What is happiness? Nearly everyone is seeking it, but if you take an honest look at the world, it seems very few people are actually finding it. Why? Is happiness such a mysterious thing? Maybe. I mean, everyone you ask will give you a different definition of happiness. So, who is right? Is anyone right? Is anyone wrong?
To some degree, happiness is relative. It will look different for each individual depending on their life story and personality. Yet, happiness is consistent enough that we can discuss it intelligently, tangibly… and fruitfully.
The greatest obstacles to happiness are our misunderstandings about it. There are many myths we pick up about what happiness is and what it looks like. These myths have us chasing shadows and visions that not only frustrate and frazzle our journey through life, they disappoint us in the end. The harder we chase after happiness, the more unhappy and discouraged we can become. Understanding the myths below can help us stop chasing after happiness so we can actually create some in our daily lives.
Author’s note: This article took a very, very long time to complete. I considered rolling it out to you in sections so you’d have regular content, but decided it would be obnoxious to click to separate articles. Instead, please feel free to scroll to the sections that jump out at your or…enjoy the whole thing. Thank you for reading!
Myth #1: “Happiness IS a Myth”
If you have felt or are feeling discouraged in your search for happiness, this one’s for you. If you’ve been chasing your dreams only to feel disappointed, there is still hope. We’ll start with this myth because it lays the foundation for the rest. I never considered happiness as a myth on my own. I thought everyone wanted to be happy. Then, one day…
I was delivering meals to elderly people who couldn’t provide for themselves. One day, I was sent to a particular house. Upon knocking on the door, I heard a very weak “Come in!” I hesitantly opened the door and stepped into a nightmarish scene that offended every sense and overwhelmed my heart.
A man, gnarled to the bone, his gray, matted hair protruding from his head like some exotic jungle plant, sat sunken into an easy chair like it was slowly devouring him. The house was filled with trash from months’ worth of meals and packaging he had tossed on the floor. There were literally “trash dunes” rolling like waves from wall to wall. There were mice boldly running about the trash heaps, filling their tummies with the bounty. Except one, it was stuck in a glue trap, hopelessly struggling against its grisly and cruel fate. There were mouse droppings…everywhere…and the air crawled with the acrid stench of decay. My eyes teared from the sting of odor and disbelief and I suddenly realized where the term “mouth breather” must have come from.
My instinct was to run. Run, run, run. But I knew there was a human being buried in this wreckage, someone deserving of as much compassion and respect as any other. As his craggly arm pointed me where to place his food, we engaged in conversation. He was kind and his mind still sharp. He was suffering from age and recovering from surgery. Turns out he was writing a book, something we could both relate to. He asked what my books were about. When I answered, “Happiness,” he was immediately skeptical. Not just skeptical, he was a complete cynic.
“You don’t believe in happiness?” I asked.
“Oh no. No, not really, no.” He was so startled by my question he managed to shift his crackled old body enough to look me in the face. He was trying to see if I was joking or not. He went on to say that people felt happiness once in a while, but that was pure coincidence and luck. “Happiness is a corporate conspiracy,” he said. “People peddle happiness so you’ll buy their crap.” He described happiness as a mystery that no one had any control over. He had the control part right, you can’t control happiness. But happiness being a myth and a mystery? Happiness not being the point of life? I looked at him to see if he was joking.
I couldn’t judge the man. Not only is it not my place to judge, I had no idea how much cruelty fate had heaped on him, or how much misery he had brought on himself. Just like that innocent little mouse still struggling for its life — and GOD I wish I could have saved that poor little thing — Life brings us miseries and woes regardless of our best choices and actions. However, I couldn’t help but imagine his circumstances were linked, in part, to his philosophy on happiness, itself.
What a heavy story to put in an article about happiness, right? The moral is a good one, though. Happiness is not a myth. Nor is it a mystery. It just seems mysterious and apocryphal when we get lost in life and aren’t sure how to find the light again. But that desire to find the light, to find hope, peace, meaningful purpose or direction in life IS our search for happiness. People throughout all time have misguidedly sought things like power, immortality, true love and hidden treasures in deluded pursuits for happiness. Even the day-to-day grinds for money, love, possessions, and validation are efforts to find happiness. We seek it because we know, deep down, that something deeply meaningful and happy is available to us, somewhere in this world.
Every time I think of this elderly man with the jungle hair saying happiness isn’t real, I hear a colleague’s voice saying, “It feels good to do good. Maybe this is selfish, but sometimes I help others because it makes me feel good.” I think the world could use more of that kind of selfishness. Such a world would be…happy!
There are so many things that bring happiness: Kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, cherished hobbies, spending time with loved ones and kindred spirits, communing with nature. When we live with integrity and allow ourselves to enjoy the wonderful things this life has to offer, there is no question that happiness is a real thing. In fact, when we’re truly in the flow of something we love, it feels like happiness is our primary nature as living beings.
Happiness isn’t a myth. It pumps through your veins and surges through your soul. The purpose of life is simply to learn how to tap into that inner peace and joy, and flow with it as much as humanly possible.
Myth #2: “Happiness Is An Emotion”
The biggest mistake we make about happiness is thinking of it as a joyful emotion or a pleasurable feeling. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why can’t I be happy (or happier)?”, this myth is for you. This is the most common, least understood myth of them all. It comes from the question, “What IS happiness?” Believing happiness is an emotion spawns other important myths and misunderstandings that keep us chasing our tails. The emotion of happiness is just one small part of the bigger picture of happiness. If we compared happiness to a watermelon, the emotion of joy is just one of the seeds. Why seek after a tiny seed when we could have the whole delicious fruit! True happiness is far, far more than just something we feel.
Thinking of happiness as a one-dimensional emotion starts a whole chain reaction of problems. First, emotions are impermanent and transient. Just like the weather, emotions constantly shift from one mood to the next. Next, emotions tend to arise as spontaneous reactions to our circumstances. In other other words, we can’t always control our emotions, because we can’t fully control our circumstances. If we wanted to feel happy 24/7, we would have to control the world. Trying to control life is as futile as trying to control the weather. We can’t do it, effectively. Hell, we can’t even predict the weather with reliable accuracy.
Have you ever found yourself trying to control the world around you? It might be in the form of controlling your home life, work life, or trying to control others. Controlling your world might be something as simple as moving the furniture around frequently, or something elaborate like running a corporation. These kinds of control are really just illusions. Seeking happiness in these pursuits turns up plenty of frustration and disappointment. Any happiness we think we find through controlling the world is empty to start with, fades, and we must replace it with the next struggle.
This article isn’t meant to define happiness, specifically. Countless volumes have been written on the subject over the millennia. The purpose of this section is to get you thinking about what happiness is for you. Because, after telling you the bad news that happiness isn’t an emotion, that you can’t control your emotions or the world in order to feel happy all the time, there are a couple bits of good news for you.
First, even if we can’t control the world, we can control our thoughts. We can think positively and set goals and make choices that lead us toward better life conditions. We can remove negative or toxic people from our lives. We can avoid unhealthy habits. We can do daily self-care for our mind, body and emotions. We can exercise compassion and treat others with kindness. We can live from the passion of our hearts and do what we can to leave the world a better place than we found it.
The second bit of good news is that we may not be able to control our emotions, but we can choose what to do with them. If we’re sad, we can cry. Angry, we can go for a good run. Afraid, we can journal, or talk with someone we trust. The list goes on and on. As we process our difficult emotions in healthy ways, they dissipate naturally so we can return to our natural state of peace and equilibrium.
These two bits of good news are great jumping-off points for finding and creating happiness. The difference here is how we live our lives. Rather than controlling our circumstances, we are navigating life with personal integrity and hopefully some wisdom. Rather than seeking happiness from external circumstances, we are creating the right circumstances for happiness within. You see, happiness isn’t an emotion — it’s a way of life. It’s something we think, say and do, daily. As we grow into our best selves, we find lasting satisfaction with our journey through life.
Myth #3: “Happiness Is Out There, Somewhere.”
I’m gonna cut through the crap on this one by saying: The search for happiness is folly. Every single person who has honestly sought true happiness has always come to the same conclusion: Happiness isn’t out there, somewhere. Happiness is found within. Why am I starting with the spoiler alert on this one? Because I don’t want you to waste any more of your precious time searching for something in the wrong places. Sorry, guess I’m a jerk that way.
It’s truly shocking that people still think they’ll be happy when they get the job, buy the car, buy the house, find “the one,” earn the degree, own that cottage on the lake. On the surface, these things seem to make sense. They are tangible achievements and possessions. We can say things like, “I have a job, an education, a social life, financial stability. I’m fine!” These feel like concrete facets of life that the world tells us add up to happiness. Society gives us a blueprint for happiness: school → marriage → family → mortgage. We grow up thinking that if we simply follow the formula, then we’ll be happy. Many people even take stock on their life like a checklist thinking, “Well, I’ve got these things, so I must be happy.”
Only, too many people wake up decades down the road and realize they aren’t happy at all. They realize they’ve sacrificed their life and their own happiness for someone else’s dream. They sought those outer sources of happiness only to find that there’s an undeniable emptiness inside. Many people in this position go back on the hunt for happiness. They may go through a midlife crisis, renewing their search for the car they “really” wanted, the relationship they “really” wanted. They try to have some fun after feeling trapped for so long. They give themselves some newfound freedom only to realize they don’t even know what they’re searching for.
Problem is, they’re seeking for happiness from outside sources. If the car isn’t fun or the person or the lifestyle isn’t fun anymore, they toss them for a new one. We can get stuck in cycles of frustration searching for happiness in all the wrong places. A major reason for this might be that we feel unhappy and unfulfilled, inside ourselves. If we feel unhappy inside, then we may want to avoid taking a deeper look at that pain, emptiness, loneliness or regret. But that is precisely where we must look: Within.
Happiness comes from an inner landscape where peace and harmony reside. Happiness starts with self-awareness, self-understanding and self-acceptance. We must have the courage to honor who we are and what we feel driven to do in this life. That courage comes only from within. Happiness comes from cultivating peace in our minds, compassion in our hearts, and kindness in our actions. Yes, happiness is an inside job. You will never find happiness “out there” that is independent of happiness within yourself. If you’ve been hunting for happiness, this myth is for you. It may be time to stop searching for happiness and look within. Be brave. You can do it!
Myth #4: “I’ll Be Happy Someday”
When we think of happiness, we often think of it as a future time and place. We all know this place, we call it “Someday.” Someday is where we place our hopes and dreams. Oh yes, we’ll be happy Someday. We’ll be happy when we:
- Go on the dream vacation
- Get the dream job, home or car
- Meet “The One”
- Become rich and famous
- Write the award-winning novel
- Etc. and so on…
The problem: Someday is a myth. It’s just a dreamland inside our mind where we achieve some idealized, imaginary goals. Dreaming of Someday isn’t bad — unless that’s all you do.
The greatest tragedy of this myth is the sacrifice we make. To illustrate this is a little story of back when I was working my days away at a job I hated. There was this guy named Oz that I would chit-chat with from time to time. One day we got into a conversation and I kept saying all the things I’d love to accomplish but I kept saying, “I don’t have the time. I just don’t have the time.”
Oz looked at me like I was crazy. He replied, “PJ, all you have is time!”
I had to sit there and think about that for a minute. He was right, of course. We don’t really “have” possessions. We never really “own” anything in life. All we have is time! Whittled down even further, all we have is Now — this moment right now — and the opportunity to choose what to do with this moment. What we call “time” is just our story about the past and future.
In this light, dreaming of Someday becomes the act of sacrificing your dream for something…less. It is the act of wasting the most precious thing you have — the present moment — for something that doesn’t bring you true joy. Sacrifice your time and your dream for too long, and what do you have? A life you don’t love.
This prospect of losing our dreams and continuing a life we don’t love can be so overwhelming that many people choose to live in denial rather than turn things around. However, this myth might be my favorite of all the myths, because the answer is far simpler than we think.
The solution? Do what you love, today. Do something, anything, that contributes to your dream of happiness. It doesn’t have to be a big step, it just has to be a step. Make a phone call. Write down some ideas. Make a plan. After enough time you can look back and see the progress you have made. Whether you reach your goal or not, whether each step seems significant or not, the point is to take satisfaction and joy in knowing that you did something for your greatest joy today.
Tomorrow never comes. As soon as you wake up, it’s today. Enjoy the journey as it happens. Don’t set aside your dreams. Don’t delay your happiness. Integrate happiness into your daily life and let it be enough.
Myth #5: “I’m Supposed To Feel Happy All the Time.”
This is a byproduct of Myth #2, thinking of happiness as just an emotion. There are a lot of myths about happiness, but I chose this one for a specific reason: I see tons of people putting enormous amounts of pressure on themselves to feel happy when they don’t. I see people feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, angry, lost, and more. All the while they’re telling people, “I’m happy! I’m fine! I’m sooooo happy!” When clearly they aren’t.
In talking about this myth I want to relieve the pressure for those who think they have to feel happy all the time. It’s okay, you don’t have to feel happy to be happy.
Happiness is a journey. A way of being. A way of living. Life is going to do its thing, sometimes bringing us disappointments and struggles. Among life’s twists and turns, we must do our best to make the wisest choices we can. We must keep our integrity despite how others behave (or misbehave). We don’t have to feel happy all the time to self-identify as happy. A happy person focuses on the positive as much as possible. Forgives as much as possible. Tries to do what they know they should, even when they don’t feel like it.
You may not feel exuberant all the time, but if you can get to the end of a difficult day and honestly have no regrets, that is really saying something. The moral of this myth is to do your best! Take satisfaction in that. Life can be brutal, so give yourself some credit. You can’t realistically expect more of yourself.
Let yourself have some bad days. Heck, you might have a bad week or month. The point is to dig deep. Be good to yourself and others. Keep hope. Take even more joy in the little things. When life gets really rough, I find myself practicing gratitude for each breath I take. I slow down and express gratitude for my beating heart, the shining sun, the loved ones in my life. I remind myself that everything is temporary, the good times and the bad. Things will get better.
This kind of deep honesty may seem counterintuitive or maybe even a little disappointing. But consider the alternative. Many people shove all their shadows and demons in a closet so they can fake happiness. This is just a powder keg waiting to blow. These powder kegs of denial are astronomically destructive when they finally go off. These explosions of poisonous negativity harm the person, and the people around them. It is far better to honestly flow through difficult times and difficult emotions with the attitude of living the principles of happiness rather than just feeling happy, when we don’t.
Let yourself feel unhappy when that’s your honest emotion. These emotions will teach you that some things in your life need to be dealt with in healthy, productive ways. Go do that. You don’t have to feel happy to be happy. Be patient, and you will return to harmony, peace and joy.
5 Happiness Tips
These are my top five tips for happiness. For now, anyway. I’ve found that my happiness myths and tips change with time, depending on how life is going. The myths and tips that help you throughout life might change as well. It’s a good practice to observe your life and question what myths or misconceptions might be causing you trouble in life, and choose some solutions to anchor your focus your life on some positivity.
Happiness Tip #1: “Let Go”
Many of the things that make us miserable are the things we hold on to. We get attached to temporary things, people or places. We hold on to negative judgments of others. We hold on to assumptions, even when common sense or new information teaches us better. We hold on to unrealistic expectations of how people should act or how life should go. We hold really tight to things we can’t control. All this holding on makes life impractical and sometimes impossible. The solution? Let go.
Let go of the judgments, expectations, attachments and assumptions that upset you or steal your peace of mind. Let go of pettiness and unnecessary drama. Pick your battles and choose only the worthy ones. Let go of toxic people. The less time you spend with them, the more you have for uplifting ones.
- Let go of the illusion of control. We can’t control life. We can’t control people. Control is an illusion. It’s like holding a lump of clay in your hand and squeezing. It oozes out of your hands in a ridiculous mess. That’s what happens to life and people when you try to control them. Let go of all the twisted, immature manipulation tactics that go along with trying to get your way, no matter what. Flow with life. Accept what you can’t control, and influence what you can — for the better. Don’t control. Create. Create beauty.
- Let go of what you think you know. Assume nothing. We don’t really know anything other than what we’ve experienced, and how we reacted. Our knowledge and experience are finite. Life may bring new tidbits of information that change what we think we know. Be open to new information and curious about life. Be the ever-learning student of life.
- Let go of bad habits. Habits shape our lives while we’re not paying attention. Bad habits of thought, feeling and behavior throw our life out of control, out of balance, and out of harmony. We really are what we do repeatedly. Observe and edit your bad habits. Replace them with positive ones. Choose what you want from life and embrace the habits that create those positive results.
- Let go of toxic people, places and memories. Holding on to these things only keeps you weak and disempowered. Stop living as a victim or martyr. Fill your mental, emotional and physical environments with serenity and meaningful purpose. Surround yourself with genuinely joyful and kind people.
- Let go of your emotions. Feel them, yes, but don’t hold on to them. Don’t let them fester and warp. Let them flow. Listen to them. Difficult emotions tell us something is up and we need to deal with life. Manage your emotions wisely by not letting them run your life. Be your best self no matter your current mood. Allow yourself to feel positive emotions, too. They remind you that life is short so make the most of it!
- Let go of your Ego. Let go of who you think you are and who you think you’re supposed to be. Your purpose in life wasn’t to fulfill some role laid out for you by family or society. Your purpose was born into you and was meant to be discovered by the adventure of your lifetime. Let go of the need to be right no matter what. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and open.
- Let go, let go, let go. Let go of needing to know everything. Let go of having to be better than anyone else or trying to live up to others’ expectations. Let go of blaming or shaming. Let go of any mean thoughts or actions directed at yourself or others. Let go of that feeling like you’re missing out on something better. Let go of the quest for possessions, attention or validation from others. Let go of thinking you’re supposed to feel a certain way. Let go of grudges and feelings of revenge.
- Forgive. Forgive yourself for your own wrongdoings. Do what you can to right your wrongs, but for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up. Forgive others. You don’t have to like them or let them into your life, but stop obsessing over how they owe you anything before you can be happy. Forgive God or The Universe for letting life suck so horribly. Forgive the past. Forgive the future. Forgive and let go. A mind that forgives is a mind that finds freedom and peace.
Letting go frees your time, attention and energy to spend on worthier pursuits. Live open and free. Stop wasting time on things that make your life anything less than wonderful.
Happiness Tip #2: “Point Out The Positive”
Many people skip over pointing out the positive without even a thought. They think it’s unrealistic. Many of these people are pessimists passing themselves off as “realists”. Faux realists think they’re being realistic when they’re actually not. You see…
Life is a two-sided coin — it comes with the good and the bad. Self-proclaimed “realists” are those who see all the negative in the world. Rather than living in denial, they take a good hard look at the harsh realities of life. The problem is, they see only the bad stuff. They wait for bad things to happen because they are inevitable. But this isn’t realistic, it’s pessimistic and can lead to deep bitterness.
Remember, life is a two-sided coin — it comes with the good and the bad. A TRUE realist acknowledges the good side of the coin just as much as the bad. Yes, bad things will happen, but so will good things. Happiness is a matter of which side of the coin you choose to focus on. Rather than sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop, go live your life and fill it with purpose.
What you focus on expands. If you focus on the negative, not only will there be more of it, it will be all you can see. You can block out the Sun with a penny, IF you zoom up real close on the penny. Same with your problems. If you zoom up really close so all you see what’s wrong in your life, that is all you will see. Making mountains out of molehills won’t make your life better or easier. Nor will it fix your problems. Nope, over-focusing on your problems just makes us miserable.
What you ignore expands, too. Some people choose to live in mountains of denial hoping their problems will just go away. They think that if all they see is the heads-side of the coin, the tails-side doesn’t exist. This doesn’t solve anything. Ignoring our problems usually allows them to grow bigger and scarier. Sometimes we have to face them head on.
If all we see is the tails-side of life, that colors and jades our whole outlook and experience of life. That isn’t fair to us or those around us. There is usually a silver lining to every cloud, and there is always a heads-side to life. If we’re going to point out the negative, it’s only fair that we point out the positive. And, if what we focus on expands, focusing on the positive won’t just bring more positive things into our lives, we will see it more.
Focusing on the positive is a kind of balancing act where we acknowledge the bad parts of life without letting them overwhelm us. It’s all about putting things in the proper perspective.
- Stop complaining. Immediately. It’s good to get things off your chest, but venting about the same thing more than once or twice isn’t cathartic anymore, it’s complaining. Complaining just makes you the ongoing victim of whatever you’re complaining about. Complaining only feeds your problems, and starves you of inner peace.
- Stop back-biting and gossip. Stop talking bad about others, in general. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Judging, demeaning, or tearing others down doesn’t lift you up, it just drags you down into the cesspool of human negativity. Grow up a little and be a bigger person. Happy people don’t find value in dragging others down. Mature, happy people find their joy in building others up.
- Be solution-focused. If you really want your problems to go away, focus on the solutions. If your solutions fail or don’t work right away, keep trying! You will find greater satisfaction in life by solving your problems than letting them persist.
- Practice gratitude. Count your blessings. Let the little miracles in life amaze you and give you hope. Stop taking the good things for granted. Life is a truly amazing mystery, and despite its difficulties, we are truly fortunate to have this chance to experience it. A grateful heart is a joyful heart.
Pointing out the positive takes consistent practice. Just like lifting weights strengthens your muscles, pointing out the positive strengthens your “happiness” muscles. Make it a habit to find the positive in any situation. It won’t necessarily make the bad parts go away, but acknowledging the positive sides of life helps us add light and balance back to the darker parts.
Happiness Tip #3: “Know Yourself”
This secret to happiness is my personal favorite. You can’t really be happy in life until you know yourself, love yourself and be your true self. Knowing yourself is a major theme in The Matrix movies, which just makes me love it more. I love this secret to happiness because it’s so simple, and it’s been around for thousands of years. Just imagine that, a simple secret to happiness that has been known and ignored for millennia. Color me intrigued!
Why is knowing yourself such a big secret? Well, we have society to thank for that. Almost no one teaches us who we are. Instead…society, home and religion all teach us who they expect us to be. Society rewards us for conforming and often punishes us for sticking out. We grow up with a warped sense of who we are and where we fit in the big picture. After enough time, we don’t even realize it’s important to be ourselves. We get lost playing society’s roles and wearing masks we think will get people to like us.
It’s only a matter of time before this whole game wears thin. While we live to fit in, we feel more trapped and lost. Our frustration grows because our forgotten, authentic self starts struggling to break free of society’s pressures. We start searching for ourselves and grow increasingly impatient with society’s B.S. In short, we aren’t happy, we don’t know why, and we don’t know how to fix it. So, we start our real search for happiness.
We learned in Myth #3 that happiness isn’t out there. We can’t find happiness out in the world, we have to find it inside ourselves. There’s a couple scary things about doing this, however. First, we’re so used to blaming our problems on others that we think we have to start blaming ourselves. Not so. Taking responsibility for your life isn’t about blame. Let go of the need to blame. Instead of searching for happiness, start sifting. Decide what you want in your life, and what you don’t. Keep the positive, peaceful things in your life, and let go of the negative, distracting ones. Decide which battles are worth it, and sift out the ones that aren’t. Decide who and what is worth your precious time, and what isn’t.
The second obstacle to looking within is facing our inner demons. All those gnawing, clawing fears that we aren’t good enough, capable enough or worthy enough. Our demons are some of the scariest things we face in this life. So here’s a little shortcut for facing your demons, please remember this: Your demons aren’t scary — they are scared! Inner demons are the parts of us that are vulnerable and afraid, so they cast giant shadows over our heart and mind to keep themselves “safe.” These shadows keep us afraid, and keep us believing that we are bad, unlovable, or whatever our deepest fears are. As we look within to find happiness, we must see beyond the shadows of fear and realize that our demons are the parts of us that need love the most.
Surround yourself with people who see and accept you for you. Find people who encourage the best parts of you and inspire you to grow. Don’t let these people’s kindness or caring be a crutch, but let them be proof of your value.
And who needs to love you most? You, obviously. But that’s so hard to do when you’re filled with doubts and demons. This process requires patience, a step at a time. Start by acknowledging that your fears are just shadows. They are just stories. Let go of those stories and start telling yourself better ones, stories that bring out your best, and encourage you to achieve your greatest potential. Keep telling yourself that you are good enough, capable, and worthy. As you peel away the layers of fear and self-doubt, you find: You. Beneath those shadows is your own inner light. Behind all the negative lies the world told you are sweet truths that help you realize you are everything you will ever need to be. When you truly get to know yourself, free from the world’s rubbish, you can’t help but love yourself.
Getting to know yourself is a process of building a relationship of trust with yourself. As you stop believing the negative stories from your past and listening to your heart, you are free to discover your true purpose for living. Everyone has things they are good at and passionate about. We call these things “dreams”, and the world isn’t very supportive of those. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t go after yours. You can and should, for that is what brings the most joy. Destiny, life purpose, these things give our life meaning and direction. Without them, we feel lost, confused and alone. Living with positive purpose connects us with self, with others, and with life itself.
Living your destiny and life purpose sounds like a tall order. Some days it may feel that way. It’s the story and adventure of your life. Finding your purpose is a journey, living day to day seeking, finding and living out your reason for being. Later in life, your purpose may change. That’s all part of the fun. Usually, not knowing is a scary thing. But when you embrace the adventure, you are able to make the very most of every situation. So, have the courage to embrace life to the fullest. Get clear on what happiness means for you. Be curious, creative and patient. Hold to your vision of happiness and live with positive purpose.
Happiness Tip #4: “Keep Your Integrity — No Matter What”
We live in a dog-eat-dog world. Of course, it’s people-eating-people we’re talking about but that image is too disturbing to become an aphorism. Still, metaphorically speaking, the world can be disturbingly cannibalistic. Not only are people feeding on each other, bullying and beating each other up, we have entire systems built to tear each other — and the whole planet — down. Society can go to insanely extensive lengths to try and bring us down. People act with selfishness, brutality, and indifference.
In short: It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
What to do? Naturally, we draw from our personal resources. We “have” very few things in this life. This last holiday season, as I wrote this section, I was synchronistically watching It’s A Wonderful Life. What a fantastic movie and a great tradition. One scene stuck out more than ever before, a little plaque that says, “You can only take with you, that which you give away.” You see, we don’t have cars, or jobs, or money, or fame. We can’t take our social media “Likes” with us to the grave.
Of the things we do have, most importantly, we have time, or this present moment. We have the choice of what to do with this moment. For those of you who argue causality over choice, we still have the experience of free will, so it behooves us to use wisdom in exercising all of our decisions. So, thirdly, we have our integrity — how we conduct ourselves in the world. Some people call this our best self, highest self, moral character, or soul.
Integrity starts with honesty, most especially honesty with ourselves. When you go through the process of getting to know yourself — truly — you find a deep level of honesty and self-trust. This creates authenticity, what we sometimes call “finding yourself.” When you know yourself enough to trust yourself, this is integrity. Integrity is something so true, so palpable, even others can sense it and feel that they can trust you, too.
True integrity creates a sense of self-assurance and strength of character. These attributes empower us with something beyond mere confidence, so we can meet the mysteries and maladies of life with some grace and vitality. Integrity is a safe space we create for ourselves so that, despite the chaos of the world around us, we can have sanctuary within our own heart, mind and soul.
Integrity is the quality of character we live with from moment to moment. When they say, “Wherever you go, there you are,” integrity tells us it’s less important where you so so long as you’re in good company with yourself. Are you in good company wherever you go?
In many ways, integrity frees you from the B.S. of the world. You no longer have to fall for hype or false-advertising. Rather than buying products to feel better about yourself, you are free to express yourself. Rather than falling for news channels’ histrionics, you are free to seek truth. Rather than buying into politicians’ artifice and agendas, you can live with justice and equanimity. Rather than seeking validation or justification from others, you only need to know if you did good in the world, and if you did your best.
You no longer have to do, think or believe what others say, just because they say it. You can live with common sense, common courtesy, and common respect not because you need a feather in your cap, but because that is who you are at your core. Being yourself in this world is reward enough, when you have integrity.
The human world can be truly vicious and predatory. Many people live in fear, anger, hatred, paranoia, apathy and jealousy. Violence is a mainstay, whether it be online stalking and harassment, bullying at school, domestic violence, or all-out war. When we’re surrounded by such darkness and mayhem, people and systems who just want to take you down, there is the question, “Who am I in all of this?”
Integrity gives you the answer. For those who seek peace not strife, happiness not histrionics, love not fear, kindness not hate, it is a matter of creating peace, happiness, love and kindness no matter what circumstances you are in. When someone is treating you with hatred and abusiveness, it is completely normal to want to retaliate in kind. When someone is rude or angry, it’s human nature to reflect those things right back to them.
Integrity helps us rise above our base, reactionary nature. Rather than letting people drag us down into the mud with them, we can choose the higher ground. If someone is unkind, we can still choose kindness. If someone is rude, we can choose patience and forgiveness. When life is unfair, we can choose gratitude. Integrity means acting from our core, rather than living from one knee-jerk reaction to the next.
When we choose to live with integrity, we are choosing who we want to be in this world. We all know what creates happiness, it’s just a matter of choosing happiness despite all its opposites in this world. Our personal integrity determines how we will treat others, regardless of how they may treat us. The Golden Rule is always a great place to start. When we treat others with the same kindness and respect we would want, not only do we have inner peace, we send ripples of peace out into the world. Our own integrity doesn’t just help us be whole, it can heal the world around us in ways we can never understand. This…is happiness.
Happiness Tip #5: “Breathe”
Sound too simplistic? It isn’t. It’s just simple enough. Remember that myth: “Happiness takes a lot of work?” One reason we can’t find happiness is because we dismiss it when we find it. We think life is complicated. Our problems seem complicated, so the answers to happiness must be complicated, too. They aren’t. Happiness is the simplest thing in the world, as simple as — you guessed it — breathing. So before you dismiss the idea of breathing bringing happiness, give it a chance.
Happiness happens in the present moment, not in the past or future. The best thing we can ever do for our own happiness is to enjoy the present moment. Since we’re always breathing, focusing on our breath instantly brings us to the here and now. Once our attention is focused on the present moment, we can assess our situation, emotions, mental state, physical circumstances. Are we happy? Why or why not? What can we do to make things better, right now? Rather than obsessing about the painful past or some unforeseeable future, we are far better off dealing with the reality right in front of us and doing what we can to make it the very best we can.
The thing about breathing and being present is that we get to choose. How do we want to feel? What should we be doing? What will bring us true peace and happiness? Many people avoid these questions because facing reality can put us face to face with some harsh truths and difficult realities. We may have to admit that things aren’t ideal. Maybe we’ve made some bad decisions we have to own up to. Whatever things we’ve been trying to bury, avoid or deny, we must now deal with head-on. So while happiness is as simple as breathing, it’s not always easy. But…
Just as we take one breath at a time, so do we walk through life — a step at a time.
It takes true bravery to live in this world, and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for how well we’re doing. In fact, we’re usually doing better than we realize, given the complexity of the human jungle and the lack of proper education for dealing with it. The world is built to keep us down, and to keep us in survival mode. But we are better than that, and something deep down at the very core of our heart and soul tells us we were born to THRIVE. That little soul-seed is constantly calling out, beseeching us give it the care it needs to grow into a full-sized Tree of Life.
The art of breathing helps us assess how well we are tending to our own “happiness garden”. Are we pulling the weeds of negativity on a regular basis? Are we planting the seeds of positivity? Are we churning the soil with open-mindedness and curiosity? Are we keeping the soil fertile with new ideas, experiences and perspectives? We tend to only focus on happiness when we’re struggling through life, but happiness is a lifestyle needing daily care. Focusing on our breath helps us get out of our heads so we can live life in the here and now.
Here are some concrete, immediate benefits to breathing:
- YOU WON’T SUFFOCATE. For starters, if you stop breathing, you die. I’m sure someone was thinking it, so here you go. Breathing is good for you :) Beyond this, breathing is a good reminder that you are alive! Life is precious and rare. Perhaps, life is precious enough to do something special, worthwhile and fulfilling. You share that life-giving air you’re breathing with other animals, plants, forests and oceans that need it for life as well. Breathing reminds us we’re connected to a whole world of living beings. We aren’t alone. We’re alive, and part of something truly miraculous, something greater than ourselves.
- THE INTERRUPT. Unhappiness usually presents itself in what I call Cycles of Frustration. We often have one, primary go-to emotion or knee-jerk reaction that derails us on a regular basis. This emotional reaction may be something like anger, worry, stress, extreme disappointment, depression, or even frustration itself. When we give in to these emotions we may flip out on our children, retaliate against a co-worker, pick fights with our friends, disappear from the world in complete avoidance, or complain about the same scenarios again and again. The sooner we can interrupt these cycles of frustration, the better. Intentional breathing helps us bring more awareness to our emotional reactions and the triggers that set them off. The more frequently we stop to just take three to five breaths, the more we interrupt our Cycles of Frustration. Our travels down that road of inevitable disappointment and struggle are less frequent and less severe.
Try The Interrupt in your life for a month. Set a timer to go off hourly. Each hour, stop for a minute or two to just breathe. Be present. Practice awareness. Interrupt the negative emotions so you can replace them with positive ones.
- AWARENESS. When your attention is focused on the present moment, you start becoming aware. If knowledge is power, then awareness is the key. I’m willing to bet most of the world’s problems start because most of us are asleep at the wheel of our own lives. Awareness opens our eyes to things we have been oblivious to or may have forgotten. We may notice that our language is more negative than we thought. We may realize how selfish we are. We might become more aware and sensitive to other people’s feelings. We might see someone in need. We may find new, creative solutions to problems that were annoying or frustrating us. Awareness helps us see new doors of opportunity we may have thought were closed. As we focus on our breath and practice presence of mind, we will become aware of things we never even considered. Awareness and knowledge grow into wisdom, and with wisdom comes joy.
- FOCUS. Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do. Well, if our thoughts and activities are scattered, then so are our results. Once you’ve interrupted negative cycles and brought your attention to the present moment, you can decide where to spend your time and energy. What would you like to accomplish in your life? What must you repeatedly do to get there? Do it! Now’s the time. Do you strive for excellence as Aristotle described? Happiness? Inner peace? Other goals and dreams? Let your breathing bring your focus and attention — again and again — to the direction you wish to head in life. Set your intentions again and again. Where your focus goes, your life flows.
- DE-STRESS & ENERGIZE! Oxygen is energizing and healing for the mind and body. In our modern world, it is easy to become sedentary, whether it be at our desk, computer or watching the plethora of screens we have within arm’s reach. Those screens can be channels into all sorts of negativity with gloomy news, FOMO, online bullies, corrupt politics, and dark forms of entertainment. A few deep, cleansing breaths are a great way to shake up the monotony, stress, gloom or monotony. Get that oxygen flowing. Get the blood pumping. Take it up a notch and go for a good walk! Get out in nature, even if it’s just to feel the sun on your skin, breathe in some natural air, or feel your own body move in healthy ways. Do some stretches, tai chi or yoga, exercise. Things that get the breath going. Raise your energy level with healthy breathing.
- RECONNECT. A major source of suffering in this world is “disconnectedness”. We feel disconnected from each other. We feel disconnected from ourselves. We feel disconnected from our hopes and dreams. Our beliefs and intentions are disconnected from our actions. Our words are disconnected from our truest desires. Disconnectedness makes us feel alone and afraid. We ignore the wisdom of our own heart, mind, and body. We feel lost and like we’re wandering in the darkness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Breathing helps us feel connected with ourselves, with each other, with the planet. As we breathe we are reminded to embrace the adventure of life and to welcome the mystery of all things. Rather than fearing the unknown, we step into the world as our very best self. We are reminded that life is short, oh so precious, and to make every single breath count, for our breaths in this life are numbered.
I know this article is long, but my hope is that it is a positive resource. If any of these Myths or Tips struck a chord with you, I invite you to share the article with others. Bookmark this page so you can be reminded that happiness is available to you at every given moment of life. Peace is your legacy, and all you have to do is choose. Don’t worry about some big eventful arrival at happiness. Keep it simple by doing daily, little things. Those little efforts will add up to major shifts in happiness down the road. Focus on what you can do, right now, to bring joy into your own life and others’. Remember, every moment, to breathe…and be happy.