“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
We humans make things so complicated.
Take the subject of happiness, which can be as elusive as it is desirable. According to an online Harris Poll of 2,345 U.S. adults, only one in three Americans say they’re ‘very happy’, as has been the trend since 2009.
Even worse, our drive to be happy may interfere with achieving the goal. When we strongly want to be happy we may create a standard that can’t be met. Thinking: “I must always be happy” can result in disappointment and guilt, which ironically can prevent the happiness we so desire.
According to happiness researcher Brett Q. Ford of the University of California at Berkeley, “Part of the reason that wanting to be happy backfires in the U.S. is that people get down on themselves. Also, wanting happiness can make you self-focused and disengaged, and then you’re kind of lonely, and that interferes with feeling happy, too.”
Yet, as it turns out, happiness is built into us and we all have access to it, all the time, at any time. The problem is we believe that happiness is the result of an outward focus. The fact escapes us that happiness is an inner condition that involves our thoughts, feelings and biochemistry, which are obviously INSIDE us.
Once we understand the internal nature of the condition we can take this happiness horse by the reins and be happy whenever we like.
Here’s the secret, and don’t be deceived by its utter simplicity.
If you want to be happy all the time: find something to be happy about all the time!
At any given moment, you can choose dozens of things to be happy about. No matter how bad things seem to be, like the man who complained about having no shoes, until he saw another man with no legs, there is always something we can be happy about – a warm bed, a friend, spouse, lover, child, pet, job, not being in pain, eyesight, hearing, hands, feet, fingers, toes, ability to walk, no deformities etc.
The bad news: our brains are hard-wired for survival which is the primal imperative. Thus, the default perspective of the human brain is on what’s wrong, not what’s right. After all, what’s wrong can kill you, what’s right probably won’t.
The good news: we can only think one thought at a time.
In other words, if you are thinking a good thought you CANNOT at the same time think a bad one. Thus, to be constantly happy, be constantly thinking good thoughts.
Because our brains can’t tell the difference between what we’re thinking in our heads and what’s really happening in our physical, real life experiences, by placing attention on what’s right, we’ll be upregulating and enhancing the activity of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, which are the brain correlates of contentment and satisfaction. As far as our bodies and its biochemistry are concerned, we really will be happy!
If you’re spiritual, you’re lucky. That means you can focus on spirit, or, if you prefer, GOD, or All That Is, or Jesus, whatever moniker you want to use for the nameless Force that drives creation. This, by the way is the true meaning of Paul’s New Testament admonition in Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing”.
Is that too simple?
Well maybe it is but don’t be fooled, the greatest ideas usually are. As playwright Clare Boothe Luce wrote in the 1930’s “…the height of sophistication is simplicity”.
If you’re feeling less happy than you’d like, give it a shot. Write down 10 or 20 or even 100 things you appreciate in your life. Then, every time some unpleasant thought arises, redirect your attention to something on the list. Over and over and over use all negative thoughts as a signal or cue to return to something you’re happy about. Try and see what happens. Chances are it will be much harder to stay with negativity, and even if you only manage to catch yourself and redirect just a few times a day, you’re going to find yourself a lot happier than you would be otherwise. If you keep at it, eventually you may very well find yourself happy most, or even all of the time!