“The purpose of life is to be happy” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
It may be surprising to hear these words from one of the world’s leading spiritual teachers. We tend to associate spirituality with the achievement of enlightened states of conscious development, rather than a state of personal happiness.
And although at first glance the desire for happiness may appear to be self-centered, a closer examination at the extended effects of our own happiness reveals that our happiness produces a positive impact on the lives of others, and in the world around us.
The desire for greater happiness, is neither selfish nor unique to Western culture. It is hard-wired into all human beings. Happy people naturally and effortlessly promote greater goodwill in others. Happiness isn’t good just for you, it’s good for society as a whole. And it is contagious.
When we feel fulfilled we are much less likely to experience and express resentment, judgment, unsolicited criticism, negative judgments, impatience, defensiveness, or hostility towards others. Happiness tends to generate feelings of acceptance, appreciation, openness, gratitude, and trust. Happiness is a state of being that reinforces itself when you share it.
Some people seem to be naturally happier than others. This may, in fact be the case. We all have happiness set points. A set point is the level at which we are predisposed to live at in regard to the amount of well-being that we are accustomed to feeling in our lives. Whether we experience adversity or good fortune in our lives, we tend in time to return to the set point that we are habituated to experience. Research has shown that lottery winners and those who have undergone extreme hardship due to a health crisis or accident, within a year or so to return to the level of happiness they had prior to their life change.
So then, why bother even trying to get happier if your set point won’t let you remain any happier over time?
Smart question. The good news is that your set point can be changed. It can be raised by engaging in repetitive practices that eventually become internalized and in doing so, create a “new norm.”
The lesson is, that it is possible to deliberately become a happier person, regardless of your life circumstances, through intentionality and practice. If the idea of doing so appeals to you, you might want to check out this starter kit of ten practices that will help raise your happiness set point.
- Be aware of the kinds of thoughts that you choose to focus on. While we can’t control the thoughts that pop into our mind, we do have the power to determining those thoughts we choose to give our attention. Practicing mindfulness enables us to detach from obsessive thoughts that keep us in a distressed state of mind.
- Set an intention to cultivate a state of greater happiness and commit to acting in ways that fulfill your vision. Intention is a powerful vehicle for change. Consciously setting a positive intention can help to override unconscious intentions that may be competing with your desire to be happy.
- Remember the serenity prayer that reminds us of how important it is to discern what we can change from what we cannot, and to practice acceptance of the latter and committed action with the former.
- Keep in mind that the degree of happiness that we experience has more to do with the way that we think than it has to do with the circumstances and events of our lives. While pessimistic or negative thinking occurs with all of us from time to time, it doesn’t always reflect the truth about things. It may be a product of ingrained thinking patterns. You don’t have to stand and salute negative thoughts. Instead, see if you can challenge them by offering a different interpretation. Don’t believe everything you think.
- Invest your time and money in experiences that you know increase your level of happiness. That includes things like play, learning, adventure, connecting deeply with others, relaxation, and creative activities (rather than purchasing unnecessary material goods that tend to provide quickly-diminishing pleasure).
- Practice mindfulness through meditation or by living with a heightened and non-judging awareness of your ongoing experience.
- Commit to developing a greater sense of personal resilience. This has to do with the ability to recover quickly from adversity. We all experience adversity at times in our lives but some of us are able to “Get back on the horse” more quickly than others. Try to learn the lessons inherent in your experience and then move on with the newly acquired wisdom that the lessons provide.
- Identify the sources of stress in your life that are excessive and seek to reduce them. Stress is not inherently harmful or bad, but too much stress is. Learn to distinguish a healthy level of stress from an unhealthy one.
- Keep in mind that nothing is permanent. That includes not just “things,” but less-substantive aspects of life, including feelings, moods, quality of health, and financial circumstances; not to mention life itself. “This too shall pass” is a mantra that is worth repeating when things are bad or good. When they are bad, we’re reminded that it’s not forever; when they are good, it reminds us to enjoy the present while it lasts.
- Even though it doesn’t always seem to be the case, worry is a choice. It’s natural and reasonable to be concerned about the future. However, when responsible concern goes over the line and becomes obsessive worry, you’ve moved into an unhealthy mind state. Choosing to focus your attention on something other than your worst fears can help to shift your set point and raise your happiness level from the minus column to neutral or even positive.
Like we said, this is just a starter kit. There are lots of other things you can do that will raise your set point and lift your experience of happiness to a higher level. Try these out for a while and notice the results. Our next blog will offer ten more suggested practices that will help you to get the job done.
Stay tuned and enjoy!