Do a search right now on Amazon books on the topic of “Happiness” and you will be returned page after page of titles, all claiming to have the secret to finding it. Why our obsession with happiness? Maybe the better questions is, why does happiness seem to elude so many people?
At one time, humans were too busy running from Sabre-Tooth Tigers and searching for food to be concerned with whether or not they were happy. But, thanks to drive-thru windows, penicillin and financial security, modern man has extended his mortality and now has the time to focus on self-growth.
An expanding body of research has also suggested that happiness doesn’t just feel good, it is linked to other benefits such as better immune-system function and higher earnings. No wonder so many of us pine for it.
But what is happiness exactly? We feel happy when we are with the people we love. We feel happy when we’re watching a funny movie or eating our favorite pasta dish. But happiness seems more than just an emotion because emotions are fleeting and transient.
So, what is it then?
Happiness is a state of mind, and as such, can be intentional and strategic. This is good news because it means we can intentionally make choices that lead to a positive state of mind – AKA happiness. We can look to the people who seem naturally happy and copy what they do.
And here’s what they do:
They Understand Growth is Painful
Many people play life safe. They eat at the same restaurants, vacation at the same place every year and spend time with the same people. But sustained happiness is not about being safe and settled. It’s about discovery and growth, which require life lived outside of your comfort zone.
They Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Happy people don’t sweat the small stuff and they are not perfectionists. Rather, they possess a devil-may-care attitude about their performance. A review of research literature found that the happiest people, those who scored a 9 or 10 out of 10 on measures of life satisfaction, typically didn’t perform as well as moderately happy people in accomplishments such as grades, class attendance or work salaries.
This is not to say that we should all stop trying our best. But it does suggest that it’s okay to sacrifice some degree of achievement if it means we don’t have to sweat the small stuff and worry ourselves into glumness.
They Feel Their Feelings
You would think that really happy people are happy all the time, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Psychologically healthy people are those that understand the importance of letting some things roll off their backs as well as feeling their genuine emotions. Happy people don’t deny their distasteful or uncomfortable emotions, they don’t sweep them under the rug. They instead use their negative emotions as signals so they can make different choices in the future.
For instance, a happy person might feel jealous because a coworker got a promotion and they didn’t. These people don’t wallow in the feeling of jealousy. They see this emotion as a signal that they could have done something differently to achieve a more desirable outcome.
If you don’t think you are as happy as you should be, try to take more risks, don’t sweat the small stuff and feel out your feelings while looking for ways to make better choices.
If you’ve always been someone who shies away from their emotions, it may be difficult to feel out your feelings. A therapist can help you get acquainted with your emotional life and offer tools so you can navigate your emotions in the future.
If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.
Chelsy A. Castro, JD, MA, AM, LCSW