During a conversation with a friend of many years ago, she burst out, "I just want to be happy." That statement seemingly stood in stark contrast to everything surrounding my friend. Sitting in her opulent luxury summer home worth several million dollars, the contradiction was astounding. "But, happiness is so elusive," she concluded. As our conversation continued I asked, "What would make you happy?" After some deliberation, "Well, I don't really know." Then a second question brought the matter to its core, "What is happiness?" After another hour of conversation my friend concluded, "I really don't know what 'happiness' is or might look like."
Perhaps defining happiness is as difficult as finding it let alone obtaining it. I mean, if one doesn't know what one is looking for than how can one know when one has found it or not found it? In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky elaborates, describing happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” She defines "happiness" as "subjective well-being." In other words, I actually have some bearing on determining how happy I am going to be or not be.
How does one reach such a place of meaningful, worthwhile, and subjective positive well-being? Here are just a few thoughts:
It Begins With You
While some mental health professionals believe our genes can determine up to 50% of how we feel about happiness, Abraham Lincoln perhaps summed it well by saying, "Most folks are as happy as they make their minds to be." Lincoln reinforces my experiences with people all over the world. During conversations with my South African friend Simon, an elderly Zulu man, he often said sitting on an old stool outside of his modest African home, "I can be happy with this, right here, right now."
Attitude is Everything - Almost
Again, Simon often reminded me while sitting under an African umbrella tree, "I choose to be happy because I am happy." Simon never earned more than $5,000.00 in any given year in his life. Spending four years in a German POW Camp during WWII, Simon assured me over and over again that his meager African life did indeed possess many qualities worth choosing happiness over despair.
Chuck Swindoll said it this way, "We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes."
Happiness Other than Myself
If one's goal is simply attaining happiness for one's self, than is not that happiness which is so deeply desired dependent just upon one's self? I mean, if I am the standard of what I define and determine happiness to be, than perhaps the end of my happiness can be no greater than myself. No, happiness cannot be just about me and how I feel. I must rather find happiness embedded in something greater than myself.
Look around! The beauty of nature, a good thing someone did for you, relationships, a meaningful existence in helping others, a hot three shot extra hot toffee nut latte, rain drops as they fall down upon the leaves of trees and plants pitter-pattering their percussion rhythms, grandchildren, family, boat rides, Face Book, a kind word, a decent job, biting into a sweet cold Honeycrisp Apple, a kiss, a smile, an opportunity, a Bald Eagle flying above, a best friend, southern style BBQ brisket, good Chinese food, someone who makes me laugh, "I love you papa," the wind blowing through the trees, a birthday card, a wink, a puppy licking your toe, help on the side of the road when my car breaks down, music, "I love you sweetheart," good health, stable health, another day, another breath, a pension check - you're lucky, change in your pocket - makes you rich compared to the rest of the world, an income of $50,000 a year puts you in the top 2% of income earners in the world, medicine, a doctor, my church, a check at the end of the week, a day off, someone standing beside me in my most painful moment, volunteering, a rose, a beautiful picture, your cancer free!, beyond this meal there is still food in my cupboards, fireworks - (who pays for those and sets them up and off?), the person who delivers my mail, the firefighter who is on duty, the pastor I can go to, the smell of coffee in the morning, forgiveness, a back rub, upgrading my skills, a loving touch, birthday cake, Thanksgiving turkey, ice cream, and . . . . . . see what I mean?
For most of us, there is plenty to create happiness in us if we choose to see it and sense some gratitude for it. If happiness is elusive, perhaps it's because it hides somewhere deep within our hearts. Maybe looking there is a good place to start . . .