We all love those fleeting moments when happy drugs (dopamine and serotonin) pump through our veins (making love or at the gym) and of course we want to feel more of this. That’s why advertisers spend billions into trying to make us believe that a “happy meal” or a new car will make us feel ecstatic. Happiness sells. However, these moments of elation are just that, moments.
I know I don’t have the kind of contagious smile or joyous exuberance you instantly connect with happiness. I’ve been told I often seem serious and still, and on some level there is often an expectation that even if I don’t feel it, I should at least try to seem happy. However, while the focused pursuit of the momentary elation we confuse with happiness can cause a lot of anxiety and stress, there are habits that have been shown to be consistent among people who regard themselves as being fulfilled. These habits, luckily, can be learned.
It’s certainly not about money
Many people say they’ve come to coaching because they feel they should be happy. Or happier. They’re mostly healthy, successful and in a loving relationship, so you could wonder what’s not to be happy about?
It doesn’t seem to be about how much money we make or how much money we have. You may be familiar with the studies which have shown that when people making $30,000 a year are asked what kind of annual salary it would take to make them truly happy, the answer is on average $50,000. When people making $100,000 a year are asked the same question, they say that if they made $250,000 they’d be happy. Nobel Prize–winning economists Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton’s study of of 1,000 American households showed that well-being does rise with income, but only until you hit $75,000, at which point it levels off. Beyond that, there’s no observable increase in happiness with higher income.
1. Focus On Creating Balance In Your Life
The philosopher John Gray talks about the many different areas in which we give and receive love: an intimate partner, a parent (who could, he suggests, be any adult who plays the role of a mother or father to you), a child (who could also be a younger friend or a friend’s child, a dog or cat,) a best friend, a colleague, yourself, your peers, your community and God.
For me, happiness is when I’m giving and receiving love in all of these different areas. I guess for me happiness is balance. Yet, how often do you get to make love with your partner, commune with a parent or child, pick up a professional award, help out at the local community center, go to the gym or play sports and pray or meditate – all in one day? So, even being in balance is transitory. It’s far more useful to look at how balanced your life has been over the last couple of years (and focus on the next couple of years) rather than just the last couple of days or hours.
2. Practice Embracing So Called “Negative” Emotions.
Susan David, a Harvard professor of Psychology believes that “when we block or suppress or push aside emotions, we actually stop ourselves from being our most effective, successful beings.” Discomfort, she says, is the price of admission to a meaningful life. According to Susan David, the key to successfully navigating our inner world is not to immunize ourselves against stress and setbacks and it doesn’t involve ignoring uncomfortable feelings. Much more healthy and useful, David believes, is for us to develop the ability to confront pain, loss and failure, and to gain critical insight from these feelings.
3. Live Life According To What’s Important To You.
If what you’re doing (and who you spend time with) are aligned with what’s important to you, chances are you’ll feel lighter and more fulfilled. If you’re not sure what your life purpose is, there are many ways to discover what your values are. Who do you admire – and why? Who do you hold in contempt – and why? If you could take over just one billboard and write a message on it for every passer-by to see, what words would you write? If it strikes your fancy, take an imaginary flight to outer space to land on a brand new planet which you alone are responsible for. How do you want people to live on this planet?
It’s aligning our values with our actions and making changes, which brings the best of ourselves forward.
4. Savor Experience And Practice Gratitude.
One value that seems to make the biggest difference to our sense of well-being is gratitude. “It is not happiness that makes us grateful,” says monk and TED talk speaker, David Steindl-Rast, “but gratefulness that makes us happy.”So how exactly do we live gratefully? “By becoming aware that every moment is a ‘given moment, It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it or brought it about. And you have no way of assuring there will be another moment given to you. If you didn’t have this present moment you wouldn’t have any opportunity to do or experience anything.”
You don’t have to be a Monk (or religious) to take time to savor the experiences and people who you love or to spend five minutes simply thanking the universe for whatever it is you’re grateful for: The great African-American writer, Maya Angelou talks about the shift that occurred at a very low point in her life when she sat to write down all the things (her sight, her hearing, her ability to write, her mother, her son} which were true and good.After that exercise [of practicing gratitude] the ship of my life might or might not be sailing on calm seas. The challenging days of my existence might or might not be bright and promising. From that encounter on, whether my days are stormy or sunny and if my nights are glorious or lonely, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If pessimism insists on occupying my thoughts, I remember there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.”
― Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom
Savoring the moment with gratitude may occasionally come with an inevitable sense of sadness at how fleeting life is and it may not even convince your friends and family that you’re happy, but given the choice between seeming momentarily joyful and feeling continuously fulfilled, which would you choose?
To find out how fulfilled you are in every aspect of your life, spend two minutes answering some simple questions which will generate an individualized graphic for you.
Remy Blumenfeld is a creative life coach living in London. He empowers leaders to play the game of life with purpose, grace and ease. Before training as coach, he launched a TV Production company which created dozens of ground breaking, TV shows.