wear, do, and engage in is all a choice. Happiness can be one too. Although no one can tell you what will make you happy, because being happy is different for everyone, you can personally choose to lead a joyful life. Happiness is not something you can acquire or do; you can't force it into your life by external means. In effect, you can not "become happy", rather happiness is a state of being. A choice you make despite the circumstances in your life. Not related to achievements, money, and other superficial things. It comes to you with the right attitude, often shifting your focus from yourself to others. You can exist in a positive world even though things are not perfect.
But what if you are going through some real sh*t, like death of a spouse, child, parent or eviction and financial problems? How does happiness play a role then?
It's really hard when you are going through personal trials and tribulations to be happy. I absolutely think that it's okay to have a pity party if you feel that things are going downhill. But move through that emotion, take your time (not too much time), and come out the other side. I believe that happiness is intentional. When you value progress in your life over perfection, then you can begin to change the way you live your life. Knowing that suffering and struggles are apart of life will help you to put your own situation into context. Keep in mind that the people who suffer tragedy come out stronger and have a better understanding of overall happiness.
Dr. RamanI Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, and author. Says sometimes tragedy enters (which is often a more severe variant of struggle and suffering). It is at times of tragedy that we get forced into coping and pushing through, and regardless of what shape you are in on the other side of the tragedy, you can learn from the fact that the world did not stop spinning and in fact you are still moving forward,"
"Tragedy also allows for a reframe. I am a big believer that we are often imprisoned by our expectations, scripts, and the illusions that often keep us prisoner to lives that are less than inauthentic ... tragedy often shatters these illusions and rewrites these expectations in a way that we may pursue life in a bolder and innovative way (once we experience a major loss or shift, we realize that we have far less control than we assume, risks become easier to take)."
Here are some ways to "make" yourself happy.
1. Let go of what you cannot control. There are some things you just can't control, it's just a fact of life. You may not be able to change what is happening to you, but you can change the way you react to it inside.
2. Spend time with your loved ones. According to happifydaily.com, 2012 survey of thousands of British adults found that having regular contact with 10 or more friends had a significant impact on an individual's happiness level. People who had fewer friends reported lower levels of happiness all-around. Having a social circle will help to promote a longer, happier life. If the people around you are not making you joyful then you need to find people who will.
3. Be authentic, but not perfect. Perfectionism is a disease. It is a losing battle that often hinders creativity and freedom. You will live a much happier life if you are authentic to who you are. Plus you will be more fun to be around.
4. Take care of yourself. We often have busy lives that leave us depleted of energy and time. You can't make it through life if you don't take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Treat yourself like your very best friend. Take care of your health by eating well. Spend time doing things you love to do. Spend time alone honoring your journey and being thankful that you are alive. For with life there is always hope. Even if the hope is tiny or far away.
5. Learn something new. Research has shown that people who are always engaged in doing and learning new things have increased levels of well-being and happiness. The brain like a muscle needs to be exercised with continuous learning. Know that education is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and longevity, and it is up to you what you learn. You don't need a formal education. It can be as simple as learning Spanish, or how to cook. The world is your oyster! Take advantage of it.
6. Learn and practice gratitude. I will say this everyday, all the time if I have to. Gratitude leads to abundance. Gratitude can also be a beacon of light in a dark situation. Find something to be thankful for even if it's something small. Nothing is too small or big to employ thankfulness. You will see amazing things happen in your life when you start off with appreciation.
7. Meditate. Since I have started a meditation practice, I have been more focused and calm. In addition, research has shown that meditation can also increase happiness. It allows you to calm your thoughts and connect with your inner self. This often leads to more compassion, less activity in the amygdala; the section of the brain that controls fear, anxiety, and stress, and can help change your thought patterns. Take a few minutes out of your day to mediate, it will make a big difference.
8. Go outside. We have heard the benefits of exercise. People who exercise have a fewer chance of relapsing from addiction, depression, and several other issues. But very few people talk about the importance of sunlight to your emotional well being. Find a way to go outside. When the body recognizes sunlight through the optic nerve, the gland in the brain which regulates melatonin slows its function, and serotonin levels increase. When light is diminished, the body increases the secretion of melatonin, and the secretion of serotonin is conversely slowed. Sunlight has been known to increase vitality and energy. It gives you a big dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is linked to healthy cell and bone growth, reduces inflammation, and helps to stimulate immune function. Although we lead lives that can make it easy to never go outside, just being in nature is essential to our health.
9. Do something for someone else. Helping others brings more joy, love, and compassion to your life. Studies has shown that people find more joy when they spend money on people rather than material things. If you don't have anything to give you can always try putting a smile on someone's face. It's the thought that counts.
10. Forgive yourself!! No one is perfect, no one will ever be perfect. I don't care how many articles, blogs, tv shows are written about them. Perfect doesn't exist. We all make mistakes. Life is not about the mistakes you have made, it's about learning from them to help yourself do better in the future. And if you have done a mistake that is really bad, take that as a mission to help prevent others from doing the same. But still forgive yourself for not knowing and just do better.
There is a constant quest for happiness. And there are many more things you can do to practice happiness like travel, work on your dreams, stay away from negativity, or celebrate the small victories you have in life. Just know that feeling or attaining happiness will not come from your attachment to things or a proverbial "to do" list of accomplishments; but rather to your intentional decision to see happiness in your life. Don't compare your happiness to anyone else's. Happiness is as unique to us as the amazing people who live on the Earth.