“No one saves us, but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”– BUDDHA
When considering how we can lead happier lives, this quote from Buddha echoes the conclusions many who have studied happiness have found.
In recent years, an increasing number of researchers have set out to uncover what fuels human happiness and joy. The one common finding has been that there is no external material posession, person, or situation that can be our source of happiness. In fact, many have concluded that happiness is a decision we must make for ourselves each and every day.
In this article, we’ll consider a few ways we can change our perspective and mindset to invite more happiness and joy into our lives. It may not be the overnight, instant reward of eternal happiness you were hoping to get, but it is a long-term solution that each of us is capable of doing for ourselves.
First let’s accept that we don’t need to feel happy all of the time. Most of us want to be happy all of the time, but think of anyone you’ve ever known to be happy and joyful all of the time. Even visualizing that is in a way odd and creepy, and that’s because we as humans are simply not meant to feel happy every moment of the day. Now, while this sounds pretty obvious, when you think about how much we obsess over being and appearing happy, it may be worth considering whether we have actually accepted this fact.
We research ways to boost our motivation and enthusiasm, post pictures on social media of ourselves laughing and smiling, and judge ourselves when we’re having days when we feel lethargic or grumpy. Sometimes when we feel sad, frustrated, or even just indifferent, we think “what’s wrong with me? why can’t I just be happy?”
The first realization we need to internalize before learning how to invite more happiness into our lives is to be okay with not being happy all of the time. Think about it this way; our lives are like the vast and expansive beautiful sky. What makes those sunny and clear days so beautiful and enjoyable is that we have experienced the discomfort and challenges that come with the bad weather—the hurricanes, thunderstorms, and dark clouds. Likewise, human life is made so much more enriching, impressive, and valuable because of the entire range of thoughts and emotions we’re able to experience.
When we accept that we won’t always feel happy and that the worst of our feelings make our moments of joy even more valuable, we can also start to consider what we focus on throughout the day.
Now, we do have human nature working against us. Humans are generally hard-wired to dwell on and remember negative situations more than they do positive situations. Likewise, we’re more readily able to recall painful experiences and emotions than we are joyful and happy moments.
This is why meditation and mindfulness can be such a powerful habit to adopt. When we practice shifting our attention to all of the positive experiences we have each day, the intensity of our complaints, frustration, and sadness decreases.
Meditation and mindfulness does not mean that we should dismiss or ignore feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration. It simply means that we can become more aware of those feelings in a wider context. We see the whole picture and with it, all of the things and people that make our lives easier and more joyful.
Think about all of the things in your life that make every day easier and better. Try to make it a habit to remind yourself of 3 to 5 things to be grateful for every day and see how this habit changes your perspective over time.
Happiness Researchers and authors of Engineering Happiness: A new approach for building a joyful life, Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells, explained the formula to happiness as “Reality minus Shifting Expectations.” What they meant by this was that the majority of our misery comes from our expectations not meeting our reality. It can be as little as expecting there to be no traffic and then getting stuck in a jam on the way to work. Or as tragic as expecting someone to continue living a healthy life and then them passing away suddenly.
For the everyday routines and experiences we have, perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves is to stop expecting what we know will be the situation to be any different. The bus may always be 10 minutes late, people in traffic won’t always follow the traffic rules, and your cable company’s customer service probably won’t be as helpful as you wish it was. There are just some expectations we seem to maintain despite knowing they won’t be fulfilled. And by doing this we continue to fuel within ourselves frustration, anger, and stress for something we know won’t change.
Take a moment to think of a few things you experience frequently that bothers you, but that you know won’t change. Does this situation deserve to have such a negative impact on your peace of mind?
Then think of something positive you can focus on when those situations arise.
If there’s one thing we can take away from this conversation, it’s that we have the absolute power and freedom to choose our emotional and mental state of being. That doesn’t mean we can simply switch off painful emotions, but we can keep in mind that like all emotions, our pain and sadness will soon transform into other emotions…if we allow it to. And even more than that, we can find value in our pain, knowing that it will make our moments of love and joy that much more special.
Through gratitude meditations and mindfulness, we can also learn to focus on what makes our lives so incredible and fortunate. Even the most ordinary of things or moments can make our lives substantially better.
And finally, by focusing on our expectations and our reality, we can determine what we know we can change versus the situations we needlessly fight against every day.
What are some things you do to invite joy and happiness into your life? Does it feel like sometimes you’ll never feel happy again? What are some practical, realistic expectations you can set to avoid feeling needlessly frustrated?
As always, we welcome your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!