There’s no Way to Happiness. Happiness is the Way!
[:en]Today is March 20, International Day of Happiness; the day United Nations attributed to celebrating and striving for happiness for all. Throughout history of mankind, despite great losses, tragedies, and sufferings, pursue for happiness has always remained. It is a state that we all seek to get to or be in. We perceive it as a destination we wish to arrive. We strive so hard and struggle so much along the path that we wear ourselves out; we suffer with the frustration of not having reached our point of arrival as we wished to. Imagine a small kid desires for a candy apple; failing to get it, feels as though having ended up with its stick! Failure in meeting our aspired expectation, sometimes, leads to even higher level of frustration and unhappiness. Huge inner conflict and dilemma! Despite that, we do not give up on our expectations, or striving to attain them.
In this piece of article, I aim at bringing diverse perspectives towards the “happiness” issue. I have no intention, whatsoever, to argue a “Pollyanna” style of optimism through a “no matter what happens, we should be happy” message. After all, what we want for ourselves, for our family, and for everyone around us is to be happy. So as the United Nations! This is why the UN, as of 2013, attributed a particular day to happiness, among other days to celebrate or honor –such as professions (teachers, dentists, doctors), social roles (such as mothers, fathers, women), or attitudes (zero discrimination -March 1st, compassion day -November 28th, gratitude day -September 21st).
Obviously, these days receive a distinctive attribution, for promoting awareness. From an optimistic perspective it is valuable to have a special day; however from the pessimistic side, it signifies that there is a serious lack! Still, a single day in a year for raising awareness on the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world is far too little. We need to remember, seek, and strive, everyday, “to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet –three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness” (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – 2015). Nonetheless, it all starts first with us.
A complex phenomenon, to characterize and implement: Happiness.
So, what is happiness anyway? Is it something –even a “thing!” that we can define, describe, or characterize? The truth is that happiness is a complex concept, difficult to explain. UN has recognized happiness through the above three key aspects. Science and philosophy explains happiness in two distinct ways: Hedonic and Eudaimonic. Epicurus for example, defines happiness as having a good life, experiencing good events and pleasures. It involves pleasure seeking, and pain avoidance, where the goal of life is achieving maximum level of pleasure, satisfying appetite and self-interest. This is the Hedonic way, where happiness is viewed as subjective evaluation and concerns over one’s experiences from good and bad elements of life. Meanwhile, the Eudaimonic view explains happiness as achieving one’s potential, fulfillment of oneself through living in harmony with own self; or self-actualizing –the famous 5th level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Among the famous philosophers, Plato describes it as being moral and just, where one may find happiness by caring about others’ happiness. Aristotle describes it as finding the meaning and purpose of life. Socrates explains happiness with the wisdom of knowing oneself (self-awareness), where the more the person knows him/herself, the greater will have the ability to reason and make choices to bring happiness.
Let aside all science and philosophy, assuming that our truth and perception of reality is subjective; our own definition of happiness –based on our own experience, life circumstances, and aspirations, is the valid one! Lend your thought to the following questions… What is your view of happiness? If I asked you to think of happiness, which concepts or words would appear in your mind? Perhaps some shapes, figures, or images… Maybe colors or tones… It might be a place, moment, or event… Do they have any time zone? Perhaps in the past, present, or maybe future…
“There is no way to happiness –happiness is the way.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
There is one thing I am sure of, is that we signify our happiness more on things, events, and places based on past experiences or conditioned to future expectations. We have all uttered such phrases at some stage of our lives: I’ll be happy… when I get a (better) job; when I find a life partner”; when I recover back my health. The truth, there is no way to happiness; all we know that we may experience happiness while walking along the way. Conditioning our happiness on future experiences is a complete mystery. We do not even know whether the job, partner or new health conditions will make me feel happier, or not! Such conditioning involves hope (which is fabulous to have!), however it reminds me of the expectation of the candy apple and ending up with the stick! The question I ask myself in such moments is, “what is it that I feel happy about, now, despite my current employment or health condition?” In a way, it is transforming my future expectations into hope, and focusing on the resources the present moment offers.
Another way of happiness we commonly experience is through ruminating on or talking about past experiences with nostalgic state. It is like looking back and remembering a past moment of enjoyable talk with friends at a party, nice thrilling movie, fascinating sightseeing tour, or engaging activity at work; and saying, “ooh we had such great time!” with a soft smile in the face. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it phenomenal?! We tend to experience more the sense of happiness when we recall of the time that we were feeling happy. What’s bothering me in this “phenomenal thing” is that while we live in the present, with the pursuit of happiness, we are less aware how we miss the joys of the momentary experiences; and only some time later, we recall and cherish the pleasant, fulfilling, and joyous experience.
We do so for a particular reason: despite physically being in the present time, our mind and subjective evaluation travels through past and future. In reality, we commute and literally re-live sorrows and regrets; and pre-live worries and hopes. What we need, as a matter of fact, is to stick to what there is now, at the present moment, where we actually are; and cherish and fully enjoy what present moment offers (To recall how you may enjoy the present moment, refer to my previous articles “Understanding Mindfulness”; “Attention to Attention”; and “Awareness First”). Keep in mind that, after all, we are the creators of our own life; we have impeccable skills that we may make ourselves miserable, or happy! So, besides commuting through time, there are other things we practice, intentionally or unintentionally, that eliminate us from having a fulfilling happy life. Below are a few among many of them that we commonly do. I now invite you to self-rate yourself on them… How much of them do you do? Read each bullet by addressing them with: “Do you…?”
- Have certain expectations; and after having reached them, before cherishing your success, you immediately build new ones.
- Set yourself immeasurably high target/s; failing to achieve, you judge yourself on being a “loser!”
- Extend or condition your level of satisfaction on your attainment of your set targets.
- Compare yourself with others’ success, targets, goal achievement, skills, etc., and not with your own self.
- Perceive life as a set of destination-points to get to, the sooner you get there the better it is!
- Believe that joy of life is hidden in the things that are at the external environment.
- Ask for more, target for higher, and seek for what others strive.
- Look at the mirror and ask yourself who you are; what you can, what you really want.
- Feel grateful for what you have, what you accumulated through time, and the experiences you posses.
- Praise and reward yourself for how much you have achieved, despite great challenges and failures; and pat your shoulder with a “Good job! I am great!”
- Give presents to people you care about, show acts of kindness, and make surprises to cheer them.
- Help people you do not know, as act of kindness and compassion.
- Say “I love you”, “I care about you” to people you care and love.
- Share your positive thoughts and words with people around, as giving feedback.
- Observe and recall three good things that happened everyday.
- Engage in physical activity, regularly.
- Have a hobby.
- Engage in voluntary work, social responsibility, or any field of social contribution where people would benefit from your expertise.
- Start the day with a positive attitude; SMILE J
- Find your passion (the meaning and purpose) that drives your strength to get up and do what you do everyday.
- Train your mind, attention and awareness to be at the present moment.
- Plan your life as if you’ll never die; dream and live as if you’ll die tomorrow.
- Lend an ear to people’s stories, feelings, and experiences.
- Have a bucket list! Each phase of your life, you realize one of its items.
- Accept yourself as you are, with all the highs and lows, successes and flaws, rights and wrongs.
- Learn new things, skills, places, languages, expressions, and ways.
- Always do your best; even if your best is not perfect, give yourself the credit that you did your best at the given circumstances.
- Act true to yourself, through being impeccable with the words you use for yourself and for others.
- Take each moment, event, situation, and acts of others independently, and most importantly impersonally; but as an opportunity for self-growth.
- Make sure that you are clear and as objective as possible with your feelings, thoughts and behavior; where you refrain from making assumptions.
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” – John E. Lewis
Now please, go back and read again those bullets, and ask yourself which of these may help cultivate your well-being, contribute to your happiness, and facilitate you to have a more purposeful, meaningful, and flourishing life… There is no recipe. Every one of us has our own style, preferences, and strategies to attain and maintain our happiness and well-being. Those you find as most appropriate “dos” and “don’ts”, they are yours; practice them! Cherish them! Take action! Because those are your actions for happiness… As John E. Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”