We all know that we are entitled to it, this pursuit of happiness, but what's it all about really? What does it mean to truly be happy and how do you know when you've achieved it? And why are we so obsessed with happiness anyway? Throughout the ages there has been discussion of the subject but, let's face it, our grandparents didn't spend much time worrying about whether or not they were truly happy, did they? Having a job, food on the table and a roof over your head was reason enough for happiness. So why this renewed emphasis?
"If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy, but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are." Montesquieu
Thanks to a combination of Hollywood, the media and modern technology, we have more information than ever about how the other guy lives. This means more opportunities for comparing ourselves with others and, quite often, finding ourselves lacking. We've been led to believe that most people are better looking, more successful, wealthier and, of course, happier than we are. But is this really true? Does money or success or good looks lead to happiness. Research suggests not. A recent episode of 20/20 pointed out that the United States is the 23rd happiest nation on earth - even though we are the richest. Cold and damp Denmark came in first. Why? Apparently their government makes sure that all of their basic needs are met - food, shelter, health care etc. And the differences in income levels are slight with bankers, doctors and artists all earning comparable salaries. People there have fewer worries and the ability to follow their bliss when choosing an occupation. And when they compare themselves to others as we all do...there isn't much of a difference. So if you want to be happier, you could pick up and move to Denmark. But perhaps there are easier ways. The place to start is getting realistic about what you are trying to achieve. What is happiness anyway?
"The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment." Doug Larson
Happiness is not a huge smile plastered on your face 24/7. It isn't a never-ending feeling of joy and ecstasy. It turns out that when people say they are happy they are referring to an overall sense of contentment. Yes, they have their bad moments and a full range of emotion. They get angry, they have occasional regrets, they experience loss and grief like the rest of us. But it is how they handle their emotions and their general approach to life that makes the difference. Happy people fully experience their emotions, both positive and negative. What they don't do is: ruminate about the negative; personalize their defeats; or look at misfortune as being a permanent state of affairs that is pervasive, infecting all corners of their world. In other words, happy people are optimists. Now while it is true that most of us are born with a tendency toward optimism or pessimism - fear not, fellow pessimists, there is hope.
"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be" Abe Lincoln
Yep. Happiness is a choice and if you won't take Abe's advice, take Martin Seligman's. Dr. Seligman is the head of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. According to Dr. Seligman, we all have a set range for potential happiness, but we can do something about where in this range we fall. In other words, we can learn to think more optimistically if we put our minds to the task and thinking more optimistically leads to landing in the higher end of our individual, potential happiness range.
So, are you content? Are you a born optimist? (Don't know? Find out here for free: www.AuthenticHappiness.com ) Do you naturally attribute your successes to you own efforts and failures to circumstance? Do you have realistic expectations about happiness? Do you see setbacks as temporary and the glass as half-full? Or, are you the type to dwell on mistakes and failures, to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong and attribute your rare surceases to dumb-luck? Do you think that you've screwed up your life in every way and it will never get any better? If you find yourself thinking, "Oh yeah, that's me...what a loser!", check out the Recommended Reading and Helpful links under RESOURCES in the sidebar. There are some great books and some interesting web sites out there. Take a peek; you just might find happiness after all!