Many never attain the level of happiness they expect in their lives, resigning themselves to a mediocre life of “just getting by.” They take on the attitude that people are all just “putting in their time,” and that, with life’s many ups and downs, there are seemingly more downs. They pass their days surfing the internet, traveling, or watching television and movies. Then, after giving up on the pursuit of happiness, they come to actually “enjoy” their sadness.
If you’re not happy, it’s because your mind doesn’t allow you be happy. And the reason your mind doesn’t let you be happy, is because you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of productivity, judgment and purpose. That’s not to say productivity is bad, or that doing things that have a purpose is wrong. It’s basing the reason for your existence on them that causes so much anguish.
When we place our happiness solely in “getting” something, completing a certain number of tasks on our to-do list, or achieving a goal, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re like a rabbit with a carrot stick attached to our heads. We keep chasing the carrot, but we never get there. We never stop to think that it might be the chasing that's causing the problem. We’re too distracted trying to find a better way to beat the game. As soon as we reach one level of success, we’re hurrying to upgrade our search and move on to the next level of the chase. We never stop to think that it’s not the failure to win the game that causes our grief, but the game itself.
How do you break out of this cycle, and how do you find more happiness in this life?
The Science of Happiness
Science has only recently begun to explore what brings happiness, including how to measure levels of it. One thing most agree on is this: To be happy, certain basic necessities must be in place, such as food, water, shelter, family, etc. Beyond this, many factors play a part—where one lives—whether one is married or single—if one has a large or small family—how much money one makes—their career—and health.
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman states that there are three essential components of happiness. First, there’s the ability to savor life’s pleasures. Second, there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, loved ones, and so on. Third, there’s the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self
In his book The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner found that Iceland and Switzerland were some of the happiest places on earth, with the Eastern European country of Moldova among the saddest.
What are some of the factors that make up a joy-filled life?
Family, Friends & Purpose
Health and career play a role in a person’s level of happiness. Research also reveals that the number of friends a person has is more important to his or her overall well-being than how much money he or she might possess.
In addition, marriage brings a level of contentment (of course, with a certain normal amount of stress) and satisfaction from sharing your life with someone special. Research shows that married people live longer—men by seven years, women by about four years.
The key here is to recognize and focus on the good people you have in your life. Don’t feel like you don’t have what you need if you don’t have a spouse or significant other. What is important is appreciating the support that you do get from the people in your life right now.
Working toward goals with a purpose is also a key element of happiness. W. Beran Wolfe, a 20th century author, stated,
“If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator.”There is much truth in this statement. Those who are active generally enjoy life much more than those who wait for life to come to them.
Research shows that another cause of happiness is how much one gives to others. Recent studies revealed that those who spent their money on others were much happier than those who spent money on themselves.
But the all-important question many ask—and most assume they know the answer to—is this: “Does wealth bring happiness?”
Wealth Tied to Happiness?
Although some would find it hard to believe, the latest research shows that wealth is not as connected to being happy as one might think. Findings reveal that as one’s standard of living increases, happiness does not go up. In some cases, it even declines.
In a BBC report, Professor Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University, stated,
"It’s a fundamental fact in happiness research…the standard of living has increased dramatically and happiness has increased not at all, and in some cases diminished slightly…There is a lot of evidence that being rich isn’t making us happier, at least in the Western world, so we clearly need something else.”Psychologists at the University of Rochester evaluated survey responses from 147 recent graduates, noting their achievements and their level of happiness over a period of two years. People's goals were divided into two categories: extrinsic (things like wealth, fame and personal image) and intrinsic (for example, meaningful relationships, health and personal growth). Achieving intrinsic goals led to higher self-esteem and a greater sense of well-being, the researchers statistical analysis revealed. But, in a snub for the American dream, attaining the extrinsic goals of wealth and fame led to anxiety and unhappiness.
Why do citizens of the West, with their increasing amounts of wealth, lead such discontented lives? Why are they not able to obtain lasting happiness?
For one, the more people achieve their extrinsic goals, the more "they tend to feel like pawns, like they're on a treadmill running forever and they're not really in charge of themselves," Edward Deci, a co-author of the study, told LiveScience. "They miss out on the things that are important," he said.
Two, people tend to adapt to material possessions and grow tired of them. Human beings also have a problem with making comparisons. We are satisfied with something we have (i.e., a car, house, spouse, etc.) until we see something someone else has that seems better. No lasting sense of well-being and contentment comes from material possessions. Materialism often distracts us from life’s important goals, and can hurt our contentment rather than help it.
Live Without Regrets
Regret in life weighs tons. Living with words spoken or unspoken, deeds done or deeds left undone, and actions taken or not taken is one of the biggest burdens many people carry with them through life, and some to the grave.
To live each moment in life with a happy perspective and disposition requires that we live in such a way that there is no need to carry regret into the next minute, let alone the next year.
Regrets will be like a long shadow darkening the way ahead, as well as the path behind you. Their stretch is well into the future, and they cloud your past with pain, anger, resentment, grief, blame or fear.
Actions or words, or the lack of them is not the real culprit here. We will all make mistakes in life that can be interpreted by us as worthy of feeling regretful. It is what we do about these issues once we become aware that we have taken the action, or said the words. We don't have the luxury of taking back what we have said or done in the past, but we can forgive ourselves or others.
Live in the Present - Savor Life
Life is lived in the present, one moment at a time, not, in the past or future. Our futures and memories are created in all of our NOW moments. Living in the present means staying focused on what is happening now, not what happened yesterday, or may happen tomorrow.
People who focus on the past: mistakes, errors in judgment, words that were said with innocence, omissions, and disappointment tend to bring a great deal of negative energy into the present.
People who focus on the future: expectations, desires, hopes and "some day dreams" tend to miss the value, joy and wonder of their present moments.
Learn to stay focused and savor the present. What you can do now. What you can say now. How you are feeling now. What you believe now. What you want to happen now.
Many people feel that their life is not quite what it should be and that happiness has eluded them. In most cases the problem is not with the life that they are leading but, rather with how they feel about themselves. Unless you love yourself it is impossible to be happy or enjoy life because you are constantly telling yourself unconsciously that you do not deserve to be happy. This unconscious message interferes with everything you attempt to do in your life making it more difficult to accomplish goals and to even enjoy the good things that come your way. In order, to be happy you must first learn to love yourself.
Telling someone to love themselves is easy. Learning how to love yourself can often be difficult. Past experiences sometimes dating back to earliest childhood may be affecting the way you view and feel about yourself. Changing those views takes time and effort but can be accomplished with conscious effort and hard work. Following these tips on how to love yourself will take a little time but just may be your key to happiness and loving life each and every day.
Daily Self Affirmation
Spend a few minutes each morning and evening affirming yourself. Sit down and actually make a list of those qualities in yourself you admire. Your list should contain only positive things about yourself such as "I am a hard worker." or "I am kind to the people around me" The list can contain anything from your own special talents to the good aspects of your personality to your actions in how you treat others. Once you have made your list, read them out loud daily and say them with conviction. You will soon find that you are beginning to like yourself.
Treat Yourself Like a Friend
We always forgive our friends for the little mistakes they make, and are quick to notice all the good things they do. We seldom judge them harshly. However, when it comes to ourselves we often find that we are unable to forgive even the smallest mistakes. Acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and learning how to forgive the mistakes you make in the first step in treating yourself like a friend and will help you learn to love yourself.
You also need to take the time to notice the little things you do that are good. Don't dismiss those words and actions that help others or makes someone's job easier. Acknowledging the good you do in your own little part of the world will help you to understand just how special you are.
Celebrate Your Accomplishments
We all accomplish many things in our lives each and every day. Taking the time to pause a moment and note and celebrate each accomplishment will help you to see all the things you can do and do well and that you have something to offer yourself and others.
Knowing that you are a good person and have something to contribute to others no matter how small will take work but leaning to love yourself is the key that will open the door to a life time of happiness and before you realize it you will be loving life...your life.
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