Whether it's work or play, I frequently find myself witnessing conversations about happiness. From co-workers asking one another, "Are you happy?" To my mom telling me, "I just want you to always be happy" or my boyfriend asking me, "What will make you happy?" Happiness is the hot topic. New Year's resolutions revolve around it, talk shows make millions debating it, people move from the city to the mountains in search of it and here I am writing about it.
I'll never forget meeting a dynamic woman years ago who made a documentary about happiness. She said that the inspiration for her film came to her while she was in India. She was amazed by how happy the people she met were, despite "all the material comforts they lacked." Maybe it's my own Indian background, but I'm always surprised that people can be happy despite all the things they do have.
Consider the fact that we face an almost daily assault from so much stuff -- iPhones, iPods, BlackBerrys, television programming, clothing -- external sources of happiness, a vast array of gizmos and gadgets that constantly beckon with their jingles and tweets, reminding us to exercise, buy the latest new toy, call our mothers back, kick ass at work, squeeze in time with friends and (while we're at it) squeeze in to that stylish new dress as well.
Mired in this over stimulated environment, we are constantly reminded of our own inadequacy. (Oh, you finally lost those 10 pounds after giving birth six months ago? That's nice. Gisele did it in two weeks. See this morning's Google alert.)
Is it any wonder that so many of us devour books on happiness, open our wallets for life coaches and wellness retreats, and generally remain grumpy despite all the things we do have, always chasing that elusive state of "happiness."
And, what is happiness, anyway?
Happiness: a state of contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.
Although, pleasurable and satisfying experiences sure are nice, I believe the Webster definition doesn't really set our society up for success. I'd like to go out on a limb here and share my own definition of happiness:
Happiness: a timeless state of contentment due to embracing the control you have over your state of mind.
There are 86,400 seconds in a day. It would be really hard to be in a blissful state of mind each and every second of every day, but we get to choose which seconds define our day, our week and our lives. It is that choice and that control that I believe is true happiness.
We've built our lives around acquiring new things and replacing things we've deemed as unsatisfying, and the transition from new to old is becoming quicker day by day. It's so tempting to go on the market for the newest, thinnest laptop soon after a recent purchase of a perfectly suitable one, or hit up an online dating site and search for love a day after a break-up. Whether it's a new computer or a new relationship, these external sources, although enjoyable, can distract us from our inner source of happiness -- our control over our state of mind.
Happiness is not dependent on what the number on the scale says or whether you get that promotion at work or marry your college crush. Happiness is the ability to recognize and be okay with the fact that you won't always feel -- well -- happy. Sometimes things don't work out. Sometimes we screw up. Sometimes, truly terrible things happen. If you can allow yourself to experience negative emotions, you will recognize that temporarily feeling bummed out about life's small and sometimes large disappointments are natural and do not have to permanently distract or define you.
Knowing that you control your happiness and that no one can take it away from you or define it for you leaves you in charge. In my last post, I introduced the concept of the weight of words and asked you to come up with one motivational word for the New Year and start an emotional diet. Next step on the emotional diet? Write your own definition of happiness. Break it down by external sources vs. internal sources of happiness. For example, external would be a new pair of shoes. Internal would be my ability to make friends. After you write it down, embrace it. Make a game plan for your life that involves the pursuit of happiness on your own terms.
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