May 2010: Capturing Happiness
“Remember that happiness is a way of travel—not a destination.”
~ Roy M. Goodman
In my March entry, I mentioned a practice referred to as mindfulness. In the not-too-distant past that concept resurfaced for me while watching television. There is an element of irony there if TV viewing is perceived as a “mindless occupation” but sometimes TV can surprise us.
The program I was watching focused on happiness. I was somewhat skeptical at first; but the guest therapist had some very good things to say. This month’s entry will be my attempt to regurgitate that program’s1 content with some of my own thoughts.
The starting point for the show’s discussion was defining happiness as a feeling of its own—not restricted to being the opposite of sad. The reasoning goes that just because you are not happy does not mean you are sad—you simply are not experiencing happiness at a given moment. Adjoined with that thought is separating happiness from goal setting, accomplishment, or a point in time. The ‘if onlys…’ or the ‘I’ll be happy when…’ considerations. When I get a new job, new partner, new house, etc., then I will be happy.
This line of thinking draws a target around happiness—something to shoot for—and in aiming for happiness, we are only postponing it. It reminds me of those deferred payment plans for big purchases. You can take it home, but it’s not really yours until the conditions have been met.
This is where happiness as a journey comes in. If we release happiness from the constraints of a moving target or a far-off destination, we free ourselves to experience happiness along the way—regardless of the end result or if all the conditions are met.
This is not to negate the importance of setting and reaching goals or the milestones of life; but these achievements should be valued in and of themselves—not be forced to take on the added weight of influencing happiness, nor be allowed to take over the journey. By focusing on a target or destination, we obstruct our vision—put blinders on ourselves and miss a lot along the way. In fact, passing by a great deal of what makes us happy—unnoticed.
So what does it take to experience happiness in any given moment? For starters, it requires being conscious about being happy. This is where mindfulness (the lost art of thinking) enters the journey. When we start to think about being happy, we will be amazed by all the little things that come to mind. In looking for happiness, what will come into focus?
One happiness-exercise to help bring that elusive emotion into our consciousness is to carry a happy stamp or stickers and card of paper that we can mark whenever we experience a happy moment. What makes us happy will vary from person to person, but some examples include arriving to work on time, reliable transportation, short lines at the grocery store, meetings that go well, a child’s smile, a friendly wave, a hug or a kiss from a family member, a beautiful sunset. The list is endless. So the possibility arises that we are happy—we’re just missing it. Once we get a handle on what makes us happy, we then have an opportunity to make the most of those moments affecting the duration, intensity, and frequency of our happiness. This is not to be confused with filling the void with substances or activities that eventually harm us. To be mindful is not to be careless or excessive but attentive.
Another exercise in happiness-consciousness is to be aware of how our five senses experience being happy. What we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste influences every moment of every day. What sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make you happy? And finally, we cannot ignore the connection between thankfulness and happiness. Marking those moments we are truly grateful for will bring happiness along with it.
1 March 30, 2010, episode of Cityline featuring therapist Joe Rich, stylist Sandra Pittana, and host Tracy Moore.