Solving for Happy: Can I Be Happy All the Time?
10 Lessons Learned About Happiness
My mentor, Marshall Goldsmith, challenged my colleagues and I on one of our weekly calls to be happy. He said: “Just be happy for yourself and not for anyone else, and don’t be apologetic about it.”
I enthusiastically said yes and signed up for the challenge. As the enthusiasm wore out and I settled back into my daily routine, I started to realize that being intentionally happy is hard, especially with everything else going on around us. So, I started wondering and reflecting on the following questions:
What is happiness?
It is hard to find one definition because happiness is personal; it means different things to different people. So, I checked the Webster dictionary and found: “Happiness is the state of being happy.”
That was not very helpful. I continued my research until I found this more helpful definition: “Happiness encompasses feelings of satisfaction and contentment and the drive to live a life of meaning, purpose, and depth.”
While we typically think of happiness as a feeling we get in a moment, more like gratification, it is better to think of it as contentment – a state of being and living a life of meaning and purpose. Then I found this definition from a book called “Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy” by Mo Gawdat: “Happiness happens when life seems to be going your way. You feel happy when life behaves the way you want it to. Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true: unhappiness happens when your reality does not match your hopes and expectations” (Gawdat, pg. 26).
What are the signs of a happy person?
In general, we can tell that people are happy when they smile and laugh readily, are quick to be happy for others and slow to feel or show anger or resentment, are able to enjoy simple pleasures, and feel and express gratitude easily.
Can you or should you be happy all the time?
As the weeks went by, I found myself unable to hold happiness constantly. I realized that like other states of mind, happiness comes and goes. Though happiness is not constant, there are steps we can take to 1) better recognize it, enjoy it and share it when it is there, 2) find comfort in the times when it is not there, and 3) create the conditions for its return.
As I strive to create a meaningful and joyful life, cultivating certain behaviors and mindsets can help me (e.g., focusing on a sense of purpose and meaning, living in line with my values, being authentic and honest with myself and others, cultivating gratitude and compassion). I have found the following 10 insights to be vital to happiness.
Ten lessons I’ve Learned About Happiness
1 – Happiness is a Choice I Make: Happiness is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice. Just as I choose what to wear or what to eat, I choose my state of mind.
2 – I have to be Intentional about Happiness: Happiness does not just happen. I have to commit to it and train my mind to be happy. I had to ask myself a daily question: “Have I done my best to be happy today?”
3 – Purpose, Planning and Ambition: Mark Twain said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Having a strong sense of purpose, a clear vision for my life, and a strategy to achieve that vision go a long way toward creating opportunities for happiness.
4 – Agility – Go with the Flow: Unhappiness comes when we feel we are not in control of a situation or when the situation does not turn out the way we were expecting. Even when we have little control over a given situation, we do have control over how we react to it. When we focus our attention on potential negative events that may or may not happen or continue to dwell on the negative aspects of past situations, we limit our opportunities to experience happiness. Emotional agility is the ability to accept and adapt to the current reality of our situation and make a conscious choice about how to respond. By cultivating greater emotional agility, we become like water, able to adapt to the terrain we’re in.
5 – Gratitude – 3 Good Things: Keeping tabs on the things you feel lucky to have in your life is a great way to boost your mood. One practice I’ve found helpful in cultivating gratitude is documenting “3 Good Things” – picking a time each day or each week to identify and record three things in my life that are good. Two psychologists, University of California Davis’ Robert Emmons and University of Miami’s Michael McCullough, spearheaded most of the early research on gratitude’s effects. In their research, they found that people who documented gratitude in their journal for ten weeks reported feeling more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives than those in any of the other groups.
6 – Being Selective about Relationships: Healthy relationships are also vital to happiness. Given that, it is important to be deliberate about who we choose to be with and why. Do I hang around people who make me feel valued, who inspire and motivate me, and help my mental health state? Or do I hang around people who spread negativity?
7 – Mirror Neurons – Happiness is the energy we give or get from others: Marco Lacoboni is a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, best known for his work on mirror neurons, a small circuit of cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex. What makes these cells so interesting is that they are activated both when we perform a certain action—such as smiling or reaching for a cup—and when we observe someone else performing that same action. In other words, they collapse the distinction between seeing and doing. The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some sort of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to “simulate” the intentions and emotions associated with those actions. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling also fire up, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile. I don’t need to make any inference on what you are feeling, I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing.
8 – Happiness Versus Contentment: Happiness is a moment. Contentment is a life-long pursuit of my purpose and my best self.
9 – Happiness is BEING and DOING: Happiness is not only a state of “being” but is also about actions. It is about doing something about a situation or an environment versus being paralyzed or being a victim. As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “The best antidote to worry is action.”
10 – Forgiveness Brings Happiness: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. ” – Buddha. Few people realize the impact forgiveness can have on their happiness. People who are quick to forgive tend to be happier, healthier, and more empathetic (and like the Buddha, more serene and at ease). Forgiving ourselves and others for the past is a way to attain happiness.
I’m grateful for the challenge to be happy offered by my mentor and will continue to ask myself daily – Have I tried my best to be happy and content?
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