An important part of SMART Living 365 is creating happiness. But what do I mean by happiness? Unfortunately, many people in America seem to be working to either buy happiness or make happiness happen, and that can actually lead to more stress and dissatisfaction than anything else. So, before we go further, let’s explore what happiness is, and isn’t—how we can experience it—and why should we want it in the first place.
Several years ago, a popular saying was “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That unfortunately is what many people think when they think of happiness. Even if we don’t admit it, most of us consider collecting cool “stuff” as a reflection of a successful and happy life. An interesting example of that came from some good friends of ours who told us recently that they feel good about giving their children everything they ask for—because they can. They work hard to be able to afford nice things and want to share that with their children. They admitted that it makes them “happy” to see their children happy when fulfilling their desires.
That’s where it gets tricky. Most all of us enjoy making other people happy—especially those we love. Unfortunately, we get trapped into a belief that starts to look and feel a lot like it’s the “stuff” that is delivering the result that we crave. Unfortunately, that stuff (or as I like to call the really shiny, good stuff, “bling”) gives the recipient an endorphin high the instant they get their hands on it. Unfortunately, similar to a drug, the high is quickly dissipated and it isn’t long before the addict needs another fix to achieve the same thing. In other words, “bling” is not happiness. Bling is a drug that makes the receiver feel good for a while and then it’s gone. Unfortunately, anyone who gives bling to another hoping to see a smile on their face and love in their eyes, maybe re-enforcing an addiction to stuff—and destroying the ability to find true happiness without it.
A recent book entitled Red Flags or Red Herrings? Predicting Who Your Child Will Become by Susan Engel explains this erroneous idea of happiness by saying “…a culture of consumption like ours puts forth highly seductive messages suggesting that happiness comes from enjoying a string of positive events or a life of ease or acquiring things, known as hedonic happiness.” The book goes on to clarify, “Anyone who seeks it (happiness) in acquisition will be doomed to disappointment; hedonic pleasures have limited staying power.”
So, if happiness isn’t bling, what is it? One thing that is clear is that true happiness isn’t something you get; it’s something you experience. That’s why it is understandable to call it a journey. Susan Engel explains it pretty well by saying, “Psychologists and philosophers find that happiness derives from having a sense of purpose and feeling useful.” She goes on to say, “…happiness isn’t something you can pursue directly. It’s a byproduct of other things, most notably working toward meaningful goals.”
Besides being a journey, psychologists also believe that happiness is a reflection of how we think. As humans, we have an information filtering system that allows us to either seek out and process positive information or to do the opposite—seek out and process negative information. Equally destructive is catastrophizing or assuming the worst outcome from any possible event. Ask anyone who watches the television news channels religiously and you can witness how a person can get sucked into seeking out and processing negative information that ends up making them feel horrible.
So how can we experience more happiness? A good place to start is to stop expecting to find it in bling. In fact, many times we end up working harder (at jobs we dislike) in order to buy bling for others or ourselves. Not only does the bling not bring happiness, but all the extra work and stress from work ends up making us even less happy than before. Remember, any enjoyment from bling is temporary. True happiness is an experience of having purpose in your life and working towards meaningful goals.
And never forget that we can also work on our happiness filter. Stay away from negative information (like any TV or newspaper news) and stay away from negative people. Instead, surround yourself with positive information and people who are joyful and happy no matter what. And keep in mind what Susan Engel says, “Happiness comes not from a magical power to escape setbacks but the ability to rebound from them, also known as resilience.” When you think about it, it is easy to see that happiness is a journey–sometimes that journey is successfully reaching that meaningful goal, and other times it is nothing more than a simple and sincere choice to be happy in spite of it all. In the end, that understanding of happiness may be the greatest gift we can give others and ourselves as we strive to live SMART 365.
“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx
jo casey says
I couldn’t agree more Kathy- happiness has very little to do with material ‘stuff’ (once we’re out of survival mode – a lack of money that means we can’t provide the basics life food, shelter etc. has a dramatic negative impact on our happiness.) Instead I think it’s more more to do with a feeling of connection to the world around us and like you say, being able to appreciate and be thankful for what we have instead of focussing on what we lack. and limiting exposure to negative TV and newspapers – that’s hugely powerful!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jo…I sometimes feel like I’m “preaching to the choir” about some of these happiness topics because I KNOW you know this already–but if you’re like me (and I’m betting lots of us are) then you can’t hear the message enough! Thanks for reminding us AND for the great work you do with resilience–I think that’s definitely something that keeps me happier because no matter what happens I can bounce back from it and go on….~Kathy