Happiness is as extraordinarily simple as it is elusive. The answer to enjoying life is right in front of our face, so obvious that it hides in plain sight. Consider these 6 insights from Capital Choice Counselling to help remind you of the route to happiness you’ve probably known all along, but have simply forgotten:
1) Real Connections to Other People
One of the defining characteristics of a person in the midst of depression is isolation. Conversely, it’s difficult to find a happy person that isn’t regularly surrounded by people they love. This seems like a obvious realization, but still many neglect to care for and cultivate their social support networks.
More than just common-sense, the science shows a distinct connection between a persons happiness and their access to social support networks. Consider this quote from The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:
“Turns out, there was one – and only one – characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships. My empirical study of well-being among 1600 Harvard Undergraduates found… social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race.”
Nobody gets through life without a little help from their friends, an idea so obvious it often seems to hide in plain sight. You can have material wealth, and the acheivement of all your personal goals, but without good friends you’re missing the most important piece of the puzzle.
2) Give Yourself, But Not All Of You
Social relationships wouldn’t be relationships without reciprocity. If you expect help from those you seek out when in need, you must also provide it in kind when asked of you.
It’s not just begrudging duty that compels us to be nice to each other. The famous Grant Study followed 268 men for an incredible 75 years, using a variety of psychological techniques to gather information on the causes and influences on their personal happiness throughout their lives. The study found, among other things, that:
“The capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.”
It’s important to emphasize that, when it comes to love, producing happiness is a matter of a balanced give and take.
Consuming all the care shown to you by others, and providing none in return, is love for the self and not others. Providing care for those around you, such that you have none left to give yourself, is providing love for others and not yourself. Neither route is a path to being a happy person.
True love, and therefore true happiness, requires a balanced approach.
3) Be Busy, But Not Rushed
Life gets busy. In the moments when things are at their most hectic, it’s easy to fantasize about a life where we have all the time in the world to do whatever we’d like.
When we’re stressed out because we’ve got no time, opposite circumstances to ours seem like a reasonable path to peace of mind. While it’s great to take breaks and enjoy the odd vacation, the science shows that having too much time on our hands is just as unfulfilling as having not enough!
This study demonstrates that, when given the choice between doing something or nothing, participants would choose nothing. But given even the smallest reason to do something (in this case, a piece of candy), not only would they jump to action right away, but they would report significantly higher levels of happiness as a result.
This study demonstrates that we naturally want to be idle, but when we are, we naturally want to be busy!
The key to happiness when it comes to our day-to-day tasks is to have our time filled just enough that we’ve always got something to do, but not so full that we crave an escape to total idleness!
4) Happiness is Not a Fish You Can Catch
Its a common thing for people to self-impose limitations on their happiness.
We tell ourselves that when ‘X’ happens, we’ll be happy, because we think this will motivate ourselves to completing our goals and achieving happiness.
“Life will be perfect when I get a promotion”, “I’ll be happy when I’m in a relationship”, “Life will be so great when I have a bigger house”.
You’ve been saying this to yourself you whole life, and every time you’ve gotten the thing you thought would bring happiness, the goal post moves to something else. Happiness always seems to be this thing you are chasing, and while it motivates you to reach your goals, your goals never seem to provide the happiness you expect them to.
The better approach is to first cultivate happiness, and allow it to rocket-fuel your performance when it comes to day-to-day productivity, creativity, and engagement with the work you need to do to achieve your goals!
So that’s all well and good, but how exactly do you go about cultivating happiness? In addition to the advice above, a good first step would be to:
5) Stop Doing Things You Hate
Its not unusual, in fact its quite normal, for people to choose a life of agony in order to avoid temporary discomfort.
Is your job agony? Does the idea of seeking out (and maybe failing to find) the work you truly value cause you discomfort?
When we hate our job, but continue to work it every day, the thing that gets us through is our extraordinary ability to justify our situation. Every year that passes, we become better and better at providing reasons as to why we’re permanently resigned to regularly do the things in our life we hate to do. We put more work into convincing ourselves we enjoy our work than we put into our work itself!
Do you think happy people put work into convincing themselves that they are happy?
For some, circumstances dictate that we must continue to do what we’re doing, at least for now. It’s important to realize that never is it the case that we are resigned to our current circumstances permanently. Dropping your life at a moments notice is unwise, but so is subscribing to the belief that you must continue to suffer with it permanently.
6) Stop Waiting For It
Happiness is not a matter of time, but it’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that it is.
Those who are unhappy generally think that with time and work, something will happen, causing happiness to simply land in our lap.
If you think this might describe you, consider finding someone in your life you consider to be truly, legitimately happy, and ask them if they think the same. We bet you’ll find that those who truly are happy have a different outlook.
Happiness is not something that happens to you. Its something you do.
Think about what you did yesterday. Were you happy doing it?
Think about what you’ll be doing tomorrow. Do you think it will improve your happiness?
If not, are you capable of doing something else that will?
Now think the same about next week, next month, next year, and so on. What can you expect your day-to-day life to look like as a result of the choice you’re about to make, and in all likelihood keep making.
On the one hand, you can do the thing you hate, but are comfortable with; or you can do the thing that makes you uncomfortable, but puts you on the path to legitimate fulfillment.
We cant say that taking risks and doing things that make you uncomfortable are guaranteed to produce happiness.
But we can say that continuing to do the things you hate certainly won’t.
Capital Choice Counselling
If personal happiness is something you struggle to achieve, as it is for most of us, consider attending our seminar on Happiness. Open to the public at St. Paul’s University on the 20th of March, Capital Choice founder Dr. Martin Rovers will be delivering a lecture titled ‘Happiness: Concrete Steps and Attitudes for the Journey’ that might just give you the insight you need to put you on the course to the life you truly want!