Just a few days ago I ruminated about the nature of happiness in my journal. Here comes a rough translation:
True happiness comes from fulfilling my purpose. For me, it’s: “Progress is my duty.”
Happiness equals peace. You don’t chase peace. You dwell in it.
Happiness can exist only now. If you wait till you are happy, you will never abide happiness. If you base your happiness on your goals, you will never be content. Once you achieve one thing, your mind will be thinking of the next big thing.
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I’ll derive a few practical lessons from this journal entry. But first, a big picture reflection.
Your approach to happiness comes from your personal philosophy. What is it? In short:
“A system a person forms for the conduct of life.”
Your system says that you need to have something in order to be happy.
It’s a faulty system that dooms you to failure every single time. Even if you get “the thing” your happiness will be very short-lived.
I remember when I passed my first Oracle database exam a few years ago. I had prepared for several months, not very hard, but diligently. It was the first professional exam I attempted to pass. And it cost about 8% of my salary.
After all my studying, the exam itself was a piece of cake. As soon as I finished, I was sure I had passed, although I had to wait over 30 minutes for the results.
Naturally, I felt elated. I literally jumped with joy. I shouted in glee.
And that was all. Months of studying. Less than five minutes of happiness.
The good news is that your personal philosophy is not set in stone, but in your mind. You can modify it with conscious effort.
Lesson #1: Now
If you cannot be happy now, you probably will never be happy. Awaiting for the future happiness or ruminating about ‘old good times’ is not happiness.
Well, it can be; when you anticipate something with positive eagerness or you come back to fond memories you may be happy.
But usually, in case of future goals, we sacrifice the current moment for future bliss. In the case of the past, we often go back to nice moments only to compare them with the dissatisfaction of the current grim reality.
You have only ‘now’ to experience happiness. You need to learn how to put your mind into the present moment with peace.
In your case, the best method will be gratitude journaling. It’s the exact opposite of your affliction. Gratitude journaling will change your thinking patterns. Instead of thinking:
“I will not be happy unless…”
You will have to think:
“I am happy because…”
When you write what you are grateful for, you basically find reasons for happiness, right here, right now.
It’s impossible to say “I’m grateful for my old reliable car…
so, I’m unhappy
thus, I’m unhappy
hence, I’m unhappy.”
It doesn’t make the slightest sense. Gratitude implies happiness and it implies it NOW.
The simple exercise of writing down what you are grateful for will ground your mind in the present moment. It will also teach your mind to focus on what you have now.
The very good news: this discipline, consistently practiced, permanently rewires your brain. Keep your gratitude journal for the 30 days and this kind of positive thinking will become your default mode.
At least scientists say so and it’s congruent with my experience.
Lesson #2: Self-awareness
You need some positive self-awareness to change your thinking patterns and your personal philosophy. You cannot lead your life by your autopilot thoughts. You need to challenge those “I won’t be happy unless…” thoughts.
It’s not normal for human beings to be aware of our thoughts and belief systems. We take them for granted. They whole purpose is to BE our autopilot. Thus, you need to put some work into discovering what runs through your mind.
I recommend journaling and meditation for that.
Lesson #3: Anxiety
If you feel anxiety, you are not happy. If pursuing the goal brings negative stress, it surely is not the way to be happy.
In other words, if you don’t enjoy the process, you will never be really happy. Recall my experience with the Oracle exam. My joy lasted the whole ‘long’ five minutes.
I had spent long hours preparing for the exam and I didn’t enjoy even one bit of that time. I traded about 10 hours of an unpleasant slog for 5 minutes of glee. That’s not a good recipe for happiness.
Of course, life is not all unicorns and roses. Sometimes you need to grit your teeth and do something unpleasant. But that’s ‘sometimes.’ It shouldn’t be your default mode.
In the end, enjoying the process is a good indicator not only of happiness but long-term success as well. I studied database administration because I had no idea what else could I do to improve my family’s financial situation. I didn’t like it. Nowadays, I work only 10 hours a week in my day job having anything to do with databases.
Six years ago I discovered I want to be a writer. It was ridiculous! I had no experience, no education, no authority… just a dream. My wife considered me crazy and my mom was sure I would fire up about this and fail later, like with many other ventures in the past. Despite the circumstances, I enjoyed the process of becoming a writer very much.
I published 16 books, and 80% of my family’s income is related to my writing one way or another. And I’m much happier dabbling with anything writing-related than with my day job.
Develop self-awareness with meditation and journaling. Watch for signs of fatigue and discouragement. They indicate you are not on the path to happiness. But most importantly, start a gratitude diary right now. This is the quickest and most effective way to rewire your brain so you can enjoy your life now.
Gratitude rewires the human brain into positivity. — Shawn Achor
By the way, pursuing possessions to make you happy is downright stupid. Scientists tried to correlate different aspects of human life with happiness. Only one thing correlates and it’s not wealth, health, education, self-actualization nor possessions.
The quality of your relationships determines your happiness, not those other things. You’d better focus on becoming a great friend than on chasing shiny objects.
That is if you want to be happy.
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