Happiness

Recently, my best girlfriend gave me a book titled, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The author took one year to study happiness and consciously pursue happiness in her own life without radically changing her life. I found this fascinating.

She explained her project was not about rejecting her life. However, she mentioned the human tendency to become stagnant or unsatisfied with the routines of ordinary life. She wanted to find more joy within the context of her daily existence.

In her research, she discovered genetics accounts for nearly 50% of our happiness, life circumstances only about 15%, and the rest is determined by how people choose to think and act. 

In other words, if we think we are happier, we will be. If we act happy, we will feel happier. Sounds like we have some control in this department. What a relief!

According to Aristotle, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Robert Louis Stevenson said, “It is our duty to be happy.” 

Americans are often accused of being selfish and shallow because we focus so much on our own happiness. Sometimes we are viewed as money hungry and thoughtless, a people with few values or depth.

Rubin writes, “Studies show that happier people are more likely to help other people. They’re more interested in social problems. They do more volunteer work and contribute more to charity.”

Yesterday, a colleague sent me a detailed news report about the horrifying realities of women in Afghanistan, including pictures of the burkas they are forced to wear and reasons they are stoned to death. 

These women are denied rights to education, careers, health care, safety, security, and even to see properly because of the required wardrobe. I asked myself how I can be okay being happy with all my freedom when this is happening to other women.

Rubin addresses this dilemma as well. She explains, “Refusing to be happy because someone else is unhappy is like cleaning your plate because children are starving in India. Our unhappiness will not make someone else happier; in fact, the opposite is true given the fact happier people are more likely to act altruistically.”

Therefore, one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to help other people be happy. The path to helping other people is to be happy yourself first.

So how can we think and act our way to happiness? Rubin suggests we start by asking ourselves these key questions: What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad? Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth?

By answering these questions thoroughly, you will recognize what you find fun and satisfying, what frustrations or negative parts of your life you need to eliminate, areas you may need to reconcile or change, and ways you want to stretch, challenge, or improve yourself.

Make a specific plan around these discoveries to actively, consciously seek your own kind of happiness. Hold yourself accountable, and think happy all the way.

Perhaps you will find major changes will be required for you to truly be happy. Many of you will be like Rubin and find your happiness level significantly increases from small but diligent efforts in several areas of your life.

Our search for happiness will be destructive if all we do is look for the next thing in life and miss experiencing what we have right here, right now. On the author’s blog, a reader wrote, “If you are not here, you are nowhere.”

Blue birds are considered a symbol of happiness because of a play in which a fairy orders two children to go find a blue bird for her sick daughter. 

The children travel many miles and have several adventures but never see a bluebird. Returning home unsuccessful, they find a blue bird they had never noticed in their backyard waiting for them. 

So we would do best to live the lives we have while mindfully considering what we need to alter in our thoughts, actions, and choices to bring the happiness we deserve into reality.

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (August 14, 2010)