Happiness. Ah, how three little syllables can hold so much meaning and expectancy, and serve as the foundation for countless conversations, books, research studies, dreams, and life decisions. From the thousands of conversations I've had with people (both personally and professionally) about purpose and passion and what constitutes their dreams, hopes and goals for their lives, perhaps this one word surfaces more often than any others. In a world where we can be so many things, it seems that this remains the one true constant for all of us: Above all else, we desire to be happy.
A few things that make me this happy: heart conversations, sunshine, a good outdoor run, time spent at a lake!
So, what exactly constitutes happiness, then? While it seems like an outstanding thing to aspire toward and to wish upon others and oneself, it can be a rather tricky concept to define. For starters, it's so subjective. My idea of happiness can, and probably does, look very different from yours in many aspects. And this is entirely to be expected and celebrated, as we're uniquely distinct humans and differ in our desired life experiences, dreams and goals! So while our definitions of happiness may vary, the one thing we all seem to be able to agree upon is that this elusive, alluring concept is a shining thing upon which we all place tremendous value and are constantly seeking.
The dictionary defines happiness as "the state of being happy," with happy being defined as "feeling or showing pleasure or contentment." So if happiness therefore means being in a state where we're feeling or showing our contentment or pleasure, then I think there are several ways in which we can view this construct.
Happiness can be considered as...
A measurable, chaseable goal. We all know this take on happiness. This is the take that says, "When [this] happens, then I'll finally be happy." Our happiness in this view is conditional upon achieving certain things -- a specific level of career or financial success, that beautiful house or fast car, Mr. or Mrs. Right, X number of children, etc -- and we set these tangible, fixed goals before us to motivate us to work hard to chase that concept of what happiness looks like to us. After all, finding that person to love or driving that sports car or being promoted to a noteworthy role -- these are all things that can put us into a great state of contentment, and there's nothing wrong with desiring them! The point where this form of happiness can become a bit tricky, however, is when our contentment rests solely on how much we achieve or possess, or how closely we live up to the expectations we or other set upon us. Happiness that's contingent upon our external circumstances or an idea in our minds of how our life should be can often lead to disappointment, our joy shattered if we don't measure up to those self (or society, or family, or peer)-imposed standards. Because our environments and circumstances are so easily subject to change, if our happiness is tied to them, it will see-saw and fluctuate as well. This can be stressful and cause instability in our lives.
A far-off ideal. Sometimes, happiness can seem like this flighty, floaty, fairy thing with wings that we're forever chasing but never quite sure how to get our hands upon. It's almost as if we want to believe that happiness is certainly possible, but we're just not quite sure how we would ever best define it, and so we never really know if we're happy enough. We catch glimpses and moments of it here and there, and we know deep in our hearts that we want to be happy, but it seems too abstract of a thing to try to grasp. We therefore settle on being comfortable with the idea that we can experience bits of it here and there, but never really invest enough to try to figure out how to live in the fullness of a happy reality in our everyday, day-to-day life. We're more comfortable viewing it as the hazy, shiny dream, somewhere out there in the wide blue distance, that we hope will one day come into focus -- but we're clueless as to how to bring it down to Earth. We know we want it, but we're not quite sure what "it" even is! This view of happiness can leave us feeling constantly unfulfilled and always questioning, often paralyzing us into inactivity because we're not sure what it is we're chasing, so how do we even know how to begin chasing it?? We see it as something entirely outside of and separate from ourselves, rather than believing that we can, in fact, take ownership of it.
Which leads me to my third and final version of happiness...
Happiness can be a decision.
That sounds rather idealistic, doesn't it? I decided I want to be happy today, so what do you know? I was! How nice would that be? But really...can't it be a decision? Can't we wake up every day and give ourselves a little pep talk, and decide that today will be a good day because we will make it one, and choose to view our own personal happiness as something we are empowered to construct and define on an ongoing, moment-by-moment, choice-by-choice, breath-by-breath situation? Oh, sure, every moment of our lives won't be picture-perfect -- we are realistic enough to know that we'll have struggles and frustrations and difficult times. But if we believe we have the freedom and the power to create our own lives and to choose what makes us happy, we start living a little bit differently. We start evaluating where our happiness really lies, and what that concept means to us on a deep, personal level; a level that transcends our current circumstances and situations, and speaks more to our values, callings, relationships, priorities, beliefs and purposes. We start choosing to put little (and sometimes big) things into effect in our daily lives that boost our self-worth and confidence and remind us who we are on a very basic, individualistic level. We start to understand the value of choice and how much it impacts our mental state, and we begin to learn to set healthy boundaries around who we are and what we do and do not want for our lives.
This idea of deciding to be happy is a total reframe from that of "chasing happiness" or "finding happiness" or "hoping that one day happiness will be mine." When we feel empowered to take responsibility for creating our own life narrative in the way that we so desire to live it, we can bask in how wonderful it is to hold the pen and author the story and choose the twists and turns. We're no longer stuck in the waiting and the hoping: we're acting. We're recognizing that we don't want to waste our one life, and that it's our duty and privilege to take it by the horns and steer it in the direction that gives us joy in the journey. We can decide to create our own contentment rather than sit back and wonder when our day might come, because we finally understand that that day is now.
There has never been a better day than today to begin choosing happiness.