Finding Happiness

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust.

FlowersDo you consider yourself a basically happy person, or does it seem that happiness has always eluded you?  When you wake up each morning, do you look forward to what life may bring you that day, or do you dread it?  Do you think frequently about the things you do not have and feel sad about your loss?  Do you feel anger when you think about how much better someone else has it, than you do?   Do you think that most people enjoy a level of happiness in life that you are entitled to, but have missed out on?  When you are preparing to go to sleep at night, do you remember those things from the day for which you are grateful, or for which you are dissatisfied?

People long for happiness

As a psychotherapist, I talk with many people who express a desire to find the happiness that has eluded them.  My observation, after talking with hundreds of people about this, is that the greatest cause of their unhappiness is usually their own thought process, their own expectation of what happiness is and what they deserve in life.  There seems to be an underlying sense of comparison to something else, with the “something else” always perceived as better than what the person actually has.  “If only I had … a better husband, a car that never breaks down, less anxiety, a better body, a more understanding boss, less rambunctious kids, a better paying job, a wife who doesn’t nag, a prettier face, more caring neighbors … then I could be happy.”  Those people, who have such a perspective on life, are always feeling a sense of loss.  Their unhappiness comes from their belief that they are missing out on what they deserve, what they believe other people have.

External situations don’t provide lasting happiness

Multiple scientific studies have shown that the people, who have more of those things that are desired by others, are no happier than those who do not have them.  If we believe that we can’t be happy with life as it is, it appears we won’t be.  If we believe that the events of our lives have the power to rob us of inner contentment on a long-term basis, then we will perceive ourselves as victims.  We will then, as so many people do, attempt to continually create circumstances, which we believe will make us happy.  We will likely fall into the trap of relying on the next party, vacation, purchase, job, lover, new car, or addition to the house, to give us something to which we can look forward.  Many people, who recognize themselves as in this never-ending cycle, report that the events that they excitedly anticipate, actually seem like a letdown, once they are experienced; or at least that the happiness they sometimes provide is very short-lived.

Reactions to life events make a difference

In the Buddhist tradition children are taught: “Into every life there will come ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”.  Imagine how different the expectations are snowy mountainsfor people, who learn that losses, as well as the things that make us joyful, are a normal part of life.  Think of how much easier it must be to accept life’s difficulties, for those who recognize them as a normal part of existence.  In contrast, in much of the western world, large numbers of children experience a bountiful existence, and are neither taught about, nor given the opportunity to live the more difficult parts of life.  It seems that many people in this society truly believe that something is gravely wrong with their life, or with themselves, when they experience any adversity.  An increasing number of books, research journal articles and now blogs proclaim that happiness is a choice.  In recent years, people from contemporary backgrounds have begun to experience the benefits of Mindfulness Meditation, which have been recognized for centuries in many Eastern traditions.  In addition to creating positive biochemical changes in the brain, this practice offers a practical way to stop ruminating on the obsessive negative thinking that contributes to our unhappiness.

Our attitude toward life can determine our level of happiness

Once people understand that their own thoughts and judgments are responsible for much of their unhappiness, many of them begin to adjust their perceptions and reactions.  Fueled by a commitment to release themselves from their negative judgments, even people who have been seeing “the glass half-empty” all of their lives, can use cognitive restructuring techniques to stop entertaining the negative ideas that pop into their minds.  Those who employ the principles of Mindfulness Meditation additionally begin to experience the transforming power of being open to receive the richness of life’s present moments, despite the difficulties. This truth is never more evident than in the accounts of people, who in the midst of horrendous experiences, have managed to stay focused on the life-giving and beautiful aspects of living.  Much of my work with clients involves teaching them how to change their own reactions to life, which are fueling their painful and sometimes frightening feelings, so their inner experience can become healthier and happier.