Finding happiness is not as complex as most of us think. In fact once you can accept a few unarguable life truths, then learning to be happy is a remarkably simple process.
First, you need to understand what makes you human. Three things: Your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. That’s it. I know you might say, “Oh there’s also my spirit, or my higher self” or some other tagline for a part of you that is not a thought, a feeling or a behaviour; but before you jump on that one, ask yourself this, “How do I sense my spirit?” Do you do it by thinking about it? Do you feel your spirit? Or both? You see what I mean? There really is nothing else to us. We are that simple. We are a race of behaving, thinking, feeling organic bags of hairy water.
Now I know this sounds incredibly simplistic, but is there anything wrong with that? Why do we need to be complex? In fact one of the biggest problems I find with clients I treat for depression, anxiety and other stress-related issues, is they look too deep into the finding happiness issue. It’s almost like they need it to be complex, because the thought that the solution to their unhappiness could be a simple one, might dictate that they take the almost unbearable risk of admitting that perhaps they have been wasting time being unhappy.
Let’s test this three-factor model. If I haven’t seen you for a year and we bump into each other on the street. We smile and say hello then I ask, “How have you been?” You now have only three ways you can answer me.
You can say, “Hey, I’ve been doing …” You’ve described yourself in terms of your behaviour. Or, “I was only just thinking of you last week.” You’ve described yourself in terms of your thoughts. Or finally, “Oh I’ve been fantastic, things are going so well I’ve never felt so good!” You’ve described yourself in terms of your feelings.
Once my clients come to accept this three-factor model of being human I notice they experience what I love – The ‘a-ha’ moment. They get it. They understand how they can become happy. Let’s examine why.
If you are not happy it is because you are having uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. If you think about it you will notice these are generally linked back to either your own behaviours or events outside of your control (i.e., things other people did or said, or environmental events such as death of a loved on, illness, job loss etc.). Regardless of the issue leading you to be unhappy, you cannot simply think or feel your way back to happiness. If you lost your job and you are struggling to meet your bills then you are not going to suddenly think or feel happiness simply because you decided to. The struggle is real. You have actually lost your job and no amount of incense burning, chanting or mindfulness is going to change it. It is what it is! You’re not happy about it.
In this, and in all cases; if you want to find happiness your only option is to choose your next behaviour and to make it one that may enhance your chances at gaining a more positive outcome. For example, finding a new job, tightening your budget, selling some luxury items or similar. Or you could decide to remain unhappy. In that case you could drown your sorrows in alcohol, complain to anyone who will listen, and don’t pay your bills. Ultimately, it is about the behaviours you choose that will determine what you think and feel next. My point is this. If you want to be happy, then no matter what happens you are going to have to take on the responsibility of choosing behaviours that make you happy. I like that word, “responsibility.” It comes from two words meaning “able” to “respond”. You have a choice. Whatever the challenge you face, it is up to you as to what you do next. The behaviour you choose will either reduce or increase your level of happiness.
The truth about you is you have created your life. Sure there have been environmental incidents which have helped to shape you, but in truth, you have created a life that matches the truth about who you are. You may not be happy with this life and that’s great because by choosing to embark on new positive behaviours you are doing something about that. In this way it is important to make clear your past is your past. The only thing it did was help to get you to now. You cannot change your past, but you can use the experience it gave you to help you create your future. You do this by making behavioural choices that make you proud to be you.
Often these choices require commitment, hard work and patience. This is where I notice people fall off the happiness wagon. They avoid the effort and instead take the easy option. They stay in bed instead of getting up for the gym. They call and say they are too sick to work. They cancel by SMS instead of making the telephone call and speaking to their friend in person. They spend more than they earn and end up constantly in debt, unable to buy their own home, and then wonder why they are not finding happiness.
If you want it, you have to work for it. This means eliminating all behaviours that lead you to sadness, frustration and anger. Instead, you must now choose behaviours in line with what I call the Big Seven Values. Remember the unarguable life truths I mentioned earlier?
Well here they are:
What I am saying, is that no matter what happens to you, respond with the behaviour that is best described by one of these universally accepted seven values of happiness. Choose these again and again and they will become your default settings. They become your character. This is who you will be. Notice how people who behave this way seem to be happier than others? That’s not a coincidence. These are unarguable life truths. When you behave congruent with them, you work in alignment with all that is good about being human. This is where happiness is found.
Make no mistake. The world will challenge you. That’s life. It is in your power to choose your behavioural response and in doing so you determine who you are, what you stand for and how happy you will be. Between the challenge and your chosen response there is time to think and reflect. In that space lies your moment of power. The response you choose defines whether or not you will grow and find true and lasting happiness. This is the essence of being human. We feel the emotion of happiness, we think happy thoughts and we behave in ways that lead us to these happy feelings and thoughts. Sound simple? It is.