Lasting happiness is what everyone is ultimately searching for, and yet it seems illusive. Happiness comes in waves that rise and recede. We find ourselves happy in one moment, followed by moments of misery, depression and despair.
We desire a happiness that is lasting, unwavering and constant, and yet it seems that happiness is never constant. And it leaves us wondering if such a thing is even possible.
I wanna begin by being clear that I’m not happy all the time. In my life, happiness is something that comes and goes. And in between I experience all sorts of heavy emotions from frustration to disappointment, and even depression. So I don’t want to give the impression that I’m any sort of expert on happiness, or that I’ve discovered a guaranteed method for staying in a constant state of happiness.
I’m not really certain that I’ve ever met anyone who is constantly happy. The happiest people I know also go through periods of unhappiness that seem to be equal in strength to their happiest moments. There are also people we see from time to time who always seem to be happy, but we have to take into account the fact that we only see them in public. We don’t see them when they’re alone, and we may not see them when they’re faced with difficulties and challenges. So we don’t really know how they deal with those situations.
I like to think that it is possible to reach a state of happiness that never wavers, but since I’ve never experienced it myself, nor witnessed it in others, I can’t say for certain whether it is indeed possible.
But what we can do is try to understand happiness. We can try to understand what it means to be happy, what causes it and what impedes it. And by doing so, we might increase our moments of happiness and raise the overall quality of life. Even if we never attain lasting happiness, we might attain a level of happiness that far exceeds where we are currently, and that’s certainly worth striving for.
I’ve come to find that there are two distinct types of happiness, or what we refer to as happiness. One is based on circumstances, and the other is really more a sort of contentment that doesn’t rely at all on circumstances, but more on our overall attitude.
As long as our sense of happiness is dependent upon our circumstances we will always have moments of dissatisfaction and disappointment, because circumstances are always shifting and changing. And so our emotional state shifts and changes along with it. So clearly we cannot find lasting happiness as long as we’re expecting our circumstances to always be favorable.
So perhaps the happiness we’re searching for is really a sort of contentment; contentment with what is, regardless of whether our circumstances are favorable or unfavorable. As long as we’re in resistance to what is, we’re creating mental conflict. We’re unable to fully appreciate life, unable to feel content.
So perhaps our focus shouldn’t be so much on seeking to find happiness, but on cultivating contentment, gratitude and appreciation. And from these things, happiness naturally arises.
These things don’t depend on circumstances, but rather upon perspective. It isn’t our circumstances which cause us to be unhappy so much as our thoughts and judgments about our circumstances. So if we can learn to shift our perspective, to change the way we look at things, the way we interpret situations, we can find that our thoughts have the greatest influence over our emotions. And through conscious practice we can learn to shift our thinking, thereby gaining more control over our emotions rather than being the helpless victims of circumstance.
If it’s raining, we can choose to see it as an unfortunate situation. We can resist it mentally, complaining and feeling irritated. Or we can embrace the rain. We can find joy in it. We can choose to dance instead of running for cover. It’s all about perspective. It’s all about how we interpret the situation.
Now this is easier said than done. Learning to shift our thoughts takes practice. After all, if we’re in the habit of thinking negatively, it can take some time to reprogram those mental patterns. We shouldn’t expect immediate results. I think it’s important to be aware of our negative thought patterns and how they affect our mood. And whenever we’re unhappy we can bring attention to that thought pattern, noticing it, seeing how it plays out, and then consciously shifting our focus. Our negative thoughts are all about what’s wrong with the situation, so to shift means to look for what is right. What do we have that we can appreciate, that we can feel grateful for? Where can we find opportunity within difficulties? Not that we should pretend as though everything is perfect. Whatever unfortunate thing we’re experiencing is still there. It’s not necessarily going to go away if we just ignore it. But it’s also not the only thing happening. So what is the good in that situation? And can we give more attention to that?
This takes practice. Every time we’re bogged down with negative thoughts, we have an opportunity to practice this. And each time it gets a little easier. We just have to remember that it’s a process and processes take time. So we should be patient with ourselves.
As for lasting happiness, perhaps it is a possibility. But in the meantime let’s bring our attention to simply increasing our happiness, even if only by small degrees and short duration. If we expect to shift directly from dark depression to everlasting bliss, we might find it so frustrating that we give up and sink even deeper into depression. So be reasonable. Don’t push yourself too hard. Take small steps if you must. Embrace the moment. Learn to accept what is. Because the more you develop acceptance, the more content you will be, and happiness will occur naturally.
I’ve been told that the secret to happiness is not about having the best of anything, but making the best of what you currently have. We can focus on everything that’s wrong with life, on everything that’s imperfect or lacking, or we can focus on everything that’s right, on all that we have to be grateful for, and also for the lessons that difficulties offer us. And when we shift our perspective in this way, our mood shifts toward a greater sense of contentment.
We may not find that constant and lasting happiness, but we can improve the overall quality of life. We can experience happiness more frequently and with greater intensity. The more we let go of expectations and the more we cultivate gratitude for what we have, the more we will experience happiness.