A Therapist’s Perspective: What is happiness and How is it Achieved?
The first thought that comes to my mind when thinking about happiness is the phrase, “pursuit of happiness.” The movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” is about a father and son who experience one hardship after another. Despite their continuous struggles and challenges, the film reveals how the two can persevere and remain hopeful. How did these two characters pursue happiness even in the face of adversity?
And what does this mean for us?
I believe, as the father portrayed in the movie, happiness is achieved in how we see things and the conclusions we make from those interpretations. Simply put, I believe happiness is achieved by the perspective we choose to hold about our experiences. Here’s an example: The past few days it’s been pretty foggy, misty, dreary and cold. It’s not the most pleasant weather. One could then conclude these days have been nasty and disappointing. Though this perspective holds some truth, it’s only one possible outlook.
Instead of settling with that conclusion, I decided to try a different perspective—one that helped me to see beauty in the mi(d)st (get it?) I noticed the smell of the wet leaves and grass. I observed and took note of the winter geese making noise and flying over my head. I noticed the vibrancy of the leaves on the ground and trees and I was amazed at the vastness and beauty of their colors. I was intentional with putting on a preferred lens to help me achieve a posture of happiness.
When facing adversity, it’s okay and normal to perceive life as a challenge and struggle; to experience the uncomfortable emotions of disappointment and discouragement. It is actually a necessary step to help you achieve happiness, but keep in mind, the journey to happiness doesn’t end there.
Achieving happiness is allowing yourself to practice using a different perspective. You get to choose which lens you want to wear in any situation. When faced with hardship, it’s easy, natural and common to end on a negative conclusion. But what if you could find a lens that helped you to pursue a posture of happiness? If you practiced that perspective, what might you now see that you missed when wearing the other lens?
Many times, I hear someone’s therapy goal is simply to be happy. What does this mean? To some, this is not having conflict or fighting. For others, it means something totally different. I find the words happy or happiness to be very nebulous with each person having a different definition. Miriam-Webster defines happy as: favored by luck or fortune; enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment. Each description of happiness depends on the person’s defined state within them. What is your definition of well-being or contentment? What helps you feel this way? Your definition may be different depending on your emotional state or needs.
What were some of your definitions for happy? I find it hard to define this simple 5 letter word. It has so much more behind the scenes that feed into our personal feeling of being happy. Let me explain. A steaming cup of coffee makes me happy but for others, sitting with a loved one, taking a vacation or nailing a big sale produces happiness for them. Defining happy depends on what is going on inside the person, their emotional needs, what produces their perceived sense of well-being – this is their “inside job” of defining their emotional needs.
Circumstances swirl around us but how we interpret those events can erase our well-being or contentment. But for some, they endure the ups and downs of life and seem to protect their equilibrium to maintain a sense of well-being. So how do they do this? I believe each person decides as to how they are going to handle a difficult situation or an unexpected life experience. Happiness is a choice!
- Choosing to see the positive rather than the negative effects leads to a calmer reaction.
- Choosing to see the potential benefits rather than the disadvantages to outside events gives the opportunity to learn and grow from this event.
- Choosing to set aside immediate personal gratification and see the long-term possibilities that builds more resiliency and flexibility within.
- Choosing to step back and see the wider view these troubles present gives opportunity to builds self-confidence and separate your identity from being the victim of these circumstances.
- Choosing to remain in your true identity no matter what is happening outside of you builds your strength in the face of adversity.
So, here is my encouragement: Let the winds of adversity, unforeseen changes and troubles swirl around you, choose to stand firm in your true identity and remain calm. Your well-being and contentment depend on your internal responses to negative outside circumstances.
Happiness is something everyone wants. But what does it mean to be really, truly, genuinely happy? The challenge in defining happiness may be why it seems so difficult to achieve. I believe what it means to be happy is individual to each of us. Happiness to me is going to look different than happiness to you. One of the major tenets of what creates happiness, in my opinion, is the ability to freely choose. The option to choose what we want our life to be is monumental in creating our happiness. If we feel stifled by other people, patterns of behavior or the pressure to please, then we will not be genuinely happy.
When I refer to choices, I do not necessarily mean materialistic things, because ‘things’ in and of themselves don’t create joy. WE create our joy. We create our happiness by choosing how to look at the world, by choosing what our boundaries are, by choosing our careers, by choosing how we respond to people and circumstances, by choosing our perspectives. If these types of choices fall into the hands of anyone (or anything) other than ourselves, then happiness will escape us.
Your happiness is your responsibility and the way to find happiness is to take responsibility for it. By giving other people or other things the responsibility of making you happy, then you will never achieve it. To create happiness, choose happiness. Choose what brings you joy, what sets your soul on fire. Choose to look at our world in a way that makes you delighted. Look for the good in your life and if you have trouble finding it, create more. Happiness is not something that is found, kept or lost. Happiness is a choice, and the good news… it is your choice!