Happiness. It is a concept that humans have struggled with for millennia. How is happiness defined? What makes us happy? What should make us happy? Is happiness on a national or global level more important than individual happiness? Is happiness something that can even be measured, and if so, what kind of scale would you use to measure it? Is contentment the same as happiness?
Few people would argue against the individual’s right to be happy, but the question of how that happiness is obtained cannot be ignored, nor can the consequences that a single person’s pursuit of happiness might create for others. Living in a social society has always meant the sacrifice of some individual happiness for the increased happiness of the greater population.
In modern western society, the concept of individual happiness is very closely tied to material possessions and comfortable housing. Happiness is measured by the number of things that can provide us with momentary diversions and pleasurable physical circumstances. If we feel good, then we are happy. It is a rational, logical assumption informed by a rational, logical philosophical history, but one that has produced many unfulfilled lives and years of deep dissatisfaction.
Happiness is something that we can decide to have more of in our lives, and work towards creating on a conscious level. It is not something that necessarily ‘just happens’. It is a frame of mind that humans can create within themselves, regardless of existing external conditions. This is a choice that human beings do actually have, but in practice, most of us feel powerless when it comes to consciously creating happiness as a daily part of life. We tend to marvel at the person on TV that has lost both limbs and their entire family in a car crash, only to be able to smile and derive happiness from what they have, rather than become mired in sadness over what they have lost.
The first, and possibly most important, step towards making happiness a familiar part of your life is to define what happiness is for yourself. Too often people are completely conditioned to truly believe that certain things do make them happy, when in fact exactly the opposite is true. Inhabitants of the West live in a world full of fast-paced activities and pressure to succeed, but are rarely given any time to think about what success might mean to us as individuals, and why we are constantly moving at such a frantic pace. Not to mention what effect this constant pressure might be having on us physically and mentally! Who has time to think about happiness? Do I feel good? Then I must be happy, so lets get back to the important stuff, like work and fulfilling our obligations. Happiness has almost been relegated into the luxury category, and to expect extended periods of happiness during your lifetime is almost perceived as mildly hedonistic.
In contrast, the tiny island state of Bhutan has, since the mid-seventies measured what is referred to as their GNH indicator. This stands for Gross National Happiness. It is a national measure taken regularly, much the same as GDP, and one that is taken seriously by the Bhutanese government. It is, obviously, a very subjective index, and one that is measured using subjective methods, but it does stand as a testament to the important place that personal happiness has in Bhutanese society.
The encouragement to take the time and actually think about whether one is actually happy – or merely existing – reflects the values held by the people of that country, and concurs with the idea that this is absolutely necessary for a healthy life and to understand what it is that your soul is craving to lighten the load of your existence.
So you need to give yourself permission to take some time for reflection on how things actually make you feel in the moment – as you are experiencing them. Only then will you be able to discover what direction you should start to move towards in your quest for happiness.
You will also need to give yourself permission to actually be happy. This may sound ridiculous to some, but how many of us go on vacation, only to fret about what is happening back at the office the entire time, completely negating the positive benefit any time away might have? Guilt and self-flagellation have become incredibly popular in western society for some reason, and the idea that it is possible to fulfill all of your duties and be happy at the same time is a little difficult for some to swallow.
So give yourself permission to be happy and to go out and explore the world, in order to define what happiness is to you on a very personal scale. Once you have done this and started to build up an idea of what is actually going to move you towards happiness – take one step.
Don’t think about how long it is going to take you to get where you are going. Don’t think about all of the obstacles that are going to stand in your way in the pursuit of your happiness, (because there will be some). Think about the single step you are taking until that step is complete, and nothing else. Revel in the knowledge that what you are doing is contributing directly to your future happiness, even if what you have to do during this particular step is not entirely appealing. Feel the happiness that you will feel when you have achieved whatever it is you are trying to do, or have whatever it is you are trying to obtain. Infuse every part of this first step with the energy that you will have when you are putting final piece of the puzzle in place.
By entering completely into the process – the now – of what we are doing moment to moment, we can move into a state of flow with the universe that supports and makes effortless what might otherwise be tedious or frustrating. This state of ease with ourselves and our world will encourage more of the same to come us through the laws of natural attraction. It also creates within ourselves a sense of peace and satisfaction that can only be described as happiness.
It will take some time to better develop the ability to enter fully into what you are doing, but once you are able to do this and have completed the first step, you will have the sense of achievement that comes with completing something you set out to do – no matter how small. This little boost will propel you towards step two, and make it that little bit easier, that little bit more enjoyable, and soon you will be celebrating the completion of step two and rapidly moving towards step three – all the time giving yourself little happiness and achievement boosts along the way.
By the time you actually arrive where you want to be in your life, you may find that it is quite different from the picture you had when you started. But you will also find that the process of living your life one step at a time has given you a lifetime of satisfaction and peace. As with any personal or spiritual search, the quest for happiness has as many paths are their are humans on the planet, but like every important journey, it begins with a single step.