Everybody wants to be happy
The true quest of every human being on earth is to find happiness. The American Declaration of Independence states that happiness is man's inalienable right, but why is it so important to be 'happy'?
Life presents us with a great deal of problems daily. It may seem obvious to state that happiness is preferable to moodiness or sadness when trying to solve them, because when someone is happy, they are likely to be more positive and more creative. Science proves that elation triggers hormones that are essential when it comes down to proper metabolic function and well-being.
However, issues such as poverty, oppression and stress exist. There are still many places where abuse is a commonplace occurrence and where people die victims of hunger and violence. Are we advocating we just close our eyes to these and pretend they do not exist? Certainly not. On the other hand, dwelling on problems and becoming depressed by them never helped anyone.
The American Psychological Association states that teenagers as young as fourteen experience depression at least once a year until they are thirty. Human beings have a tendency towards negativity because often negative events and feelings carry more weight than contentedness and joy. As a result, a lot of us experience sadness that continues to influence us long after the triggering episode has gone. This increases our risk of developing illnesses such as chronic heart failure, cerebrovascular accidents, apnea, and migraine.
So perhaps we can all agree that it would be better to be happy than not. But then, a question springs to mind:
What does it mean to be happy?
We sometimes define happiness as a state of mental well-being characterised by positive emotions, which can vary between contentment and joy. Another way to understand happiness is in terms of a way of life, rather than an emotion. It is hard to pin the concept down because happiness means different things to different people. Sometimes we are happy because of unexpected positive events. Other times, we are happy because we feel accepted and loved by others.
Some psychologists have attempted to explain happiness: Seligman, for example, thought humans are most happy when they experience pleasure (such as good food, warm baths etc), when they are fully engaged in a pleasurable yet challenging activity (also called 'flow'), when they have meaningful relationships, when they experience a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, and when they have realised tangible goals.
Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, understood happiness in terms of a hierarchy of needs shaped as a pyramid.
At the bottom of the pyramid, we have basic needs that we must fulfil. When we fulfill them, we attain a basic level of happiness.
After that, we ascend to 'higher' needs until we find a higher, more fulfilling sense of happiness. We proceed this way until we reach the last level, where we feel 'peak experiences' of profound love and understanding.
When we reach the self-actualisation level, we feel more whole, more alive, self-sufficient and yet part of the bigger world around us. This is the highest state of 'happiness' that we can experience.
Can we be happy all the time?
According to this model, we can't be happy all the time and we shouldn't expect to be. Happiness depends on needs being fulfilled, therefore until they are fulfilled, we can expect unhappiness. Surely, this model is useful to understand ourselves better and to aspire to have our needs met at different levels as we proceed in life.
However, there is something to be said about how a positive attitude of mind can help us fulfill our needs quicker because if we feel good about where we're at in the present, we cope more effectively with the circumstances we find ourselves in while aspiring to better them.
If we see happiness as an attitude of mind, we might find that our needs get fulfilled quicker. We also are able to feel reasonably happy despite all the negativity that surrounds us, even when we haven't attained the highest levels of self-actualisation yet.
How do we foster a happy attitude?
A good attitude is half talent, half habit. Like some people are born with a talent for music, some people struggle with it. However, anyone can become a reasonably good musician if they put enough effort and practice into it. In the same way, a good attitude is the product of a positive habitual way of thinking, which might be partly inherited from good parents and partly learned and acquired.
So if your parents were negative, and you grew up in a society that thrives on fostering insecurity for economic reasons, there is still hope for you. Luckily for all of us, our mind is extremely pliable and versatile and can learn new habits throughout our lives. It is never too late to change unless you believe it is too late and you tell yourself so constantly.
I have found that the first step towards change is gratitude. We could spend all of our time focusing on what is missing in our lives, but if we do, we will only attract more of the same. This is not because of magic. It simply is a psychological reality: whatever we tell ourselves, we create in our minds. And whatever we think produces an effect on feelings and actions. Our feelings and actions produce an effect on others, who reflect them back to us.
The tricky thing is to think about what we want, not about what we don't, because our 'irrational' mind does not understand negatives. To illustrate: if I said to you "don't think of pink elephants!" what are you thinking about?
When we focus on what we have and we appreciate it, we are more likely to attract more of it. This is because not only do we subtly inform our subconscious of what we want more of, but also we project a positive attitude to others. The world is also more likely to respond positively to people who are positive rather than to people who complain. This doesn't mean that we should just accept our lot and be content with it. However, when we accept where we are, we are more likely to find positive opportunities to progress beyond our current situation.
Therapy, Coaching or Self Help?
So what if you want to get some support to learn how to change the way you think so you can be your best friend rather than your worst enemy?
The first step towards wholeness is the hardest and if you have read this far, you are already well on the way to overcoming the tallest hurdle in your way. However, the best help we can get is the one we give to ourselves. Even when we ask others to help us, we need to want to help ourselves first.
With this attitude in mind, as you take responsibility for your own well-being, you can read an entire array of books on the subject, but if this proves not to be enough or you want some extra support, you have a few options.
Holistic hypnotherapy, combined with NLP, and coaching could be the way for you to go. Or you could go on a self-development course or a self-hypnosis class. Alternatively, you could try to find a humanist psychotherapist or perhaps a CBT counselor. Or perhaps you could combine these to suit your needs. What is important is to listen to yourself and to go with what feels right.
First of all, begin your journey by expressing gratitude to yourself for being the sort of person to even read this article! Give yourself a pat on the shoulders: well done for caring enough about yourself to be interested in self-development! You are already close to finding your way to live a happier, more fulfilling life!
More on this: The Key to Happiness by Dr. Brené Brown -