What Makes Us Happy?
How is it that Pharrel William’s light hearted song, Happy, (see the YouTube video below) has become such a global, smash hit despite the constant bombardment of news suggesting that the world is going to hell in a handbasket?
Perhaps William’s song with its simple toe-tapping lyrics has hit a nerve globally around hope and light heartedness. Elements we may be longing for as respite from daily messages of impending environmental disaster, financial hardship and global conflict. Perhaps it’s time that we found out what makes us happy and consciously start living this out more in our lives. Williams sings:
…‘clap along if you feel like a room without a roof, Clap along if you feel that Happiness is the truth.”
What he’s singing about of course is perspective. Happiness is a state of being that he is choosing to focus on. Getting into the simple embodied pleasure of dancing to his upbeat video had an almost immediate effect on improving my mood as I hope it does yours.
It’s a refreshing perspective given how much focus has been put on what’s wrong with our lives and this planet. I’m not suggesting we be glib and superficial and drop all social consciousness around world issues. What I do feel though, is that we need greater balance around perspectives that instil hope, inspiration and joy in order to deal with life’s challenges.
The Happiness Perspective
It can be hard to maintain a focus of ‘happiness as the truth’ if we are only relying on external circumstances as the measure for feeling good.
When mainstream perspective is overwhelming and life is difficult to deal with, it is usually a call to go in, to be more inner focused as a way of shifting perspective.
Regular practice of turning our attention inwards helps reduce our busy or troubling thoughts. When we tune into and cultivate quiet space we can start to restore balance and experience greater peace. This is also where insights may start to arise around old fears or blocks.
What is Happiness?
Some definitions of happiness I came across were: “contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, cheerfulness, glee, jolliness, merriness, joy, delight, gladness, good spirits.”
These seem to capture a broad spectrum of happiness. Everything from a peaceful evening at home with family to the bouncing, elation expressed in William’s video. For many of us happiness is often described in terms of some sort of acquisition. Or in terms of getting rid of something. For example, I often hear clients say: “I’ll be happy when”…
- I’m out of that difficult relationship
- I find the relationship I’m longing for
- I’m away from that boring job or controlling boss,
- I’ll have the career I’m striving for,
- I’ll have more money,
- I’ll finish my studies,
- I’ll have my own house, car, holiday, children (fill in the blank)
- The dog next door stops barking,
The list can go on. And when we get those things are we happy? Hell yes! Well at least for a little while until the blush of happiness wears off and we are longing for the next thing that we have to have in order to feel happy again.
Happiness Where Art Thou?
In my own personal journey and my work with clients I have come to appreciate that if we only rely on certain external circumstances or conditions in order to be happy, the feeling is fleeting and ultimately unsatisfactory.
We may not get the pay-rise we wanted or leave our job, we may not find the partner that we are longing for, and the neighbour with the barking dog still hasn’t moved away. So what do we do with that?
I would like to offer two important keys that are crucial for building a foundation of happiness despite outer circumstances that may suggest the contrary:
Key 1. Get to know Our Shadow
When we get to know, accept and/or release aspects of ourselves that we’ve disliked or struggled with we are increasing the space for happiness in or hearts. Our Shadow are aspects of ourselves that we may dislike, tend to push down or feel shame around or perhaps feel irritated about in others. This could be our neediness, our loneliness, our fears or anger.
Our Shadow Can Pop Up At Anytime
It can take a lot of energy to repress these disowned feelings and these can block more positive feelings flowing in. Inevitably our Shadow may pop up when we least expect it and we can feel at its mercy. When our Shadow does pop up turning towards it and facing it is an opportunity for healing, deepening understanding and shifting blocks to our happiness.
This is where working with an experienced, engaged counsellor is invaluable. Someone who can help us work with our blindspots and can compassionately support us to understand and accept those parts we struggle with. Some things we just can’t do alone.
‘Hello Shadow I See You’
One of the ways of dissipating the energy of our Shadow is simply to acknowledge that it’s there. That in itself can be a huge relief. For example; to allow ourselves to say: ‘I don’t always want to be giving out to others. In fact, at times I feel resentful from over giving. I also need to be given to. I also need help, love, support, encouragement. In fact I am needy. Just as anyone else is.” It can be a relief to acknowledge our neediness as a start to self care.
Working with Our Shadow…Helps us to increase our capacity to love, forgive and accept ourselves and of course this filters into our relationships. It is empowering to consciously live out these parts rather than feeling that they happen to us and are beyond our control. Our Shadow is often where our internal gold lies.
Key #2. Connecting To Our Inner Life
When you become aware of silence, immediately there is that state of still alertness. You are present. You have stepped out of thousands of years of collective human conditioning.” –Eckhart Tolle
In our current electronic age in the West, we are always ‘on’. We are in a world where we are stimulated by electronic devices that link us to each other and to the world on a 24 hour basis. We have become increasingly externally focused with a reduction in our capacity to attend to one thing. In a study by Associated Press it was found that “Web surfers” have an attention span of 8 seconds. This is shorter than a goldfish’s attention span which is 9 seconds. We are actually down from 12 seconds in 2000.
When we do stop, are alone and quiet, we may start to feel anxious, agitated or lonely. If our only quiet time is just as we go to bed we may find ourselves in a tsunami of anxious thoughts, doubts and uncertainties. All the things that were pushed away and didn’t have space for expression throughout the day can come pouring forth in the night. It is the subconscious mind’s way of processing the myriad of events, feelings and thoughts of the day.
Plugging In For Happiness
Practices that plug us back into an inner life, to disconnect from external stimuli and help us learn to self soothe are crucial for calming our adrenals and activating our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of us that rests, feels calm, unwinds and replenishes.
It is during our quieter states that insight and inner wisdom can arise, we can tune into those things that haven’t felt right and need to change. A simple practice throughout the day is to remember to a take in a deep breath and turn your gaze away from the computer (or other electronic device) for 5 minutes and look out the window. Take in the activity of life happening outside of the screen.
It is through cultivating peaceful inner states that we are able to feel more buoyant around external circumstances that are difficult, uncertain, painful or confusing.
Simple practices that help nurture an inner life:
- listening to soft music
- doodling, drawing, painting
- writing in your journal or diary
- humming quietly
- slow dancing to candlelight
- sitting in silence with eyes either open or shut
- looking at nature – a park, the ocean, trees, the backyard
- quietly listening to your own breathing
- remembering a place that you love to go to
- sitting in a room with candles at dusk
- visiting an art gallery
- add your own thoughts to this list
What Are We Grateful For?
Regular practice of gratitude and appreciation for the things that already exist in our lives (no matter how small) entrain our brains to focus on what is good in our life. This is regardless of whether you got the job, got the house, got rid of the noisy neighbour or whether you had a salary increase.
When we practice remembering and focusing on those things that made us happy, made us feel good, safe, content and even glee we stimulate those emotions in our brains. They fire up parts of our neurological network and over time these wire together to produce ongoing states of ease. These are the things that create lasting change and a deeper sense of happiness.
The metta prayer – loving kindness
The Buddhist ‘metta’ prayer is based on sending good wishes for happiness, health, safety and peace, to ourselves and to those around us. Tuning into each other’s feelings and intentions was a process that was crucial for our survival – it enabled us to nurture our young and be part of living interdependently in a community.
Exercise: Keep the image of a loved one in your mind as you repeat the following words softly and gently out loud. Feel into the importance of these words as you repeat them:
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.
When you notice that your mind has wandered, return to the words and the image of the loved one you have in mind. Savour any warm feelings that may arise. Go slow. Now add yourself to your circle of good will. Put your hand over your heart, feel the warmth of your hand, and say:
May you and I be safe.
May you and I be peaceful.
May you and I be healthy.
May you and I live with ease.
Enjoy your Day