I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately and how each of us seems to have a blueprint for how it should manifest in our lives.
We collect moments and images and places and carefully constructed ideas of perfect people to create a bright and colourful collage against which we constantly compare our own lived experiences.
Of course, it rarely measures up. Yet, still, we wonder why.
My thoughts on this topic were sparked when a much younger friend – who at a glance seems to be living his best life, travelling, exploring, meeting new people, the whole shebang – expressed concern that he was not doing enough to fill his time with true happiness. That, somehow, despite his best efforts, happiness continued to elude him.
I sensed the anguish in his words and felt like I was having a conversation with my own 18- or 22- or 27-year-old-self. That wild-eyed girl for whom nothing was ever enough.
Although she still surfaces every once in a while, I dare say I’ve gotten better with age. Like crossing over into my 30s has allowed me to loosen my grip. To hold my ideas of happiness – everything, really – a little more loosely.
While I certainly wouldn’t lend myself out as a guru on the topic and – at 33 – still have a lot to (un)learn, I do believe I’ve come to understand a few things about happiness that I might as well share:
The harder you chase it, the faster it runs
The moment you make happiness your goal, you can kiss the idea of achieving it goodbye.
I guess what I mean is – if you’re constantly scrutinising your life and analysing whether you’re happy, you’ll almost certainly find that you’re not.
In a world attuned to instant gratification, it’s so easy to forget that happiness is a byproduct of other things – finding contentment in our work, building good relationships with healthy boundaries, discovering hobbies that bring life to our bones.
None of these things happens overnight. In fact, many of them are forever in progress and constantly evolving, requiring us to reinvent the way we engage with and pursue them.
Basically, happiness isn’t the medal awaiting us at some elusive finish line, it’s those little sachets of water being handed out along the race – readily available and there for the taking. It’s up to us to see, claim and savour it.
People can’t make you happy…
Wait, let’s rephrase that:
It’s entirely possible that someone else CAN make you happy and that’s wonderful!
But when it becomes an expectation, the potential for things to go pear-shaped is huge. I mean, even people with the sunniest dispositions have bad days and sharp edges and unkind words dancing on their tongues. We’re all just human and hold the key to each other’s hurt as much as to each other’s happiness.
When we expect our partners (and friends and parents and siblings and co-workers, but mostly our partners) to make us happy, it becomes an unfair burden that will inevitably lead to bitter resentment in one form or another.
The responsibility for happiness – whatever that means to us – always lies with ourselves.
… but your pets probably will
I mean, have you met your pets?
Come on, pure sources of joy right there!
Which brings me to the next point…
It’s a question of vocabulary
Joy: what we probably really mean when we say ‘happiness’.
In my mind, ‘happiness’ is fleeting. It’s the feeling we get when things are good – when we wake up on a beautiful sunny day and get to go to the beach and meet up with friends for drinks and feel light-hearted all the way through. Happiness is triggered by things happening around us.
Joy, on the other hand, is something we cultivate within ourselves. It’s a state of being more than a momentary emotion. It’s waking up on a miserable day and having back-to-back meetings and realising you’ve run out of coffee and forgetting your lunch at home, but still being able to count yourself blessed.
It’s a buoyancy in the way we live our lives – our capacity for rising up every time we’ve been knocked down.
It’s noticing the little things and letting them do their sweet work in our souls – seeing a pigeon frantically running across the road when it simply could have flown and smiling to yourself about the silliness of it all.
It’s that unique ability to revel in the moments between moments – basking in that special time of day when the sun slants through the windows just so to illuminate your whole bedroom in a golden glow.
If we allow it to unfurl within us, joy has the tendency to stick around no matter the circumstances.
And the secret to cultivating it? Gratitude. It always starts with gratitude.