From Aristotle to Freud, to modern day motivational speakers, the search for a magical mood lifter is both endless and exhaustive. This illusive and mysterious formula has taken many different shapes, often resulting in more displeasure and an endless pursuit for a goal that may be unreachable.
No doubt, we have ample evidence, both experientially and scientifically, to prove that happy people tend to live longer. ‘We reviewed eight different types of studies,’ Diener said, a professor of psychology. ‘And the general conclusion from each type of study is that your subjective well-being — that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed — contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations.’
So what are we doing wrong? To begin with, we need to accept that happiness isn’t a permanent state of mind. Trying to achieve happiness all the time is one of the biggest mistakes people make which ends up in them feeling even more disappointed. Therefore we should never ask ourselves questions such as ‘Am I happy?’ Rather the question should be posed in a way that directs us towards factors that remind us of all the things we should be delighted about, such as ‘What makes me happy?’ The answer to this question highlights a healthier and more functional approach to this subject. We realise that happiness therefore isn’t a constant state but a set of circumstances that we have control over to be able to invite positive feelings, people and moments into our lives.
Here is a list of such elements just in case you’re having a little trouble coming up with your happiness inventory:
· Loving family members
· Supportive friends
· Comfortable financial situation
· Going on holiday
· Finding a great parking spot
· Learning something new
· Good food
· Enjoying the outdoors
· Savouring special moments
· Smell of freshly cut grass
· Getting a promotion
· Thinking back to blissful memories
· Seeing your child’s first smile
· Making a difference in someone else’s life
At the same time, we need to identify happiness barriers standing in the way of an improved physical and psychological well-being. So not establishing what makes us happy, but also taking a moment out of our busy life to focus on what’s standing in the way of our contentment.
A common mistake we often make is referred to as the ‘if only…’ factor. The endless list of what we don’t have or what we haven’t triumphed creates a wonderful prison for our sense of happiness to be locked away in until we lose that 5 kgs, buy that new car or meet that special someone. This puts happiness on an unreachable shelf since there are always going to be bigger and more challenging aims to fulfill. But what happens until then? Learn to look for happiness in the present. Working towards particular goals can be equally fulfilling as the outcome so don’t delay that sense of gratification.
Negative, critical or shaming self-thought is another obstacle to happiness. Saying to yourself repeatedly that ‘I am not OK’ will eventually lead you to doing something that will make you feel sad. So if you’re having an off day, you may not take care of your physical appearance as you normally do, making you feel less good about yourself and confirming your initial assumption, which is probably negatively exaggerated to begin with.
When we’re going through hard times, we think that happiness should be abandoned completely. Well, it is precisely during these times when we should remember all the things that we do have since happiness needs to be generated from within, rather than being influenced by external factors. This way it remains consistently solid and isn’t affected by the inevitable winds of change.
Happiness has quite a relative nature and therefore can only exist or be felt in comparison to other emotions. So it’s neither a permanent nor absolute condition. Take control of your search for increased joy for it’s not an unpredictable gift only deserved by some. Happiness can be attained by all through a conscious and customary effort, especially when we make it a priority.
Remember, learning more results in living more…over to you…
Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross-cultural consultant at HRI. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. She co hosts a radio program (Psyched Sundays 10-12pm) every Sunday morning on Dubai Eye discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community.
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