Happiness: state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately – what it is and how to get it. I guess we are all trying to figure that out. A lot of people way smarter than me (um, like Ben Franklin? Thoreau I think? and totally Oprah) have thought about it long and hard, and there are as many theories as there are theorists.
Personally, I am relieved and content to find myself at a place in my life where I can focus on happiness instead of misery. There have been too many times where I clung to depression, resentment, anger, or just generally feeling bad. I’ve done some work in the last 5 years or so to learn to let go and focus on the bright side. However, I noticed myself clinging to the crap feelings again just recently… I was doing a guided metta meditation, which is where you practice wishing people well, happy, and free from suffering. You start with wishing yourself those things, then someone you love, someone you feel neutrally about or don’t know, and someone you are challenged by or have issues with. It’s a practice to build compassion – which is, I believe, the secret ingredient to saving the world.
I do this one often on my own. I just sit there and try to open my heart’s full force onto the object of my intention. I find it’s often tough to focus that energy on myself and on the challenging person. I tend to drift away with pesky thoughts and have to continually drag myself back. Sometimes it helps to imagine those difficult people as children…but I struggle with feeling righteously superior - aren’t I good for meditating for those poor little jerks? I really am amazing. Imagining people as children isn’t always the best way to avoid devolving into pious condescension.
This time though, I used an amazing service called yogaglo that brings yoga and meditation class right to my living room! The teacher who led the meditation had us imagine all the people in our personal line-ups in pursuit of their own happiness, just as I am, and you are, etc. I have two difficult people that are kind of interchangeable in this practice – one is from my personal life and one is from my day job. The former is someone who, with zero intentional malice, has just irked me with snarky pedantry for as long as I’ve known them. The other is this guy at work who did actually try to get me in trouble (of course he FAILED! ha-HA SUCKER!!….. wait… oops)
I noticed my resistance to admit to myself that they were each just trying to find their own happiness the best ways they knew how. I realized that I have been clinging to my resentment towards each of them, that it was comforting and safe to curse them in my mind, under my breath, or from behind my computer screen. But recognizing them as adults, as sentient beings with the same right to happiness as me, my loved ones, and every one of my 14 babies (I’ve had another one sine the last post!),seeing them as fellow humas who faced hardship and struggle in achieving happiness – THAT was hard. This practice was much more challenging than imagining them as children. Instead of the pious superiority I internally lorded over them, I was faced with my own addiction to negativity. Boo.
I suppose I’m not alone in this addiction either. Positive psychology – in which scientists investigate and promote realistic ways of fostering more joy in individuals and communities, as opposed to focusing on depression and mental illness, is a relatively new field – like 1998 new. Of course, I am now wading through a ton of fascinating material on the subject. It is crazy to me that a field that was created when I was already an adult is already flooding a multitude of media and genre. But I’m going to put a positive spin on that and just be grateful.
Some of the stuff I’m looking at is Gretchen Ruben’s book The Happiness Project, a free Psychology course on iTunes U called Understanding Happiness that features a bunch of cool TED talks, and I just watched a documentary on Netflix called Happy.
Some things I’ve noted so far:
- Happy people have better lives. They just do.
- Some people are naturally born happier, but there are things we can all do to boost our own personal range of joy.
- You can choose how you feel. You can also act how you want to feel, and trick yourself brain into believing it.
- You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. Haha! J/K! But, really though.
- Community is really important to happiness – which is a challenge. We are social animals living in a lonely digital world, especially here in Los Angeles. What can I do to create more community?
- Bhutan has abandoned GNP for GNH – GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS. What are the chances the US will catch on to this trend?
On a personal level, I found it much easier to exchange pleasantries with the work jerk – ahem, I mean sentient being. And I’ve added a snarky pedant to my wedding invite list. I feel good about both of those things.
”Between the ages of 20 and 40 we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”