What would it take to make you really happy? ...Are you sure?
Wait a minute….Before we get too far, perhaps we should define happiness. That’s not as easy as it sounds. When you look it up in a dictionary, you can see the following definitions: “the state of being happy (that’s not too helpful), good fortune, pleasure, contentment, joy". The descriptions seem vague but I did find one that I favored: “Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.” Okay, I’ll go with that.
As an aside, the definition of happiness is one of the top edited articles in Wikipedia with nearly 6,000 edits by over 3,000 users. Yup, it’s confusing and lots of people have their own ideas about happiness.
One definition included an example: "she struggled to find happiness in her life”. It must have triggered a memory for me because then I started reading about the United States Declaration of Independence. You know…the phrase--“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Those 3 things were listed as rights given by our Creator and protected by our government.
So our forefathers were talking about happiness too. But according to Wikipedia, there is some debate on what they meant by happiness in 1776. Some experts believe that happiness referred not to a positive, pleasant emotion but focused more on prosperity, and well-being.
A lot of people assume that when they’ve attained a certain amount of money, they'll be happy. And they’re right…but only to a certain point. Once you’ve made enough money to pay the bills... all the necessary expenses like mortgages, health insurance and food, it doesn’t take too much beyond that to maximize your happiness. Having more and more money after that point does not necessarily make you any happier. Unless, you are deriving happiness from the labor involved to achieve more wealth.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (Franklin Roosevelt’s wife for those that get their Roosevelt’s confused) had something to say about the matter too. She believed there was three requirements for happiness: "A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”
The Roosevelt’s quotes came from the early 1900’s--what have we learned about happiness since that time is pretty surprising. There’s actually courses on the topic. You can read about one of them here.
Basically, research has shown that happiness is 50% dependent on our genes (depression, for instance, can run in families), 40% is based on our actions and attitude and only 10% is based on our circumstances. So, no matter how dire your problems…job loss, illnesses, death of a loved one…it only has an effect of 10%.
Now, if you have a family tendency (50%) toward depression and you don’t take actions to recover (40%)…that 10% just shot up to 100%!
I know that you’re already doing the math...
If you have a familial tendency toward depression and something bad happens…you’re already at a tipping point of 60%. But that good or bad experience that moved your happiness up or down (10%) is not permanent, you tend to return to your baseline after months or years depending on the event. So a huge part of your happiness is under your own control.
Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life.
Sorry... I can’t predict exactly what will make you happy but I can give you a clue. Instead of looking forward to what you hope to achieve…look backward. Take an inventory of your life and look at what has made you happy for many years (or even decades). It’s probably not in the same categories as what you are aspiring to. And then you have to ask yourself some serious questions.
If the first car/house/jewelry/amazing designer item I bought didn’t provide me with years (or decades) of happiness, why do I think buying more of it will?
What can you do as you’re taking inventory?
When I was reading about happiness, I discovered a list (Wayne Fields in What the River Knows ) titled the Six Best Physicians:
1. Sunlight- more research is coming out talking about the positive effects of simply being outdoors.
2. Friends/Family- this makes every single list. BELIEVE IT.
3. Rest- our society praises work but we function better when we rest (and sleep) well.
4. Exercise- you know it’s true. Endorphins.
5. Diet- If you make a home cooked meal with your friends/ family you can check off two boxes! Think slow food instead of fast.
6. Self-confidence- believe in yourself. This is not a hard list. You can do it!