Happiness is…

Happiness is so big and broad yet most people I talk to describe their happiness as small moments. “Just be happy” is so oversimplified and vague, sometimes dismissive that it makes happiness seem like a strain. Do we have to work so hard to feel it and maintain it? Do we have to work so hard to define it?

For Julie Andrews’ character, happiness is specified to things like girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes and snowflakes that stay on eyelashes as opposed to the beat drop of Ariana Grande’s sharing bottles of bubbles with her girlfriends who have tattoos and like getting in trouble. Having attention to detail is part of a beginner’s mind that helps us notice beauty in life and keep things fresh and exciting. Frequently I name non-rhyming aspects to myself as a way to counter the heaviness of a day or the news while still being completely honest. I don’t think we have to lie to be happy.

Having a gratitude mindset or practicing it by often reminding yourself of the abundance in your life, has been shown to boost overall happiness levels. Sometimes I wonder if the things we are grateful for are the same things that make us truly happy. Can we be grateful for the roof over our head but find greater joy at the beach? Gratitude minimizes wanting or desire and the idea that happiness is always just out of reach. It poofs the illusion that after a certain something happens or we purchase something that we can finally be happy.

Social movements that have attempted to pave the way to happiness have included the “western” adoption of Buddhist dharma (truths). Want or desire supposedly fuels suffering, and to eliminate suffering is to attain a sense of happiness or contentment. Ridding ourselves of desire is not an easy task, especially if we have been deeply embedded in social, consumer culture. 

Marketing is essentially centered around trying to convince people that a product or service will improve their life in some way, that any discontentment you may have is due to this thing missing from your life. To step outside of that is to strip down to our bare selves, to see what’s left, and face it. Is that the way? 

Consumer trends of Millennials have shown an emphasis on experiences versus items. Influencers still push products, but we see websites like Airbnb increasingly advertising for eccentric places to stay like treehouses or domes. My peers and their bridesmaids spend thousands on celebratory weekend getaways leading up to the wedding. It’s all about the experience and the customized props only enhance the aesthetic. So point being, we’ve shifted towards memory-making to climb the happiness meter. 

One of the greatest sources of happiness for us is our pets. Those moments recited in a day? Mostly about my dog. Perhaps a silver lining of Covid was that many of the animal shelters were empty. It became a joke that everyone was adopting a Covid puppy. While some of us may have underestimated the extra chaos we invited in, it was a beautiful, healthy way to cope with a world in crisis. Happiness isn’t fancy but furry.    

The problem with happiness is the cliches. It tends to be more challenging to talk about what makes us happy than other feelings and emotions because the descriptions and analogies have been so overused. Or maybe the cliches are a result of the challenges around discussing it. Happiness is even associated with annoyance. Pharell’s Happy song makes people mad. What’s your favorite or most maddening cliche about happiness? This 2019 article from positivepsychology.com compiles evidence from research against the most common happiness cliches. I was surprised to read that many quotes are mostly true. 

Choose happy. Assuming such a high level of control and ease is slightly unsettling to me. I understand that to a certain extent happiness is something we cultivate on our own. However, as the article I referenced above also mentions, this choice may be harder for some than others. If it wasn’t, depression would be cured or much less common.

The most interesting tidbit the author found in that article to me is that research in part suggests happiness is genetic. I could never understand how some people would talk about happiness as so effortless. They have their routine, take their family vacation, and somehow existential dread passes like planes in the sky. So my happiness gene is a little shy, she needs to be validated before she can fully express herself.   

I also think part of choosing happiness is a matter of prioritizing it in your life. To me, part of the generation gap is that older generations found so much satisfaction, purpose, and identity in work and in sacrifice, where younger generations are attempting a work-life balance. Is the generational approach to career shifting us towards a happier society? Is happiness something we must earn? 

Many of us cannot prioritize happiness when there is little time leftover from working to put food on the table and gas in the car. Does mean there is a certain amount of money that can buy enough comfort and time for happiness? Does that make happiness a privilege or discriminatory? In American culture, it seems we are blinded by the luxuries flashed before us like carrots that we almost forget we’re on a hamster wheel. Yet, some of the poorest nations in the world score high with overall happiness.

Though, happiness cliches (and some of the research testing them) remind us that it’s not the external world that is going to make us happy. Part of choosing happiness and prioritizing it is creating it for ourselves from within and with our mindsets. The method to following these cliches is of course by way of another cliche—happiness is a process. We must examine the quality of the content in our minds. A teacher of mine once asked, what is the pattern of the wallpaper inside your mind?

Reframing occasionally asks us to be dishonest with ourselves which I find ineffective. Denial or plastering over sad, negative thoughts with our floral or jungle themed wallpaper only sets it up to peel sooner. Recently, my father gave an awesome example of honest reframing. Instead of thinking I “have to” do something which usually makes you not want to, try I “get to” do it which can feel like more effortlessly wanting to. It won’t work for everything, but it subtly sneaks gratitude into some situations that would otherwise feel like a drag.  

Like the meaning of life, happiness is such a deep question. I feel like there’s a microscopic flash of sadness when people answer about their happiness. Part of me used to be afraid to say how happy I was because it felt like I was admitting I’d achieved the ultimate goal in life and that’s it. Other times, it seemed like admitting the greatness of my life at the time was practically at the expense of others.

There are so many claims for the key to happiness, but these empty promises only heighten the issue. Why is death by suicide so alarmingly high in adolescents? Why can’t we seem to enjoy life enough until there’s a definitive death sentence or diagnosis? And why does something always have to be fixed? My sadness isn’t a crime to be solved. My happiness isn’t a chemical formula. 

I will say, what makes a difference in my own happiness is finding my rhythm. This rhythm is enjoying my own company, trying new things for ongoing learning and self-care, and surrounding myself with people who are both committed to their own growth and pleasure and who are genuinely supportive of whatever I’m feeling. Everything in my life is a relationship. Even what I eat is my relationship to the Earth and to my body. When these relationships are in good rhythm and reciprocal, I glow differently. Although, it’s not to say I’m not often off-beat!

I’m no happiness guru, but to me, life is a rhythm of figuring out how to have fun and feel good while we breathe through the body we experience it. A recent trend, or perhaps the latest happiness cliche is “main character vibes.” This is about confidently striding through life as the main character of your story. What’s your theme song, catchphrase, and what great adventure comes next?

Here happiness is live music, time with friends, and traveling new places

Understand what creates happiness in your life experience, and if you like this page, please share it.

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