We all just want to be happy, right? It makes more sense than wanting to be miserable. Not much to ask for, something that should just occur naturally with little thought or effort going into making it happen. Happiness will just be a part of our lives.
Or maybe not.
For something that we all want and that is touted as being so easy to achieve there’s an awful lot of anxiety, depression and unhappiness in our society.
What do we mean when we say we want to be happy? Is it a feeling of being content, connected to others, able to deal with life’s ups and downs, feeling that we are living a meaningful, values driven life?
Or is it being free of life’s ups and downs? Focussing on the fun stuff? Is it having the latest gadgets and toys, the nicest house, new car, overseas holidays?
There’s a reasonable amount of research now that shows us this path to happiness is a fleeting one and usually sets us on an never ending cycle of trying for better, better, better, more. That can be exhausting and expensive.
There are traps, it seems, in our pursuit of happiness!
Is there a more long term and satisfying way to feel happy? There is, it’s about living life based on your core values (yep, those core values pop up everywhere) combined with building good relationships with others and yourself (having compassion and self compassion). A rich, full life that encompasses all of life’s little quirks – the good, the bad and the ugly! Accepting the hard stuff sounds a little counter intuitive to being happy, however building in some emotional flexibility will give us the heads up on happiness long term.
Paths to Happiness
There are some quick fixes to feeling happy. Great you might say, but the down side is they are often destructive and short lived.
Dr Tony Fernando (Psychiatrist, Auckland) describes three brain circuits to happiness – the excitement pleasure circuit, the calm contentment circuit and the connection empathy compassion circuit.
1) In the excitement pleasure circuit– our brain’s reward chemistry is stimulated by outside events, shopping, alcohol, drugs, adventures. We get a quick but very powerful chemical hit that leaves us initially feeling really good, but this feeling fades and we need to do it all over again and again to get the feeling back.
Most humans don’t like the feelings that come with hassles and life’s less enjoyable events so we try to mask them. It seems society thinks if we’re not constantly happy then we’re defective!
It’s unlikely that we’d consciously have core values that support this approach to being happy. Unfortunately for many of us it’s our default approach to happiness. Advertising gurus and marketers would have us believe it’s the way to go.
2) Calm contentment circuit – this is a path to being happy that is more sustainable than the previous circuit! Having a sense of calm is crucial to feeling happy. I know I can’t recall a time when I felt frazzled, or worried and happy!
Feeling calm and content helps release more long term feel good brain chemicals. Accepting what we’re feeling and avoiding the urge to push uncomfortable emotions away or try to control them lessens the internal fight and allows us to be calmer.
Mindfulness is a great technique to help calm the mind. What works for you? Perhaps you could build something into your day that you find calming and relaxing – it may be as simple as a 5 minute walk, a cup of tea, listening to some favourite music.
3) Connection empathy compassion circuit- compassion, having empathy and connection to others, and toward ourselves, is the strongest circuit to boost happiness. Connection stimulates the brains strongest feel good chemicals. We are wired to feel good when we help. Even thinking about previous times when we showed empathy or helped stimulates the response. The motivation for compassion and empathy needs to be genuine, if you do things solely to make yourself feel better or balance up the karma scale then you’re out of luck!
We contain a mine of happiness within ourselves, we only need to tune into it. It may mean we need to take a good look at how we define happiness and how we “get” happiness.
What needs to change for you? What are you true core values? (The Mix , Oct 2014 or see the Fit for Life Coaching website for The Core Values articles) Do your values allow you to be happy?
Happiness takes a bit of thought and some action! Do you really want to be happy? I know I do. If you want to do some more reading on Happiness check out Dr Russ Harris, a GP, psychotherapist and coach).
Jan Aitken Life Coach