Finding happiness is going to be a huge challenge for me and so many others in 2022 but we can do it if we want to. After three years of a myriad of changes in my life, such as leaving a marriage of 25 years, two moves, buying a house, and learning to adapt to living on my own, I am finally in a good place where I know that I must get back to my writing. I have promised myself, let’s call it a New Year’s resolution, that there will be no more excuses for procrastinating. After considering a number of ideas for writing about my travels “within” rather than “without” since COVID isn’t allowing me to travel very far these days, I chose to tackle a topic of interest to me for a very long time…happiness! Why have we human beings been pursuing happiness, this elusive state of mind, ever since we came to this earth, and why have we failed so miserably at achieving it?
When I stop to reflect on this topic, I realise that my interest in what happiness is began more than 20 years ago. Up to that point, it really was just a word with no significant meaning attached to it. In fact, I had never even stopped to consider whether I was a happy person or not. I was too busy working and getting on with my busy life.
Then one day out of the blue, I overheard a conversation between two people where one of them remarked that in his experience, he had discovered that many people were unable to share in the happiness of another. He concluded that it was almost as if they were jealous of anyone who was always happy. On the other hand, he wondered if it was a case of that old saying “Misery loves company.” It’s true that we all want to be happy, yet we can’t seem to achieve it for some reason. Oh yes, some of us can put on a happy face when underneath we are not. It could be a mask covering up latent anger, sadness, or anxiety which we don’t want others to see. So I began to think about why we would rather talk about our misery instead of doing something about it. Are we afraid to seek our own happiness because it might seem selfish, or is it because we have the wrong idea about what could bring it to us causing us to search in all the wrong places?
Some years later in 2006, the subject came to my attention once again when I happened to see a small article on happiness in our local newspaper, The Chronicle Herald. A human resources company in Quebec had conducted a cross Canada survey in all ten provinces. The results were astounding, at least to me, because they revealed that New Brunswick achieved the highest score and my province of Nova Scotia placed last. We were always looked upon as the poor or ‘have not’ provinces of Canada looking for handouts from our federal government so why was one happy and the other not? I was born a Nova Scotian but went to university and have lived in New Brunswick for several years so came to know both provinces. I observed that New Brunswickers were more open to new things than us Nova Scotians. They also had a much larger French Acadian population making it a bilingual province. Would that help to explain their disparity, I wondered?
So before I proceed to give you some ideas on what happiness is and how to find more of it in your own life, if that is one of your concerns, then why not take a few minutes to read and consider the statements below to find out just how happy you really are? The results might surprise you. Rate each statement with one of the following: 3 pts if you give a usually response, 2 pts. if you respond with sometimes, and 1 pt. if you say rarely.
- I laugh a lot.
- I am proud of who I am.
- When something goes wrong, I try to fix it.
- I often feel worthless.
- I am comfortable with what I have.
- My relationships are fulfilling.
- I have a purpose in my life.
- I feel that I am a part of a greater community.
- I often bring my work troubles home with me.
- I find it difficult to forgive those who hurt me.
- As I get older, I appreciate more in my life.
- I know things will get better.
- I have difficulty with trusting people.
- I can make positive changes in my life.
- I believe in a power greater than myself.
Scoring: High 45 to 30 Medium 30 to 15 Low 15 to 0
Congratulations if you scored high but don’t think you are done as there is always room for improvement. If you scored in the medium range, then you have more to learn about being happy. If you scored low, don’t despair, you can still become that truly happy person, but it may take a bit longer to get there.
First and foremost, the key to happiness requires that we know how to get control of our thoughts. Easy peasy, you think. Well if it were that easy, why are so many people today suffering from anxiety, anger, depression and all those other negative emotions? I will be honest and get right to the point by saying that learning how to control our thoughts is probably the most difficult challenge facing our quest for finding happiness. For instance, if you like me have tried to still your mind with meditation and yoga, you discovered it took more time and patience than your day would allow. These practices can work temporarily but not for long because our thoughts will always come back to distract us. What we have to focus on is to choose which ones we need to keep and which ones to dismiss. I have TEN suggestions for you to consider if you want to become a happier person with about half of them addressing how to control our thinking. Why is it so crucial to be happier when the world is such a mess, you ask? Have you ever stopped to think that one more happy person in our world will contribute greatly to a better world. And furthermore, add to that the notion that happiness can help you to move forward in your own life if you are feeling stuck and undecided about what to do when the future may look so bleak.
Ten Ways to Become Happier
- Mind or thought control is at the top of my list because it is the foundation for the remaining techniques I am suggesting. First thing to master is to pay attention to the thoughts that come into your mind. Thousands if not more will surface every day so keeping track of all of them is impossible. Just take note of those that occur most often and then determine which are positive and which are negative. Your next step is to dismiss any negative thoughts because they will only affect your words and actions which in turn will be negative. None of them will bode well for achieving happiness.
- The popular spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle helped me to understand the importance of keeping our minds focussed on the present in his book “The Power of Now.” Living in the past or the future won’t bring us happiness. What it does is take our mind and thoughts back to that place where we end up focussing on our past failures and hurts which are guaranteed to bring forth such negative emotions as blame, guilt, anger, and sadness, to name a few. The result is a lot of old baggage to have to lug around which is only going to hold us back from moving forward. On the flip side of the coin, we must take care not to be living too much in the future which can result in worrying. Too much worry can lead to anxiety and if not dealt with properly can lead to depression. This in turn can zap us of our energy and hinder us from using it in more positive ways such as working on solutions to our problems which will again help move us forward. It goes without saying that the best place for us to be is in the present and the best way to stay there is to be able to control our thoughts by weeding out the negative and keeping the good.
- My third suggestion is taken from that best selling book, “You Can Heal Yourself” written and published by Louise Hay in 1984 and still used by those who rely more on the belief that we have the power to heal ourselves by how we think rather than to rely totally on conventional medicine. This method is one we all need to consider more closely these days when we are having to cope with viruses like the COVID, AIDS, and so many other present day autoimmune diseases related to our toxic environment which we have created. This motivational writer and workshop leader was living proof of how the power of her thoughts played a huge part in her success. Born poor and brought up by an abusive father, raped at 15 and pregnant at 16, she began to take an interest in self healing by studying the works of others in this new age way of thinking. She started with forgiving her past and concentrated on her own personal health which in turn allowed her to go forth and help so many others such as men suffering from AIDS. Thus, when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 60, she was able to beat it by practising all that she had learned. She also discovered that those she worked with had a low sense of self worth. Believe it or not, a mirror played a huge role in her therapy sessions by having her clients look into their eyes and repeating, “I love myself.” An uncomfortable task for many, those who persisted with it began to feel better about themselves. Today we call this ‘self love’, a concept which has been around for eons but is so easily forgotten when we let our thoughts get out of control driven by fear rather than love. I urge you to try it. I have been using her technique a lot lately. Whenever I start beating myself up for making a mistake and catching myself saying something like “How can you be so stupid?” I’ll make a point to say instead something like “It’s okay, I messed up. It’s not the end of the world.” This is forgiving myself for using those negative words which invariably will lead to negative actions such as making the same mistake again or having other things go wrong for the rest of the day. It all makes sense to say something positive. This is forgiving yourself and moving on. Again it’s all about being conscious of your wording and keeping it positive. It does take a lot of practice but well worth it.
- Enough said about the importance of taking control of our minds and thinking. My next suggestion is about taking time out for your ‘self’. Ask yourself what can get you out of bed the minute you wake up in the morning or the thing you always look forward to doing? You may have to go back a bit to when you were a child to figure this out. It’s so important to take a little time each day to do something you really enjoy. It helps you to take your mind off your work and all the ‘should do’ stuff you might be thinking about. Many of us find that planning for a trip or a winter escape is a way to find that joy but with COVID making it almost impossible, we’ve had to find other things as a substitute. Some of my friends are discovering their cooking skills and becoming excellent chefs, others, including myself, are focussing on planting gardens and preserving the produce for the winter. More time for writing is on my list because I know the satisfaction I get every time I am able to press that ‘publish’ button. The bottom line is to determine your likes and make sure you put them into your daily routine when possible. Too many dislikes will not help you to move forward. Have some kind of balance to your day. You aren’t being selfish if you are always there serving others with no time to serve yourself.
- If you are the kind of person who likes to be busy and do things that will help others, there is always volunteer work to get your mind off your problems. For the past three years, I have been volunteering some time to protesting and writing letters to our political leaders to remind them that we need to change our old ways of managing our forests here in Nova Scotia. If you are as concerned about our environment as I am, you can give your time to the many organizations or donate money for them to carry out their cause. The other avenue to pursue, if you have the right qualifications, is volunteer work in the health field. Like many countries right now, Omicron is taking its toll on our front line workers who need some relief.
- Anyone who is dealing with the public such as our health care workers, need to really look after themselves first. In fact, all of us need to look after ourselves first. We can’t afford to get sick and depend upon our healthcare system to look after us. Instead we need to take more responsibility for keeping ourselves healthy so we won’t end up in hospital making an already overburdened system worse. One of the first things I have done is to take a good hard look at my diet. Fortunately, I have been following a fairly good diet for years going back to when I became pregnant with my daughter. I wanted to be healthy for her so began by including fresh foods in my diet as much as possible instead of relying totally on processed foods from a can or a box. It didn’t feel right to be feeding her Gerber’s baby food with all its sugar and salt, so I breast fed her which surprised all my friends who were using the bottle. My diet today could be much better if I could curb my sweet tooth which is a tough one for me. I seldom use white sugar in my cooking preferring to use organic cane sugar, coconut sugar, or maple syrup. In summer I grow my own veggies and what I can’t grow, I buy at our local market which is mostly organic without pesticides. Plant based foods are another item being added to my shopping list which are better for me and the planet and are improving in their taste. Finally, you can give your immune system that extra boost, by taking supplements, such as vitamin D and C, zinc, and magnesium. All are especially good in winter when we aren’t getting much sun and are cooped up indoors when temperatures are well below freezing. These supplements can help mitigate COVID symptoms, as well. Getting enough exercise is also extremely important for keeping healthy. Keeping our bodies moving is the mantra these days and especially important if sitting at a computer for most of the day. For this, a good idea is to choose something suited to the season that you enjoy
- Having a plan of action for when challenges come up to test us is another consideration for keeping up our spirits. This can apply to almost everything from keeping a savings account for that rainy day should you lose your job, keep your debt to a minimum, and be prepared for the extremes in our weather due to climate change. Doing little things like this will give you more peace of mind and help you sleep better at night.
- Keeping a journal or a gratitude list is always something you can do to keep on the happiness track if you like to write. When I was travelling, I always kept a journal and am glad I did because I often refer back to it to check out when I did what, or where I went, when. One can’t rely on memory for such details so the journal becomes a guide to complete the picture. It’s also a great way to express your emotions, an important piece of your personal growth. The gratitude list is especially helpful when life is getting you down. It will always help you find something to be thankful for and help banish those negative thoughts.
- Make the choice to be around happy people. You know who they are because they are the ones who have only good things to say about life and see the glass as half full. They are inspiring, supportive and easy to be around. They lift you up and don’t pull you down. If you have trouble finding such people or are discovering that many of your old friends just don’t fit the bill, then try looking for them in an uplifting book or movie.
- Finding a purpose for your life is a good one to leave to the end because it’s often the hardest thing to nail down. It will only come by going deep inside to meet the real you. It’s often about just what that something is that perhaps you have always wanted to do but never quite got around to doing. A good example would be the person who wants to be a musician or an artist but is led down a different path that will give him or her a decent living. This is such a huge mistake. What one needs to do is go deep inside and find what the real ‘you’ wants to do and not what you ought to do. Picture what it is or better still have a picture of the kind of life you want and have it there in front of you as a reminder. That way your chances of being dissuaded are lessened. I remember how self-help books and counsellors used examples such as dreaming of owning a mansion near the ocean, owning a fancy car like a Porsche, or finding and marrying the perfect mate as pictures to paste up on the wall. We now know these are all external luxuries which don’t bring any lasting happiness. What we are finally discovering is that what will make us happy are the things we can’t get from our outside world. They aren’t material or mind oriented but immaterial or heart based. We won’t be able to achieve our happiness unless we go inward to find out what our soul or true self wants us to do. The answer is in there, but we must quiet that mind and listen to our heart in order to see that. It’s taking time to listen to that inner voice or our intuition which you will know when you can’t help smiling or feel happy butterflies in your gut. For others who are less visceral, it might be a sign you see or an ‘ah hah’ moment when the light bulb goes on. I guess it can be summed up as a simple knowing.
These are just some of the things you can do to achieve whatever amount of happiness you can handle in your life. I am sure you can come up with some more that I haven’t thought of, and if you do, I would love to hear about them. What I do know is that if you can just practise some of them on a daily basis, you will become a happier person. You will find that your life will be more rewarding, your relationship with your ‘self’ and others will improve, and, yes, you may even begin to see things like more money and opportunities for reaching your dreams coming true. As Wayne Dyer said, “Believe it and You Will See It.”