Everyone seems to think they know what would make them happy – winning the lotto, going overseas, losing weight or getting a promotion. For many people happiness seems to have an elusive quality. Happiness that depends on circumstances seems to fade rapidly as the novelty wears off.
When was the last time you felt truly happy? Many people recall periods or occasions in the past when they felt happy, but fail to find happiness in the present. Others yearn for happiness in the future.
How do we find happiness now? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What am I grateful for in my life now? Write down three things each day, without repetition. Don’t first list things where circumstances went your way, e.g. “Thank goodness I didn’t get a traffic fine!” List things that touched you, e.g. that your colleagues appreciate your sense of humour or that the flowers you planted have come into bloom, or your child snuggled up to you on the sofa.
Learn to find pleasure in little things and become aware of the world around you – the detail in a flower, the sounds of music, the variety of tastes you enjoy, the warmth of your home on a winters day, etc.
Happiness has an elusive quality because it cannot be perused as a goal in itself. It is a by-product of something else. Think about it. When you were happiest, were you focusing on happiness itself, or were you focusing on something or someone outside yourself? It is a paradox. Emotions are a by-product of something else. If for example, I ask you to feel intensely afraid, it is unlikely that you will feel fear. If however there is a deadly snake in the room, fear arises automatically as a by-product of the snake’s presence. Similarly, if you seek to feel intense love for someone, the feeling tends to elude you. If, in contrast, you focus on the qualities of the beloved, the feeling emerges as a by-product of thinking of the beloved as a person. Happiness is a by-product of the way we spend our time. It may lie in fulfilling a particular life task, being creative or in meaningful relationships. The key to happiness lies in discovering your own uniqueness and identifying your own particular path to something, or someone you experience as meaningful.
FINDING A MEANINGFUL LIFE-TASK AS A PATH TO HAPPINESS
Is my life valuable?
Does it matter what I do?
We are probably all familiar with these questions, either because we have asked them ourselves, or because they have been asked by others. Being a person is distinguished precisely by our capacity to live for a something or someone beyond ourselves. One way to experience happiness is to exercise our unique gifts and abilities to make a contribution to the world. Happiness can be found in devotion to a task or cause. To identify your “Happiness Triggers”, ask yourself:
- What do you really enjoy doing?
- What really interests you and captures your full attention?
- What really excites or inspires you when you think about what you want to do with your life?
- What is the most exciting thing you have done in life?
- Recall times in your life when you were so absorbed in what you were doing, you hardly noticed the time. What were you doing?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to work to survive? Say you won the lotto. What would you do with your life?
- What comes easily to you?
- In what situations do you feel most “Yourself?”
- Which three words best describe your strengths?
- If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you still do that you do now?
THE PAST AS A CLUE TO YOUR STRENGTHS
As children we often have an intuitive sense of who we are and what we do well. Think of a pre-school. One child may sit quietly absorbed with crayons and paper; another may rush home, eager to re-tell a story. Another may linger at the front of the class, relishing attention, eager to get the others to “do it this way! Or come with me – let’s try this!” All of these examples are clues to one’s natural talents and gifts.
How were your strengths visible as a child? Ask yourself:
- What have you consistently done well?
- What have you always loved to do?
- When you were a child, what did you see yourself doing as an adult?
- What did you enjoy most at school?
- As a child, what were you best at?
- How many of these activities do you do now?
- Happiness may be found in relationships with others. Each of us occupies a unique place in the lives of others.
- To whom am I irreplaceable?
- Who are the most important people in my life now?
- What am I doing to nurture these relationships?
As human beings we all experience freedom of choice. With freedom comes responsibility. Choosing the right course of action brings with it a sense of satisfaction and meaning. We can act purposefully. Only man can think about his life and circumstance and do something to rise above them or change his or her attitude to them. Evil is meant to provoke us to good, to prompt us to take a resolute stand. No one can be happy while violating his or her own conscience. As a sense of unfulfilment, sorrow or boredom, a sense of “what is this for? Is it worthwhile?” suggests what needs to change. Ask Yourself?
When have you taken the strongest stand in your life?
What were you standing for?
When have you been most committed? These are times when you were involved emotionally, determined to persist.
If guilt could speak, what would it say? What do I need to change in my life?
When have you been most decisive? Recall times when you acted deliberately and confidently, maybe inspite of the objections of others.
Meaning and joy can be found in making or creating something or in appreciating beauty. Creating something can distract us from self-absorption and worry over problems. It can be a way of leaving a heritage behind for others. Ask yourself:
- When have you been most creative?
- What do you enjoy doing or making?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to earn a living?
To find what triggers happiness in you, focus on now. Think about things you appreciate and enjoy now.
Work on making others happy. You may want to do something big, like visit an old person regularly, or start with small daily actions, like showing kindness to a work colleague, reading your child a story, or smiling at the bank teller.
Reflect on these questions and consider what makes your life meaningful. There is no recipe that suits everyone – asking what is the best path to happiness is like asking, “What is the best move in chess?” There is no such thing apart from a particular game. You are unique and your path to meaning and fulfilment is uniquely yours – but happiness is to be found as a by-product of walking along your unique path to meaning, IT IS A MATTER OF CHOICE.
OLIVE BRANCH TRAUMA CENTRE
Olive Branch 37 Wordsworth Avenue Farrarmere Benoni
Tel: 072 122 4766 / 011 849-7473.
Dr Barbara Wade is an accredited member of Saaswipp (the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice) and practices in the field of individual and family therapy, as well as specializing in all forms of trauma