As a society we can be somewhat obsessive in our pursuit of happiness. A Google search for “happiness” yields in the order of 152 million results. Yet, in spite of the vast body of information that exists on the subject and the seemingly insatiable appetite for achieving a state of happiness, it appears that very few of us actually manage it.
One of the reasons that happiness remains so elusive is that it is a very individual thing and for each of us the components of happiness will be different. When we undertake personal development work, we start to understand more about our own criteria for happiness.
However, there are undoubtedly some helpful habits that we can cultivate that enhance our chances of happiness, as well as some unhelpful behaviours that we should avoid. In my experience, the six habits most often found in happy people are:
Understanding that happiness comes from inside not outside
As a society we tend to believe that happiness comes from outside ourselves. The formula we are taught is: work hard, earn money, acquire goods, be successful = happiness. This keeps us stuck on a perpetual treadmill of pursuing more and more stuff, or striving for greater and greater success as a way of validating our sense of self-worth. Each time we get the stuff, the desired happiness tends to be fleeting or fails to materialise altogether. We then set out in pursuit of more stuff, more badges of success and so it goes on. Once we recognise that consumerism is a flawed premise and that the happiness we are seeking lies inside ourselves and not “out there” we become happier people. This doesn’t mean we have to live in poverty, it just means that we are not dependent on the stuff to make us happy. If we get the stuff, great. If we don’t, we are still happy. By taking our focus off the constant pursuit of stuff, we have an opportunity to stop and work out what actually would make us happy. The focus needs to shift from what is outside us to what is inside us in order to achieve lasting happiness.
Being happy in the here and now, rather than postponing it
The belief that happiness comes from outside can lead us to postpone our happiness. We sacrifice the happiness of the present in the belief that happiness will show up at some point in the future … when we have paid off our mortgage, retired from our job, achieved the level of income we aspire to etc. etc. When we recognise that happiness comes from inside us and not from external circumstances, we can begin being happy today, right now. We can start to examine what would really make us happy and do something about it.
Valuing themselves highly
Self-esteem or self-worth is about how highly we value ourselves. It is not about placing ourselves at the centre of the universe or believing that we can do anything we set our mind to, which can lead to unrealistic expectations. Valuing ourselves means recognising our own strengths and building on the areas that challenge us. This is the foundation on which our future happiness is built.
Taking responsibility for meeting their own emotional needs
In our minds, each of us has a list of emotional needs and we often look outside ourselves to get these needs met. The problem with expecting others to meet our need for love, respect, acceptance or anything else is that we are gambling with our self-esteem. In essence, we are giving other people the power to make us happy or sad when the power actually lies within ourselves. Our attempts to get our emotional needs met can lead to a whole range of unhelpful behaviours and unhealthy relationships. Have you ever stopped to question why you are spending so much money or acquiring more and more stuff, for example? What need is this meeting within you? When we take responsibility for our own emotional needs we take back the responsibility for our happiness. Loving ourselves means developing the quiet self-confidence that comes from knowing our own worth. When we love ourselves, we make it easier for others to love us. And, as an added bonus, whether or not another loves or not becomes irrelevant as we are already bathed in our own self-love.
Overcoming negative beliefs about themselves
Most of us carry around negative beliefs about ourselves which may go back to some of our earliest childhood experiences and which we may or may not be aware of. Often, these beliefs reveal themselves in times of stress or in our emotional reaction to others. Negative beliefs about ourselves are toxic to our wellbeing and happiness and much of our energy can be taken up in trying to prove them wrong rather than endeavouring to change them. It can be nigh on impossible to love ourselves if, fundamentally, we believe we are a worthless person. But, like a piece of faulty software, our brains can be reprogrammed to overcome negative beliefs. Succeeding on doing this creates fantastic opportunities and provides a solid foundation on which to build greater self-esteem and self-worth.
Avoiding comparisons with others
Comparing ourselves with others can lead to dissatisfaction, discontent and a sense of not being good enough. It can produce unhealthy competitiveness and distract us from our own path. Our comparison culture fuels consumerism and unhealthy workplace stress. When we focus on our own happiness, rather than looking around at others we are far more likely to achieve the peace and wellbeing that we are looking for.
Right now, in our Western culture, we have a model of happiness that says “as long as everyone can see how happy I am, I must be happy.” So, we go on pursuing more and more stuff, working harder and harder to achieve the badges of success that never quite deliver on their promises of happiness. By working on our own emotional happiness, maybe we will realise that we don’t need so much stuff. Maybe we will be content not to work so hard. Maybe we will discover inside the happiness that has eluded us for so long while we’ve been searching in all the wrong places.