We are now living in a culture that synonymizes pleasure with happiness and vice versa, or that any fleeting feelings of satisfaction can instantaneously equate to feelings happiness.
Psychologists to this day are still stumped when it comes to the concrete definition of happiness, given that it’s more philosophical in nature. Greek philosopher Epictetus believed that happiness begins and ends in the mind, or rather perception is the key to constant happiness.
Psychologist Albert Ellis, founder of rational emotive behaviour, supported this theory by explaining that a person’s reaction to events is determined by their view of the event, and not just the event themselves.
With that said, can there really be something we need to do if we want to find happiness for the rest of our lives?
Before I delve into the four rules to finding happiness, I would like to categorise happiness in order for me to define it in my own words.
Happiness is satisfaction
Albert Ellis theorized that how a person reacts to a certain event is determined by their view of the event. In this case, any event could make them happy if they feel happy about the event. For example, if one is given a raise at work, and this raise is expected by an individual to make them feel happy, then the individual is happy.
The satisfaction of the event meeting his or her expectation, combined with his or her view of the event itself, can lead to happiness.
Happiness begins with the end in mind
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, cites that beginning with the end in mind is one of the habits of highly effective people. I’d like to add that happiness too can begin with the end in mind.
More importantly, if my goal is to be happy, then there’s absolutely no way for me not to feel happy as I go along through my journey towards happiness.
What are the four rules to finding happiness?
1. Embrace, embody, live the moment
People think about the past and they become emotional. People think about the future and they become anxious. But what happens when you think about the present? A lot of people fail to appreciate the art of living in the moment, of taking it all in.
The living room may seem boring to you but when you see your dog fart while he sleeps, that’s something to laugh about and that’s something to be happy, even if it’s fleeting.
School may seem boring or uninspiring, but it can change when you walk down the hallway and see your crush or romantic interest smile at you from the other side.
2. Happiness is a journey and it requires effort
Nothing worth having comes easy, and this goes for happiness as well. I used to believe that people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths were the happiest because they already have everything. They didn’t need to work to get something.
And that’s the problem. Because they’re used to being coddled and to being entitled, they never know what it’s like to work hard for something and know the feeling of getting something through hard work.
Happiness is something that goes with disappointment and bitterness – that silver lining amidst the dark clouds, the rainbow after the storm.
For each and every one of us, happiness exists throughout every journey we make, and happiness itself is a journey.
A parent’s moment of sending their child off to school for the first time, or a father walking her daughter down the aisle are a journey in itself because of what needed to be done to get there.
3. Adjust your perceptions.
The glass is half full, as optimists would like to point out. Circumstances can influence us, or more to the point, mind over matter is more powerful than one might care to think.
Your attitude and your perception affects the way you deal with what happens in your life and can have a severe impact on your happiness.
Different people deal with different issues differently, or, as the popular cliché goes, “different strokes for different folks”. Someone could deal with tragedy and still have a positive outlook in life, while there’s another person that’s going to through the same thing but will have the events affect him or her severely.
4. Whatever your belief system is, stick to it
Remember your perceptions, and with it, the belief system you hold. If you are unfamiliar with your belief system, try reading a couple of philosophy and psychology books to help you create a more cohesive worldview. Your belief system is not something that you can come up with overnight nor can it be something trivial. It’s something that you need to defend. That’s why you should read up on whatever it is you believe in, or at the very least, an equivalent of whatever your belief system is. Once you attach yourself to a system, you now have your foundation.
Happiness is fleeting but it can be permanent, depending on how you perceive things and how you deal with the circumstances and events that come your way. One moment you can be angry or sad, and the next moment, BOOM! Happy.
As a counsellor who’s been in the field for decades, I still don’t have a good definition of happiness. It’s intangible, to say the least.
However, if I were to sum up what happiness is all about in one word: EXPERIENCE.