If happiness protects us from illness, wouldn’t everybody do it? It’s happiness after all! Who would reject it? Anthony de Mello, an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, might be able to help us understand. He wrote, “There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” It could be said that many of us hold beliefs that sabotage our own happiness? Could that be why more of us aren’t happy or healthier?
What exactly is (and isn’t) happiness?
As I looked to answer this question, I did a little research. Apparently pleasure and happiness are different. If you are like me, you were never told there was a difference between these two words. I used them interchangeably. But pleasure is gratification and is tied to things like food, shelter, chocolates, good wine or things that generally make us feel safe. Happiness, on the other hand, is peace and contentment, and has nothing to do with circumstances, people, places, or things. Because these two are so often confused, almost everyone knows how to minimize pain —or increase pleasure. Unfortunately most of us don’t know how to cultivate emotional wellbeing —or create plain old-fashioned happiness.
The blueprint for happiness.
The problem started when many of us were given sensible, but misleading advice as children. We were given a blueprint that defines how the “good life” is supposed to look. We were and often still are told that this blueprint was the end all and be all. Basically it goes something like this: go to school, get a job, get married, maybe have a child or two and then retire. It doesn’t sound so bad, does it? No. Just for the record the problem is not the individual indicators of this “good life,” rather its singularity as the way to find happiness, when in fact it provides safety, not ease, contentment and inner peace.
Sure, it’s easier to be happy when we don’t have to worry where our next meal is coming from or where we’re going to lay our head at night or if we know we’re going to be able to pay bills. The problem begins when we use a strategy for pleasure (food, shelter, good wine, etc.) to provide inner peace (peace, calm, contentment etc.)
A starting point to avoid this problem is to accept that the standard blueprint is a path to pleasure, but NOT a path to peace. It provides comfort. Its greatest gift is that it affords us with the time, space and opportunity to cultivate inner peace. While we are each unique, all of us can benefit from the ability to reach a place of inner calm. Fortunately, there are many paths that lead us to inner peace.
Approaches to finding happiness
For example, behaviorists understand happiness is a cocktail of emotions we experience when we do something good or positive. She might suggest that you sit down and make a list of things you like or make you happy. Neurologists focus on the experience of hormones released in the brain as a reward for behavior that prolongs survival. She’ll suggest that consider exercise to release hormones. Spiritualists emphasis our universal connectedness. She’ll therefore recommend meditation. Each prescribes a different path to inner peace. These are only a few of many things we can do. So the pathway to contentment is as unique as we are and any one or a combination of them can help us define and find happiness for ourselves.
Despite being taught to look for happiness outside of ourselves, we can fix this if we take the time to find our happiness makers. If we nurture our happiness, it will flourish and we will be at peace no matter what’s going on around us.
Does any the above approaches seem like a good starting place for you to begin creating or strengthening your own happiness?