How to Be a Happier Human
By Pam Montgomery, Feb 13 2016 08:11PM
Aristotle says that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existance. Well, I have to say I disagree. I know, I know...how dare I disagree? It's Aristotle after all! But I believe that the pursuit of happiness, above all other pursuits, leads to distruction - think the Roman empire.
So, when I speak of happiness, I'm not speaking of hedonism or "the devotion to pleasure as a way of life", because I don't believe that hedonism leads to happiness. Instead, when I describe happiness, I speak more of contentment, joy and peace - a longlasting sense of hope and meaning.
Additionally, I disagree with the popular notion that "happiness is a choice." Oh gosh, I fear I sound like a totally disagreeable person! If you read on, though, I think you'll find that I'm not. You, like many others, may hold the opinion that happiness is a choice, and that's fine, but if happiness were a simple choice why isn't our society filled with people who are happy instead of stressed, lonely, angry, pessimistic, bitter and resentful? Yikes, that's a pretty grim view of our society..but it is, truly, what I'm seeing.
In my veiw, no, happiness is not a choice. It is a process and a goal. Not an unrealistic, "I never want to have negative emotions," goal, but a goal to understand and live in the reality that hope is real, I have value and purpose, and, ultimately, God has my back.
So why is it so hard to believe these things?
Well, my theory (taken from a combination of ideas from Dallas Willard and Fr. Thomas de Mello) is that our life's story informs our heart of certain untruths and our thoughts naturally serve to confirm these untruths, it is a transformation of the heart which brings about longterm happiness. And we CAN choose transformation.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose to transform your heart, mind and spirit to live a happier life:
1. Agency - This is just a fancy term for the belief that you have some control over the direction of your life (internal locus of control). While noone has perfect control, nor should they, operating out of a belief system that you have CHOICES in your life, choices to respond to circumstances rather than being victimized by them, is a key quality of those who report that they are happy.
2. Lifestyle - Are you living a lifestyle that engenders happiness? Think of your job, your family life, your social circle, your hobbies, your free time. Do you take time to play? Do you laugh with your friends? Are you doing what you love? If the answer is no, what will you do to make changes? Yes, you can choose to make changes - see point #1. If you choose to believe that you have no internal locus of control, why would you choose that untruth? What do you gain from believing you are a helpless victim of life? It's an important question to ask yourself.
3. Gratitude - When we focus more on what we DO have than what we don't have, we become happier. I could choose to hate my body for performing the way I would want it to, or I could choose to be thankful for what I CAN do. I'm thankful that I can walk, that as I treat my body better it performs better. I'm thankful that I can see beauty, that I can hear music and that I can taste chocolate.
4. Optimism - I belive that to be optimisitic means more than choosing to be a Pollyanna and "look on the bright side." Optimism, instead, is a belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. So and optimist understands that negative events will naturally enter their lives, but, in the end, the positives will win out. It's a "glass half full" mentality, not an unrealistic "glass is always full" mentality.
5. Flow - From wikipedia (oh, don't hate me for quoting wikipedia - my young friend, Briana, shared some research from 'Nature' magazine that showed that there is no statistically significant difference between errors in wikipedia and in Encyclopedia Brittanica...but I digress): flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Notice it when you experience it. What activities take you to a moment of 'flow'? It could be working on a piece of artwork, taking a walk in nature, or building a homemade robot. Whatever it is for you, notice it, and engage in that activity on a regular basis. It will serve to fill your spirit with happiness.
6. Forgiveness - Yes, happiness may not be a choice, but forgiveness is. Forgiveness is possibly the most misunderstood tenant of Christendom and, because it is, it requires a bigger definition that I have space to provide here. So, instead of writing a thesis of forgiveness, I will just share a couple of quotes Ann Lamotte that I believe cut right to the core of the issue:
"Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past." and
"Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done. It doesn't necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare..."
Remember, unforgiveness keeps YOU rooted in bitterness, but does little to impact the other person. Unforgiveness punishes YOU more than the person who hurt you. But, when you choose to humbly understand that everyone (even those who were supposed to love us, but hurt us instead) is a wounded and broken person; everyone has been injured, disappointed, abused, neglected and betrayed; everyone has lived out the painful lies of their story; everyone just longs for safety, love, acceptance and significance, it becomes easier to forgive...not to trust, but to forgive. Unforgiveness, I believe, is one of the most glaring symptoms of pride and others-contempt. Unforgiveness is simply 'throwing the first stone.' Forgive and be free.
7. Mindfulness - Living in the present moment, living from the heart, living in the 'here and now.' These are all terms decscribing mindfulness. When you find yourself drifting, losing touch with your own self and this present moment, call yourself back by listening to your heart. What are you feeling in this moment? What are the sensations in your body? These questions will bring you back to 'now.' By living a mindful life, you actually live life rather than drifting from moment to moment. Do you find that you can't remember what you did yesterday? You can't remember what you had for breakfast? You can't remember the smell of the flowers from the field that you walked through this morning? If this is the norm for you, you're not being mindful. Instead, pay attention to each moment; notice the sights, tastes, smells, sounds and feel of the world around you. When you take a bite of food, notice the texture and the way it moves across your tongue. Notice the sweetness, tartness. In doing so, you engage with life. Individuals who live mindful lives report a greater level of happiness than those who simply drift from moment to moment.
8. Spirituality - People who report belief in a Higher Power and participation in spiritual practices have happier lives. What are your spiritual beliefs? How is your relationship with God? These are important considerations - even if you've been hurt by 'religion' you can still pursue a relationship with God. Get to know who He really is so that you can understand your own value and discover hope. Participate in mindful prayer. Read scripture. Practice the contemplative arts of silence and solitude. Connect with God's heart. In doing so, your soul will be renewed, your heart transformed and your happiness increased.
9. Purpose - Discover your life's purpose and pursue it. What do your personality, temperment, talents and longings tell you you were meant to do? No one is more content than the man who gets paid for doing what he loves. And even if he doesn't get paid, volunteering for a cause that speaks to your heart fills a person with a sense of meaninful purpose and increases happiness. Are you doing what you love? Do you feel you have purpose? What are you going to do about it?
10. Others Focus - Yes, happiness grows not out of focusing on what makes me 'feel good,' but out of knowing that I have made another feel good. Sure this isn't true for individuals who can't see past themselves, but YOU aren't a narcissist, right? Have you ever served others? What went on inside you when you saw the faces of those you served? Even if you aren't serving, seeing others and calling them by name is sometimes enough to make them smile. My dad always made a concerted effort to call people by name whether it be a friend, coworker or waitress. If he knew their name, he used it and they knew they were seen.
We live in a culture filled with lonely people. When you choose to let them know that you see them and that you value them, you bring happiness into their lives and make your own happiness increase. It doesn't take any energy all and makes a big difference.
Ultimately, sure, it sounds like a lot of work and, on the surface, I guess it is. However, would you rather live a 'life of quiet desperation' or a life with pupose, hope and meaning? These are the things that will bring happiness. Choose one or two to focus on today and in the days to come. Then, add another and another. You are responsible for creating the life you long to live - go out and do it.
*There are some conditions, such as depression, that can interfere with your pursuit of happiness. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you just can't seem to make any headway. If your story is just too much to face; if you feel depressed or overly anxious; or overwhelmed and don't know where to start, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a FREE 15-minute consultation - perhaps you need someone to walk the path to happiness with you and I'd be honored to be that person.
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I Just Can't Take It Anymore: A Guide to Dealing With Your Overstressed Life"!