By Geoffrey Geddes
Happiness is not good feelings. It is not a sweet taste or a comforting scent. Happiness is not a dream house or a faster car or a promotion or a good hair day. It is not a relaxing bath or a deep massage or a jackpot or great sex. (Just hear me out.) Happiness is not victory; it is not relief; it is not satisfaction. Happiness is not a result or a consequence. It is not a thing to be had.
Happiness is a perspective. It is a vantage point from which we survey our lives. It is a lens through which we remember and anticipate our experiences. Happiness is a choice.
Certain conditions facilitate happiness more effectively than others. Happiness rests more comfortably on good health than on sickness. It grows more gamely amidst solid personal relationships than in solitude. Happiness finds firmer footing along a path landscaped with congruent work, a congenial attitude, and a comforting and hopeful philosophy.
Yet, happiness is not a feast that results from a deftly followed recipe. Fostering even the most perfect conditions will not guarantee happiness. In fact, some argue that happiness cannot be obtained through pursuit or created through effort – that striving for happiness contradicts its subjective nature. Still, given a choice between perpetual gloom and possible happiness, a little planning and practice might be worth the effort.
Take three steps toward happiness. First, acknowledge the ‘is not’ of happiness. (See above.) Consider also: happiness is neither given by another nor created by circumstance. Happiness is not found in a thing obtained in an event experienced.
Next, embrace the ‘is’ of happiness. To reiterate: happiness is a perspective; it is a choice.
Finally, practice choosing and seeing happiness. Happiness practice requires a few more steps. (Stop complaining; your journey will end soon enough.)
Step 1: Practice impulse control. Delay gratification at least once each day. If you binge, toss your last cookie (no fair using your gag reflex). If you imbibe, flush your last glassful. If you tailgate, wave in at least one driver. If you yell at your kids, end the day with a hug. If you buy impulsively, return something. If you steal things, give something away. Indulgence creates relief, not happiness. Persistently resisting your impulse to gratify cravings will grow your self-discipline. Self-discipline creates space into which your happiness can flow.
Step 2: Practice proaction. Do something each day to better your body or your environment. Scrub a toilet. Take a 15-minute walk. Prepare your lunch for the following day. Pay the gas bill. Choose an activity that tends to trigger your most potent procrastination. Complete this sentence: “I hate [activity].” Do that. Persistence creates inertia, which builds habits like muscles. Practice a little each day and self-care will soon become natural and effortless.
Step 3: Compose a happy future. Regret stifles happiness. Do you frown at your reflection and regret your many binges? Do you sigh in your cubicle and regret your school or career choices? Do you stare at your television each night and regret your inability to make or maintain relationships? Will you experience the same regrets in five years? Or, can you imagine a future in which regret has disappeared? Grab a computer or a voice recorder or a pencil and compose your regret-free story. In five years, when you reflect on your life between then and now, how will you have lived so that you experience gratitude and contentment rather than regret – so that you feel happy about your story?
Here’s my five-year rewrite:
During the past five years I took good care of myself emotionally and physically. Today, I feel grateful for my strong body, my sharp mind, my rewarding work, my close relationships with family and friends, and my persistent happiness. Highlights from my last five years include the following:
- I exercised regularly, ate healthfully, and maintained a normal weight.
- I retired from my job as a paralegal and currently work as a psychotherapist.
- I wrote and published several articles and books.
- I played frequently, loved completely, and lived authentically.
- I saved a few bucks.
Our choices and actions have great impact on our stories. Still, the future will unfold whether or not we chose or wish or strive or worry. Take care of yourself. Accept each moment as it happens. Don’t regret the past; learn from it. Don’t worry about the future; welcome it. Plan hopefully; do courageously; and live happily.