How to be happier

Most of us probably have an understanding of what the word ‘happy’ means and don’t believe we need a dictionary to tell us. After all, it’s something to do with well-being, being positive, joy and gratitude isn’t it? Or is it?

As I was thinking about this article, it occurred to me to find out if there was a single dictionary definition for the word “happy” and the results were interesting! According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘happy’ means ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment, fortunate and convenient, inclined to use a specified thing excessively or at random‘. Merriam Webster says happy is ‘1 : favored by luck or fortune : fortunate a happy coincidence. 2 : notably fitting, effective, or well adapted : felicitous a happy choice. 3a : enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment is the happiest person I know a happy childhood’. And the Collins dictionary tells us that ‘Someone who is happy has feelings of pleasure, usually because something nice has happened or because they feel satisfied with their life‘.

What struck me was they all imply that to be ‘happy’ something has to happen to us from the outside. They even suggest that happiness is associated in some way with luck, and that only the fortunate few are entitled to experience it.

This attitude is compounded by the all the positive psychology books about how to be happier which reflect a common belief that happiness is fleeting and that it only happens in exceptional circumstances – particularly when everything is going well. And the film The Pursuit of Happyness’ sums this up well when the main character, Chris Gardner says “This part of my life… this part right here? This is called “happyness.” And that statement has always struck me as both completely normal and so obviously wrong, at the same time.

What none of the above say is that happiness is a right we all have access to.

Personally, I believe that happiness is not something we attain, it’s something we are; it’s not something you can pursue, it’s something that comes into being as we are being who we are; and it’s not that thing ‘over there’, nor this thing ‘over here’; rather it’s a state that surrounds us, envelops us and runs through every moment of our lives, if only we could see it.

And that’s the rub. Most of the time, we don’t see the happiness in our lives Because most of the time we only recognise the bits where we are sad; as somehow, sadness has come to be the life standard we all measure ourselves against.

We spend our lives judging everything and everyone, including ourselves – this isn’t something to beat ourselves up about, it’s a perfectly normal experience of being a member of 21st century society. But here’s the thing our judgement is simply a perspective we are choosing to apply to whatever we happen to be involved with in every moment. What this points to is that we don’t need to practice ‘being happy’, we don’t need to ‘be more positive’; we are already both of these things. We simply need to see for ourselves that happiness is the undercurrent that runs through our lives.

As humans we spend a lot of our time thinking about what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. Yet we forget that when we look at the past, we aren’t experiencing it again, we are simply looking at it through the lens of today. And when we think about the future, we are applying what we think we know about the past to try an anticipate a future we can’t control. We are judging both to be good or bad, right or wrong with the knowledge and experience we now have, rather than accepting that when we were actually there, in that moment we call the past, or when we get to the future, we were and will be a completely different person.

When we lose sight of the present moment, we step away from happiness and well-being. To be happy, we simply need to reconnect with ourselves as we are right now, today – because today is the only day that matters, and who we are today may inform our future, but it won’t dictate it.

(Image courtesy: https://pixabay.com/en/users/elijahssong-487688/)

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