We often think that the goal is life is to reach the end of something. Yet most of us get so focused on the conclusion we don’t focus on the present. This article shares some thoughts about the journey of happiness.
By Joe Wilner
Would you say it’s to be successful, to have loving relationships, to make a difference in the world, or to be wealthy?
Maybe it’s all of the above – though there is one common denominator for all of these: to be happy. We all want to be happy, right?
Some would say the search for happiness is the greatest motivator of humankind.
For many people this is the primary goal of their life.
We do what we do in the hopes that we will ultimately find greater happiness.
It’s intuitive to think that if we value happiness so much, we would ultimately be happier. If you want something bad enough, don’t you do whatever it takes to reach this goal?
For most goals this works out okay. If I want to achieve good grades in school, improve my sales, get more clients, etc. the harder I work the better my results will probably be.
Unfortunately, when happiness is our end goal and we approach it this way, it may lead to less happiness.
This is because unlike getting good grades, there is a paradoxical effect between the goal and our evaluation of the outcome. Think about it; the more we value happiness the more likely we are to expect happiness and to set higher happiness standards that are difficult to obtain.
Putting a high value on happiness leads us to be disappointed because our level of happiness won’t meet our expectations.
This is particularly true in situations where there is little stress and where happiness would seem to be most in reach. There is nothing to attribute our lack of happiness to, and we may assume “I should be happier!”
This only takes away from our potential of experiencing greater joy, contentment, and pleasure.
So, what does this mean if we want to flourish and experience greater happiness?
Should you just neglect this natural tendency and not worry about what happens in life? Of course not, but it will require learning and developing a happiness plan. A plan where you apply intentional activities and make a conscious effort to change the way you live your life.
Here are five interventions to help you develop a greater quality of life.
Learning to be grateful – Focusing on what you’re grateful or thankful for is a major way to begin experiencing more happiness. People who keep a gratitude and appreciation diary generally see a rise in their happiness within a few weeks. The idea is simple. Just write down 3 – 5 things that you appreciate, and hope to see continue. Write a brief note about how those good things came about. Try to make an entry every few days, or at least once or twice a week.
Building on Strengths – Dr. Marty Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson developed a list of universal virtues or personal strengths. These seem to be valued in every society, and research now suggests if you develop your strong areas, you will be more productive and happy. Write each night about what you did to work on your strengths. Pick the top two or three strengths in yourself and do something each day that “plays to” that strength.
Lifestyle Skills – There is a strong relationship between diet, physical activity, sleep and mood. If you want to be happier get adequate sleep, not too much and not too little. Eat a well balanced diet and avoid drugs, alcohol, and caffeine. Make time to exercise at least three times per week, even if it’s just going for a walk for 20-30 minutes.
Random Kindness – Commit to doing a few good deeds a few days a week. These can be small or moderate in size. Don’t overdo it. It can be something small like putting a coin in a parking meter, for example. In the winter you can clean the snow off a neighbor’s windshield. In the spring weed a neighbor’s flower patch. Send an anonymous donation to a school in a poor neighborhood. The list could go on and on.
Meditation – Meditation can help us relax, stay in the moment, and be more mindful of our thinking and emotions. When we are deeply relaxed, when our mind and our body is quiet, we recover quickly from stress. Developing a meditation practice can be a great way to cope with a fast-paced life and cultivate more positive emotions.
Happiness is not an end goal in itself but is more of a lifestyle. Happiness is not some state we will one day reach for good, but an ongoing process requiring work and practice to manage our thinking, outlook and habits.