Note: This is a guest post by Flora Morris Brown of Color Your Life Happy.
Take stock of your feelings right this minute.
Do you want to maintain the feeling you have right now?
Then you are probably happy.
Do you wish things were better or different than they are right now?
Then you’re probably unhappy, or at best mildly discontented.
Discussions on happiness seem to attribute a small portion of our happiness to genetic predisposition and upbringing, but a large portion of our happiness comes from the choices we make in our lives.
By happiness I don’t mean a constant state of giddiness, but an even state of contentment that comes from living life in a way that gives us pleasure and enables us to recover from pain. Many of us never get to this state because we spend too much time doing things that don’t give us pleasure, that we feel obligated to do or that others insist that we do.
No matter how much advice on being happy is popping up in ever increasing amounts, ultimately only you know what makes you happy.
My 27-year-old daughter, for example, loves ethnic foods from many countries, independent films and hikes on nature trails (the ones with the mountain lion warnings.) It’s not easy for her to see that I don’t always enjoy the same things she enjoys, and that it’s okay.
I’m all for expanding my comfort zone, and sometimes I do venture to share some of her interests. But my idea of fun is walking in a beautifully landscaped park, attending small theater, hosting small dinner parties, decorating the house with the changing seasons, writing, maintaining my websites and blogs, and working on improving my photography. I also love many ethnic foods, all types of music and travelling.
If you asked each person what makes her happy the answers will be different, but the result will the same: a personal idea of happiness.
I certainly encourage anyone seeking joy and fulfillment to explore the many ideas that abound, but you must eventually pick the activities that resonate with you.
I recently noticed that a clerk who works at my local Costco has lost a lot of weight. I complimented her and asked how she did it.
“I just ate sensibly,” she shared. “Diets just don’t work for me.”
The truth is that she was on a diet, but it was one of her own making with flexibility and variation. The celebrity and medical diets often don’t work for people because they are imposed from the outside. Many who have been successful in losing weight did it slowly and sensibly by changing their eating habits and eating whatever they wanted in moderation.
In our search for happiness many of us look outside ourselves. We buy more gadgets, clothes, shoes, equipment, or work to make more money. Eventually when the newness has worn off or we are tired from overworking, a feeling of emptiness or discontent may set in. That’s because it’s not things that will fulfill us, but activities and being with others who share our interests.
In the search for happiness, look inside. Here are some ways to start.
- Get quiet. It doesn’t matter whether you choose meditation, yoga, prayer or just sitting still. Do whichever of these feels comfortable and natural for you.
- Think of all the activities you’ve ever done and pinpoint the ones you really enjoyed. Maybe it was assembling model cars, making a surfboard or trying new recipes. It doesn’t matter what it is. Only you know which things made you feel good about yourself and gave you joy not only while you were doing it, but even the memories give you joy just thinking about it. These may even be things you haven’t done since childhood or your younger days.
- Make a plan to do at least one of these things today, next week or as soon as possible. Put it on your calendar and treat it with respect like any other appointment. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t stand yourself up.
- Before the event, think about how much fun you will have. Visualize yourself smiling, laughing and enjoying.
- After the event, share with a friend how much fun you had. Describe the activity in full.
- Savor the memory.
- Repeat the process with a different activity.
At this point I must issue a warning.
Don’t postpone your happiness until you find someone to go or participate with you. If you can’t locate companions who share your interests, go alone. You’ll find others there who came alone as well.
Before I discovered a theater-going group, for example, I’d attend the theater alone. During intermission I’d always find someone to chat with before we scurried back to our seats.
I still will go to the movies alone if I can’t find a friend or relative to join me. Why should I miss the movie because it’s not convenient or of interest to them?
When I decided to go on a tour of Italy I signed up with a tour group. I had never used this tour service, but their timing and price was right so I flew to Rome alone and met up with my group there. There were three other ladies who were traveling alone in our group of 40. We became companions and everyone had a great time.
Once you set out to be happy, only you can decide what activities will make up your personal happiness.
Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D., an author, coach, speaker, and entrepreneur, has spent her life teaching and inspiring students and professionals. Her passion for motivating others lead to her upcoming book, Coloring Your Life Happy. From her blog, www.coloryourlifehappy.com she shares tips for living life more harmoniously and abundantly.
This article is part of July 2008 theme: Happiness
Photo by msk13