A quick Google search reveals the extent of the human quest for happiness. In fact over 3.5 million entries from a range of articles books and blogs can be found on the topic!

 

It’s clearly something of importance to the human journey and many people list it as a high priority in life. So why does it appear so illusive?

Happiness:  What is it? How do you get it? Is it sustainable?

What I have learned (and continue to learn) is that my search for happiness was misguided for many years.  I, like many others, was in search of fame and fortune and the quick fix. I was on the “hedonic treadmill”, seeking happiness in experiences which provided positive emotions. Although I am fortunate to have had a successful career and earned a good amount of money along the way, the deep truth of happiness continued to elude me. Why?


I was taught by society that happiness came from the "external to me moments" such as purchasing a new car, a new TV or some other "must have" gadget or accessory that was shining in a window. I embraced these moments as if my last breath depended on them – when I get this or when I have that, I will be happy! Fundamentally, I was conditioned to believe that to find happiness I must earn money (preferably a lot of it) and spend it on stuff! 'Show me the sugar, honey!'. What I did throughout this quest for happiness was neglect areas of my life that could have made a sustainable difference. To put it another way, I was barking up the wrong tree!

A new perspective

The positive psychology movement offers a different perspective on achieving happiness, one that I have embraced. The focus on what makes life worth living, what gives life meaning, positive relationships and human flourishing is ushering in a brave new way of thinking and being in the world that I believe is the beginning of the change many of us seek.
Dr. Martin Seligman, often credited as the father of the modern positive psychology movement, stated that by 2051, 51% of the world's population could be flourishing. The momentum being generated within the field of positive psychology is enormous and more and more research is being conducted, with a shifting focus towards what truly makes a flourishing happy life. Seligman’s PERMA model offers a framework for living that encompasses a multidimensional approach to happiness, which I practice and teach. 

In her 2007 book "The How of Happiness", positive psychology researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky elaborates on this theme, describing happiness as "the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile".  In what she describes as the first empirically tested book on the science of happiness, Sonja offers 12 strategies that when applied are proven to increase happiness. This book is unique in that it is derived from years of empirical studies of what actually makes people happy.

So what are the key messages around happiness I hear you ask?

 

  • It takes practice.

As humans we are often looking for the quick fix, something easy that will make our lives better with a minimal amount of effort on our part. This is evident in the countless best selling self-help books offering the 3, 5, 7, 11 secrets to happiness! Well I’ve got a secret to share too. And it is simply this; there are no secrets to happiness!

 

  • Happiness takes time.

From my own experience, sustained happiness comes from cultivating practices that contribute to the bigger picture of a happy life, not "in the moment" happiness.  Feelings of contentment, joy and connection are not found in a silver bullet, nor will they come knocking at my door with glamorous excitement and Hollywood fanfare.  They take time, patience and practice.

If you are anything like me, excitement seeking was part of the problem. I had spent my life looking outside of myself for satisfaction and I believed that every shiny new toy would surely bring me perfect happiness. Whilst those things did bring me some short lived euphoria, it was fleeting and I quickly adjusted back to my usual state and found myself again on the treadmill of desire, seeking my next fix to fill something lacking inside myself.

Having been on both ends of "success spectrum" I have now embraced several sustainable strategies that I know improve my own levels of happiness. The offshoot of improving my own levels is improvement in the happiness of those around me. It has taken time, energy and effort but I can honestly say it has been worth it. Cultivating sustainable happiness is a gift.

So here is the kicker! Happiness takes time, sustained energy and effort. It takes commitment, patience and practice just like anything else worth learning in life. In my experience, anything truly worthwhile requires your complete investment in it.  I’m sure there is nothing new in this statement but it is surprising to know how many people are only interested in having everything the easy way.  

 

  • Measures to help you cultivate it.

If you are interested in cultivating your own happiness there are a number of strategies that you can try. Like the basic training for military service, many of them are traditional and may seem old school and not cool but the truth of it is they work. Try a few of them out for yourself and see what works for you. Be sure to give them enough time before making any judgement to the contrary.

To begin, I recommend taking an honest evaluation of your life today. Consider the areas of your life such as work, relationships and family and evaluate how happy you are in those areas. Be honest! Create an overall picture of how happy you are today. This will be your baseline for future reference.

 

  • Strategies.

Here are the 12 activities outlined in The How of Happiness:

  1. Express gratitude

  2. Cultivate optimism

  3. Avoid over thinking and social comparisons

  4. Practice acts of kindness

  5. Nurture social relationships

  6. Develop strategies for coping

  7. Live in the present

  8. Increase "flow" experiences

  9. Savour life’s joys

  10. Commit to your goals

  11. Practice religion and spirituality

  12. Meditate, take part in physical activity, rest, act like a happy person

 

 

Here are three things I do every day:

  • Practice gratitude – At the end of the day I write in my journal a minimum of three things that went well and that I feel grateful for. This can be as simple as someone holding the lift for me or, on a more fundamental level, my connection with and guidance from God. I write what it is and why I feel grateful, to truly connect myself to the experience. I can not understate the power of this experience each and every time.

  • Each day I take a minimum of 10 minutes to practice mindfulness. I have learned that this does not need to be a complicated process. On the contrary, simplicity is best.

    I have also learned that some days my mind will wander a lot, that I can be restless and distracted. Sometimes I am relaxed and some days I feel rushed. It’s all OK. When my mind wanders I gently bring it back to the moment realising that this is what the practice is about. I don’t have to be perfect - I just need to take the time and practice.

  • Every night I take a few short minutes and commit to my goals. My goals are inspiring, motivating and energising me in my life's direction and purpose and I take time to establish and also to affirm them every day. They are not ‘"should" goals that are limiting and self-sabotaging.  They are goals for the next 24 hours, the next week, month and three months and I feel excitement as I see the progress I am making towards them. I am motivated by the opportunity to stretch my goals even further as I continue to develop.

What next?

I have a lot of experiences to share in relation to my happiness journey. If you decide to stick with me through my unfolding journey, I will share many personal stories that relate to my awakening conscience and understanding of life. It is my story of self-discovery and, for the most part, I believe it’s worth sharing. I have often reflected on things I have experienced and have wondered what they were all about. I think this is simply about sharing them with honest and open conviction. In the process my hope is that you will find some strength, knowledge and understanding or maybe even peace, in your own pursuit of a flourishing life.

What I will say right now, in relation to happiness, is that I have stood in moments in life with thousands of dollars in the bank and I have stood in other moments with less than a dollar in my pocket. While I can truly say that the thousands in the bank gave me a greater sense of security and comfort it did not, I repeat, did not give me greater happiness beyond meeting my basic needs. Happiness is a complex, multidimensional process that takes time and practice to sustain. If you would like to learn how to really increase your happiness and wellbeing book your free 30 minute consultation here.

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. William Arthur Ward

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