There are many ways to define happiness. And you are free to choose your own definition.
Emotions such as anger, hurt and sadness are temporary. Happiness is bigger and deeper. It doesn’t come from the outside. Happiness is an inside job.
Perspective certainly plays a role, but we can also take action to move us toward more happiness. Below are three steps to get you started. But first, a story.
A story that began 40 years ago
If you know anything about me at all, you know that I am a fanatic about the power of storytelling. So I’m going to tell you a story that started about 40 years ago, and still isn’t finished.
Once upon a time I was a college student and I had a boyfriend. He was older and wiser (at least in my eyes) and I admired him a great deal. One day the boyfriend asked me a seemingly simple question: what did I want out of life. I thought for a while, and then I answered, “I want to be happy.”
He scoffed and told me that was a pretty shallow answer. I tried to protest, explaining that he didn’t know what being happy meant to me. He wasn’t interested. I guess he’d already decided I was “shallow”.
I remember thinking that the concept of happiness seemed vast to me, not shallow: mysterious, certainly intangible, and I wasn’t at all sure how to go about getting it.
I don’t remember what came next. Maybe we went out for pizza.
I remember that exchange as if it happened yesterday. I remember that we were sitting at the top of the steps outside my efficiency apartment. Maybe the story sticks with me because being called shallow hurt. But also because I realized that he and I had very different interpretations of what it means to be happy.
Fast forward about 40 years, one night I was driving with my granddaughter to the exact town where the happiness conversation took place so long ago. And I asked her a similar question.
She wondered what I meant, so I told her the story of my college boyfriend. She thought for a while and said, “Well, I guess what I want is peace.” Now that I am a little older and wiser (at least I hope so), I asked her what peace looks like to her.
And so the discussion, and the story began, or began again. For me it is just a continuation of a story that started long ago. For my granddaughter it might be the beginning of one of her stories.
As we drove out of town that night, we passed the apartment building where the happiness conversation took place. The ghost of the past shaking hands with the present.
I still think about (and write about) happiness. And the reason the story hasn’t ended yet is this: Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
But I promised you three things you can do right now that will increase your happiness. So here goes:
- Know what you want.
Define what happiness means to you and stick with it. What really matters to you? What do you want to accomplish in this lifetime? How do you want to be remembered?
This is no small task, but it is essential. No one can do this work for you, not your parents, not your spouse, not your friends, and certainly not the magazines on the newsstand.
Happiness is an inside job. No one can make you happy; so stop looking outside and start looking within.
- Stop comparing yourself to others.
It’s not a competition. Once you truly know what you want (ref: 1. above), it will be easier (not necessarily easy) to stop comparing – who has more money, a bigger house, a newer car; is thinner, taller, prettier; has more friends; travels to exotic places.
Stop! Just stop! Know what matters to you and let them decide what matters to them.
- Stop hanging out with people who make you feel bad about yourself.
Even though “happiness is an inside job” (ref: 1. above), there’s no reason to make it harder on yourself than it needs to be.
Why would you hang out with someone who thinks you’re shallow and tells you so? How about the friend who tells you “You look great! How many more pounds until you reach your ideal weight?” Really?!
Part of the inside job, is realizing that you don’t have to put up with others’ meanness. Excuse yourself, walk away from them and toward your happiness.
Modern psychology defines happiness as a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life – that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction. I think that’s a pretty good definition!
It may mean planting a garden, feeding the hungry, painting houses, caring for the sick, fighting social injustice, raising horses, or writing novels. It’s personal.
For some very diverse examples of how people define happiness, watch the documentary – happy. You’re gonna love it!
One of the things that makes me happy is sharing thoughts with you. What makes you happy?