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How to be Happy

Are you happy?

Can you be happy without success? Can you be happy when you still haven’t reached that lifelong goal?

Have you ever thought “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion; when my bank account is at XXX dollars; when I have a bigger house; when I have a leaner physique”? You’re not alone. 

Humans tend to chase the notion of happiness. We keep moving the goalpost and missing out on the here and now, holding our breath for that moment when we achieve the ultimate goal. Then, and only then, will we achieve happiness—or so we think.

It’s not our fault. We were raised to believe that if we grow up, get a good job, find a good mate, establish a family and earn the right amount of money, we’ll be happy. But attaining goals rarely leads to happiness because happiness is not a destination. So what is it?

Happiness is nearly impossible to define. I can’t summarize what it is, but I can tell you some of the things it is not.

It is not something we can chase, and it’s not a destination we arrive at. It does not depend on money, things, awards or accolades. It cannot be given to you or taken from you by other people or situations. I believe we confuse contentment with happiness, which we also confuse with joyful feelings. 

Feelings, as we know, are impermanent.

They come and go. We can feel joy one moment and sadness or irritability the next. The absence of joyful feelings can leave us feeling “unhappy.” And then we question everything. Are we happy? If not, where did we go wrong? But if we took a moment to pause and reflect (instead of reacting to that feeling) we might see that we actually are content with life. What is happening in the moment is a negative feeling, and it will pass. All very confusing and circular, right? I KNOW!

This has left me trying to understand what leads to happiness.

The pursuit of happiness isn’t easy. At times, it’s downright confusing. In my line of work as a trainer, I am privileged to hear about the struggles people experience and how they bounce back (or don’t). How they rise above or sink lower. How they keep their chins up or bury their heads and sink deeper. It makes me wonder: How do some people seem so unhappy when they seem to have it all? And why do others who have very little and even experience stressors like health issues and trauma still seem to be content? 

I recently read “10% Happier” by Dan Harris and “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.  Turns out, people actually research happiness and how to achieve ultimate life contentment regardless of the situation. After a lot of observation, reading, and thinking, I have come to believe that happiness is a choice—one we need to choose over and over again.

Making the choice to be happy requires practice. It requires the ability to keep coming back to a certain frame of mind. In tough situations, slipping into negativity and playing the role of the victim might feel more natural. Therefore, looking to the bright side has to be a constant practice; a mission. 

In the “The Happiness Advantage,” Achor explains why a positive growth mindset is the key to feeling better and provides seven principles for success in work and life. Happier people achieve more!

One of these principles answers a common question: “How can I be happy in the face of difficulty?” Even worse: “How can I be happy when I fail?” Achor coined the term “failing up” to describe a receptive and optimistic approach to failure.

He doesn’t suggest you celebrate when you fail. That would be weird. The point is to accept failure so we can move up (not down) in spite of adversity. Achor writes: “On every mental map after crisis or adversity, there are three paths. One that keeps circling around where you currently are (i.e., the negative event creates no change; you end where you start). 

“Another path leads you toward further negative consequences (i.e., you are far worse off after the negative event; this path is why we are afraid of conflict and challenge). And one, which I call the Third Path, that leads us from failure or setback to a place where we are even stronger and more capable than before the fall.”

By choosing the third path, we look at what happened and think about how the next step or series of steps could help us grow. What next step could lead us toward improving the situation so that we come out stronger than before? 

Think about failing a big exam.

Students with an optimistic outlook don’t play the victim; they don’t lie around sulking or blaming the test or instructor. They accurately appraise that the outcome was not as they’d hoped for and see opportunity to improve.

They’ll start attending all lectures and taking better notes. They’ll spend more time studying and less time on social media. Most likely, they will excel in the next test. Maybe they’ll even discover a passion for the subject matter and go on to become a professor. But it never would have happened if the student hadn’t failed at first. 

We all know there is no shortage of difficulties. The smooth, frictionless ride we fantasize about exists only in the land of unicorns. And I don’t think you’d want it anyways. You’d end up unchallenged, bored and unhappy.

So the next time adversity strikes, see how you might be able to appraise it differently. Is there a hidden opportunity? How can something positive come of this? How can you help yourself or others with the information gained from this difficult situation? 

Keen to learn more? Add “The Happiness Advantage” and “10% Happier” to your reading (or listening) list. Changing your approach to life’s obstacles can change how you feel from day to day. Keep your power and repeatedly choose to see the bright spots through the darkness. Learn from your failures. Build resilience and tolerance for the tough stuff.

Even better: Look at failure as an opportunity to grow. Next time you fail, fail up!

Inspiration by Riley Trombley with landmine.fitness

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