WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”
–Margaret Lee Runbeck, American Author
Happiness is a subject that seems simple. We often think that happiness happens when we’re comfortable and well fed and things are going right. But if happiness is being on the perfect beach with the perfect fruity drink to sip while being caressed by warm, fragrant breezes, why are we sometimes happiest when doing something challenging or scary?
Happiness is nuanced. It’s not just pasting a smiley face symbol over everything, and it’s not just when things are going the way we want them to.
True happiness starts when you notice and savor the frost on that fruity drink or the feel of the sand between your toes as those good times happen. Happiness continues when you find enjoyment in simple tasks like taking out the trash or when you become amused instead of annoyed at the person who just barged to the front of the line that you’re in. Happiness matures as you consciously add to your life things that bring you joy and contentment. Happiness deepens when you feel pain, emotionally or physically, know that it’s part of your life experience and accept it and grow from it. Happiness becomes dependable when you start to become aware of a place inside where happiness resides that can’t be displaced by external occurrences.
I just said that true happiness resides inside. That’s right, but almost nobody I know can jump inside and find that happy place without first finding some happiness outside, where they live now.
So, moving toward happiness is a process of changing what’s happening in our lives enough to give us a glimpse of where that happiness inside is. When we get that peek at happiness, we’re able to believe a little more and imagine a little more what happiness inside means while experiencing it in our lives.
Each time we’re aware of the feeling of happiness as we learn to bring more of it into our lives, we’re also aware of where that happiness lives inside us. That makes it easier to find it again.
So, we all start with—and this book starts with—how to bring happiness into our lives. When you have positivity in your life, are engaged in something you care about, have good relationships, feel like your life has meaning not just to yourself but to others, and feel like you’re accomplishing something in your life, you can feel secure that you’ll look back and call it a happy life.
Because happiness is a subject with many textures, I use many words in this book to describe the parts of it. Words and phrases such as contentment, peace of mind, enjoyment, not sad, satisfaction, richness of experience, lack of fear, joy, having enough, calmness, not anxious, engagement, lightness, lack of stress, ease, laughter, meaning, strength, and hopefulness all point to happiness. They point from all directions inward at that happiness inside.
How to Find Happiness?
One of the first steps toward knowing happiness is creating the feeling that we have some control over where we’re going in our lives. When we feel like we can choose what our lives are like, we enjoy the journey more. In the next chapter, we explore a powerful tool for choosing where our lives are going. This tool, the Belief-Word-Action Spiral, affects our lives whether we’re aware of it or not, so we’re going to become aware of it and use it for our own good.
In that chapter, and the five chapters following, we look at what we all do to get in the way of our own happiness and how to head back toward that happiness, often using the Belief-Word-Action Spiral. Gratitude, Thankfulness for Everything, Forgiveness, and being aware of Negative Self Talk are all ways to let our inner happiness shine through the roadblocks that life and our minds throw in front of us.
In the later chapters of this book, we move into having experiences that will add to our happiness and make it a deeper and richer experience. We’ll discuss how knowing the calm “Inner You” that is always there brings a strong feeling of peace, how improving our relationships adds flavor to our lives, and how finding meaning in what we do brings satisfaction that fills our soul in a way that’s bigger than just us.
Peace of Mind
What brings real happiness is the knowledge that it’s lasting and not a fleeting experience that shows up when something wonderful happens. When you can be sure that happiness won’t leave you during the tough times, you gain a new level of serenity.
This book offers the tools that will make happiness dependable in your life. It will show you how to have the life you want, filled with good relationships, meaning, and a deep feeling of contentment that isn’t dependent on what may come. It’ll bring you peace of mind.
Here’s an example of what I mean by peace of mind. One day at work, I had a TIA, a Transient Ischemic Attack, a ministroke, caused by my heart arrythmia, which has since been fixed. I was told that I zoned out for almost a minute, drooled a bit, and didn’t respond to people calling my name. Then I came back out of it, and they called an ambulance.
At the hospital as the CT scan technician wheeled me back toward the machine, I asked him about his job. He told me he liked how his work schedule allowed him to take his kids to school in the mornings. As he was putting the dye in me for my brain scan, he said, “Can I ask you a question? Everyone I bring back here is worried and scared, and they ask me, ‘How could this happen to me?’ or ‘Why me?’ You’re different. You’re joking with me and asking about my kids. What’s up?”
I told him.
I said, “I’ve come to a place where I embrace everything that happens to me. I’ve been practicing being thankful for whatever comes my way for so long that I have confidence that this experience will have meaning in my life too. It took me a bit of work to get here, but it sure makes things more fun and less frightening.” He just nodded and smiled and started the machine.
That’s what I’m talking about when I mention peace of mind. Yes, I was worried, but I knew that I had the tools to handle the next thing that came, and to make something meaningful out of it. I knew I could find a place of contentment anywhere.
Start Where You Are
Let’s start with where you are now and talk about where we’re going.
Does this sound familiar?
I never seem to have enough money.
I’m always getting sick. I seem to catch whatever’s going around.
I don’t have enough time to do what I really want to do.
I can’t seem to catch a break.
Something is always going wrong.
I’m not lucky in love.
My kids are out of control, and all I do is yell at them.
My spouse doesn’t treat me right.
I really don’t like my job.
I can’t seem to stop eating (or drinking or smoking)
I’m tired of all this.
People take advantage of me.
I worry all the time.
I get depressed a lot.
Most people can relate to at least a few of these statements, and for some people, they describe their life. By the end of this book, my goal for you is to be able to say the opposite.
I like my job.
Things don’t bother me much.
I’m generally healthy.
I get along with people.
I choose where my life goes.
I have lots of good things in my life.
Let’s make all of these true statements. Using the tools in this book will bring luck, wealth, health, and better relationships. Then an amazing thing will happen. Your happiness will depend less and less on these things. Your happiness will come from inside. You’ll be at a high level of contentment whatever comes your way.
At this moment, you probably can’t depend on happiness. Happiness happens, but you don’t have confidence that it will be there when you need it. You don’t know exactly what brings you contentment and what shatters it.
Let’s start taking the steps to enduring happiness.
Let Go of Preconceptions
“If what you’re doing is not working, adjust your course. We are learning constantly, growing and evolving as we go. We take in new information, and with it, we become even better than before.”
—Frank Leigh, Do the Right Thing, Do it All the Time
One problem you might encounter when reading this book is that what works to bring happiness might sound wrong the first time you hear it. It may go against what you’ve been told about success and happiness. What’s true is that the very things that seem like they should make you happy instead make you stressed, and things that seem like they will only make you poorer make you happier.
In his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes an old South Indian method of catching monkeys. The natives hollow out a coconut, put some rice through a small hole in it and chain it to a stake. The hole is big enough for the monkey’s hand to fit in, but when he grabs the rice, his fist and the rice won’t fit back out through the hole. The monkey is stuck but can’t make itself let go of the rice, which would make his hand smaller and allow him to go free.
Trying to be happy by doing things as we have always done them leaves us like the monkey with his hand in a coconut. By grasping so hard and holding on to things that we’re convinced will make us happy, we become trapped. When we take the scary step of releasing what we want so badly, we can get what we have really needed all along.
When we start to loosen our hold on what we think we need for happiness, to fight just a little less, we start to get positive feedback right away. I’m not tossing you out there with vague instructions either. We’ll get very specific in the coming chapters.
All that’s needed is for you to keep an open mind and take at least one small step. When you allow yourself to take one small step toward living a happier life, you’ll see that it works, and the second small step will be easier.
I’m a big believer in getting started. When you learn a concept, you don’t know it until you’ve lived it, and you can’t live it without making mistakes. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, you can know the general direction you want to go and take a step in that direction.
Getting started is one of the themes of this book. Start moving, learn as you go, feel what it’s like, and make corrections when they’re needed.
It’s like learning to ride a bike. I can tell you for hours about pedaling and steering and pushing back to brake. It’s all words until I grab the back of the seat, put you on the bike, and say, “pedal.” With me holding the seat so you don’t fall, you start to get a feel for it. As soon as you start pedaling, and feel the balance, and know bike riding in your body as an experience, all the words start to make sense.
What most people need are practical, step-by-step instructions to go along with the explanations. After that, they need practice. This book will give you both.
This book will help you to enjoy the journey, not endure it. You’ll find yourself not having to fight with life and instead, able to play with life. Then, you’ll realize you have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you will continue to be satisfied with your life no matter what life throws at you.
At the end of each chapter there is a section marked “Living It.” These are breaks for you to take what you’ve just read and start to feel the effects of them.
There’s also a section at the end of the book with the same name. This section is a daily fifteen-minute program you can follow to move deeply into the changes that can happen in your life when you start to live a life aware of the rules of life and how to make them work.
If you stop at each of the Living It sections in the chapters, and feel the effects of each of them, you’ll reach the daily program ready and eager to start it.
If you sign up with your email address at our website, we’ll send you one of the Living It practices once a week.