Everyone wants to be happy, right? Well, at least most of us do. A few months ago, I published a blog called, “How to Be Happy,” which has been something I’ve really been considering lately. When I first decided to write a blog about being happy, I just went with my own life experiences and gut feelings, but recently I’ve been reading books, articles, research studies, and watching lots of documentaries on the subject, and I’ve learned about some things that make a lot of sense.
In my last article, I mentioned things like being part of a community, being grateful, not getting angry over insignificant things, doing meaningful work, being humble, laughing, being honest and thoughtful, enjoying time alone, eating right, spending time in nature, enjoying the arts, giving to charity, loving animals, and cultivating relationships. After studying the subject in more depth, I found that many of these things I noticed that made me happy were found to be true in cultures around the world, but there were also some things I didn’t mention that I think are quite profound. For one thing, things like our job, income, and life situations have little to do with how happy we are. As long as we have enough to eat, a warm shelter in which to live, and have moderate security, external sources have little lasting effect on happiness. But there are some things that we can do, in addition to what I wrote in my last article, that can have a great impact on our happiness. Here is what I found:
Do something different—Studies show that people, even the ones who think they like routine (like me), benefit from changing things up and doing something completely outside what they normally do (Happy). Novelty and experiences make us happy, and are often the source of our best memories. I really do need to work on this one.
Help people—In my last blog on this subject, I mentioned giving to charity, which does make you happy, but now I am talking about doing something more tangible. Instead of merely giving money, which is helpful, physically do something to help someone. I think it makes a person even more happy because giving money is too easy, but getting your hands dirty feels like you did something bigger, something personal. Helping people always makes you feel good, but only if you don’t expect anything in return. Expectations lead to disappointment and bitterness. But knowing how you made someone feel because you were willing to give up actual time to help him always leads to happiness.
Do things that create flow—Flow is that elated mental state caused by letting go of the mind and just experiencing an almost unconscious state of action that seems effortless (Happy). It’s that feeling of being in “the zone.” Runners experience this as “runner’s high” when they reach a point where they feel they can’t go on, and then endorphins kick in, and they feel like they could go on forever. I’ve experienced runner’s high and a similar feeling while figure skating. I also felt this while writing my novel. After hours of writing, it seemed like the book began writing itself. It was effortless. I’ve heard chefs on the line experience this flow. Anything that you enjoy and do for an extended period of uninterrupted time can become like a zero-point focus, totally absorbing, and all worries and conscious thoughts seem to let go, and you become completely at peace. Apparently, many people achieve this through meditation, but I’ve never been able to properly meditate. Maybe someday.
Exercise—Exercising releases endorphins, making us healthier and happier over all. Exercise often leads to experiencing flow. It makes us healthier, which also adds to contentment, and it can be fun—at least, I’m trying to convince myself.
Sleep—Everyone knows that lack of sleep makes you irritable and unhealthy, but getting enough rest makes you mentally healthier. Some psychologists believe that dreaming is necessary to sanity, but it is commonly known that a lack of sleep can cause depression, weight gain, emotional instability, and an inability to think clearly. Having enough sleep is important to maintain health and happiness. I could definitely use more sleep.
Don’t work too much–This is the hardest thing for most of us, I think. I know I work almost all the time–days, nights, weekends. There have been numerous studies that show countries whose people work 30 hours or less per week, have the most happy citizens, or Gross National Happiness. According to the latest studies, Japan is now the least happiest country due to overwork. They are literally working themselves to death (Happy). I’m sure Americans are not far behind. If you think about it, this one issue can affect all the rest. If we are busy working, trying to pay to keep up a lifestyle that will never make us happy, then we don’t have time for community, volunteering, exercise, sleep, relationships, etc. We won’t have time to do the things that will actually make us happy. But we have to work 40 hours just to survive. For many of us, our jobs require unpaid hours at home just to keep up. It’s a conundrum.
Realize that everything and everyone is connected—Whether we believe we are connected transcendentally, spiritually, or just through energy and commonality as Einstein realized, we affect each other and everything around us (I Am). When we war with each other, hate, steal, treat animals with cruelty, destroy our environment, we are doing this to ourselves. The same is true when we do good. If we realize this connection, we are less likely to harm each other. This makes everyone happier.
Don’t believe in artificial constructs—like the economy, success, and competition. I mean really, what is the “economy?” It’s something we created that seems to enslave most people and elevates a few. Money, the stock market–it only exists because we made it important for survival. It is completely artificial in itself. Success is defined by marketing companies, television and movies, corporations, and school boards. And competition? Isn’t it natural? Doesn’t it provide motivation? Make us feel happy when we win? Not really. Don’t buy into the idea that these constructs are natural and good, and that these are the things we should be most concerned with. People who do, often live with regret and waste most of their lives. Sure, we have to live in the world in which we were born, we have to survive in this system, but we don’t have to buy into the idea that these are the primary areas in which to strive. These things never lead to happiness.
Don’t compete—Human beings are always better off sharing, cooperating, and quite often, compromising. It makes us happier, so why are we so competitive? Our personal selfishness is always reinforced in our culture, as is standing out, being number one, and crushing the competition. But competition leads to stress and disappointment most of the time. It always leaves someone feeling bad.
But standing out—or better put, feeling special, is usually pleasant. Well, the best way to feel special is to be loved, and competition is not good for loving relationships. According to Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in Aboriginal and indigenous cultures, cooperation is given a much higher value than competition and “competition beyond certain boundaries is considered mental illness” (I Am). He studies cultures and animals to determine what is natural to us and what is a societal construct. He asks if democracies or hierarchies are more natural. He found that not only do animals rely on cooperation to survive, nature never takes more than it needs, or it dies off, as Darwin also realized. I think there is certainly a lesson for us in this. Even Darwin talked more about love and cooperation among mammals than “survival of the fittest.” Often the fittest is the one who will cooperate. Darwin also said that sympathy is one of the strongest impulses of humans (I Am).
Be empathetic and compassionate—We all share the ability for empathy. When we witness heroism, something touching, or empathize with someone going through something particularly emotional, we experience “elation” (I Am). We recognize this feeling of innate compassion for fellow beings as love and as good. This feeling makes us happy even while at the same time, we may be sad. This altruistic impulse is natural and inborn in every human, and the evidence overwhelmingly shows this tendency in other mammals as well within their own social groups, and sometimes even outside it. I prefer this “human nature” to that of the ruthless competitive “nature” that began as a flaw in childhood and was reinforced by our society. Compassion even makes us healthier, while competitiveness makes us sicker in the form of stress-related illness.
Think and be positive, and act positively—I’ve always scoffed at “positive thinkers.” I’ve never believed that we could change physical matter merely by thinking it into existence; however, more and more scientists are exploring this as a potentiality. I’ll wait for the evidence, but even if positive thinking cannot alter a physical situation, it certainly has an effect on how we perceive it—whether we take it as good or bad, and of course, our emotions in dealing with it. Acting positively will affect how others act toward us, which can positively alter our circumstances as well.
Finally, live in a way that causes the least harm to anyone or anything—If, every day, in every interaction, we consider what harm we may cause and choose the least harmful, the whole world would be a better place. We cannot avoid harm—just by existing, we cause harm to our environment. We eat plants and some of us eat animals, we live in houses, we drive cars, and produce waste. We get careless, and we say hurtful things or treat others with unkindness. However, we can choose the least harmful in every interaction with our world. We can plant gardens and use natural ways to keep pests away, we can refuse to consume meat that was raised inhumanely, we can use environmentally friendly materials and not take more than we need, we can conserve, and not waste. We can be responsible and kind. If we lived like this, how could we not be happy?
I’ve heard that our purpose, if we have one, on this planet is not to “be happy” and maybe it’s not, but it seems that we are driven to pursue it. What if being responsible, kind, and loving human beings was our purpose, and precisely because it is our purpose, it also makes us happy? Not the fleeting excitement of a new toy-kind of happiness, but joy, the deep, soul-contentment of being who we should be, who we are capable of becoming. —Christina Knowles
- Happy. Wadi Rum Films, 2012. Film.
- Happy Photo. yhponline.com. Web.15 May 2015.
- Purpose Photo. Hippie Peace Freaks. Facebook. Web.15 May 2015.
- I Am. Tom Shadyac. Flying Eye Productions, Homemade Canvas Production, and Shady Acres Films, 2010. Film.