I used to chase happiness like a fiend.
I would run after different experiences – goals, achievements – quite sure that once I caught up to them, happiness would at last be at my beck and call.
This is when I learned happiness is a very fast runner.
So then I would try to sneak up on happiness…like, “if I don’t care to little or too much but just enough”….it won’t see me coming and I can catch it.
Turns out happiness is related to owls – they both have 360 degree vision and exceptionally keen hearing.
Finally I decided to sit still, very quietly, until happiness forgot I was there, let down its guard, and crept close.
This, surprisingly, worked better than either of the other two strategies.
After reading a short post in Time magazine’s Wellness section, I think I know why.
Apparently, for Americans, the pursuit of happiness is inexorably linked to achieving individual goals.
This is a very big contrast to how other cultures (happier cultures!) view happiness – as a social phenomenon that happens most readily when it is shared.
But our individualistic society puts the sole responsibility for catching and restraining happiness squarely on each of our respective shoulders – a heavy burden indeed.
Brett Ford, the author of the study Time references in their post, says that for this very reason, what we Americans tend to end up with instead of happiness is a life full of neutrality.
We’re not really sad….not really happy….just kind of in between, existing.
Personally, in a world fueled by Facebook posts full of ridiculously happy people doing amazing happiness-producing things, I find it reassuring to know that behind the scenes, no one is really that happy all the time.
I also like what Ford tells Time reporter Mandy Oaklander:
A happy life doesn’t consist of happy moments every moment of the day.
So back to why I now understand why letting happiness come to me works better than chasing it down or pouncing on it.
According to today’s happiness researchers, it is because happiness is more readily found through perspective and presence than big plans and big payoffs.
In other words, I can set myself up to feel happier without any help from goal setting or goal achievement.
A mentor of mine tried to teach me this years ago – we were both working in a horrid white collar job that was literally no fun at all. And yet he found little ways to make it fun for us both – stopping for frozen yogurt during our route, choosing a scenic route during our sales calls to admire a local aquifer, and basically just moving from moment to moment in his day while making a deliberate attempt to notice the small blessings and wonders and appreciate them.
I didn’t understand at the time that he was teaching me how to notice happiness in my life and make it last.
But now I do. I understand.
Happiness is in the memory of the last happy moment and in the anticipation of the next one (which could be the one right after this one if I play my cards right!).
Happiness is in cultivating calm and presence – enough to notice and celebrate the small stuff.
Finally, happiness is in the choice to be happy.
And a big part of this – for me at least – is getting to know myself really, really well.
By knowing myself as I really am – not as others wish I would be, as I wish I would be, as I think I should be, or some combination thereof – I also know what really makes me feel happiest.
And I can choose to seek out more of that day by day by day.
Today’s Takeaway: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would you say you are on a daily basis? Would you like to be happier? If so, what do you think is holding you back? What could you begin changing to feel more happiness?