“My crown is called content, a crown that seldom kings enjoy.” – William Shakespeare

Everyone wants to experience true happiness.  People go about their personal quests for happiness in very different ways. Some people chase after happiness by attempting to acquire as many luxurious possessions as possible, hoping that one day they obtain the ultimate material object that finally brings happiness.

Others chase after happiness through success, prestige and status. They seem to never be happy with what they have, always lusting after more power, more recognition, and more status in the eyes of others.  Still others try to find happiness through seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  Some of these people spiral into cycles of drug addiction or sexual conquests, always hoping that some kind of sensory experience will finally bring them the happiness they desire.

What do all of these misguided quests toward happiness have in common?  They are all attempts to seek happiness externally.  There is a vain hope that perhaps material objects, external validation/recognition, or hedonic pleasure will finally bring about happiness.  There is often a resulting sense of deep inner disappointment and emptiness that comes at the dead end of each of these paths.  For some people, they continue to believe that if only they had “more” of these external validations of happiness they would finally be satisfied.  Sadly, this often results in creating an even deeper sense of emptiness inside.

If you find yourself searching for happiness down what might potentially be a dead end road, there is no time like the present to chart a new course.  No matter how far you may have gone down the wrong path, the sooner you realize it and turn around, the better.  There is no such thing as a “lost cause” when you are willing to apply honest mindful awareness to your own patterns of behavior.  You have the opportunity in this present moment to start seeking happiness from the only source within which it ever truly existed… yourself.

A truly deep-seated, heartfelt, and genuine sense of happiness often arises from true contentment and satisfaction with your life.  Some people believe that true happiness is only possible when what you say, think, and do are all in accordance.  Most people feel a genuine sense of happiness and well being when their actions are driven in a purposeful way by their truest values.  When you know that you are acting from a place of wisdom and love and striving toward a worthwhile goal, the unintended consequence is often a sense of pure happiness.

Happiness

Alidina (2011) has found his own sense of well being and happiness through the following 8 Step Recipe for Happiness:

(1) Daily Mindfulness Meditation

A brief daily mindfulness meditation provides you with the opportunity to check in with yourself precisely as you are in this moment.  It allows you to become more centered in your physical presence, aware of your patterns of thought, and mindful of your emotions.  Studies continue to emerge showing the multitude of benefits of cultivating mindfulness.  These benefits extend to the full range of health: physical, mental, and emotional. Mindfulness meditation is a “simple” practice, but it is not “easy.”  There is no time like the present to begin to explore the potential benefits that mindfulness may bring to your life.

(2) Gratitude

We all have so much more for which to be grateful than we tend to notice.  Taking the time to truly pay attention to all that you have to express gratitude for in your life will naturally result in greater levels of genuine happiness. The fact that you are living and breathing in this moment, reading the words on this page, is cause for gratitude. Each present moment is absolutely filled with opportunities for you to begin to live the life you wish to lead. Experiencing and expressing gratitude for the joys and the pains of life brings genuine happiness.  Hidden within each struggle and hurdle are valuable lessons to be learned and opportunities for growth.  What more is there to be grateful for than opportunities to strengthen your character and learn important lessons?

(3) Valuing Social Relationships

When we take the time and energy to invest in our important relationships with others, we are choosing to maintain and strengthen our bonds of social support.  Relationships are precious and fragile.  We must remember that our loving and supportive relationships that we share with others are blessings that require our time, sensitivity, respect, and care.  When we invest love and support into those relationships, they return that same love and support to us in return, bringing about happiness.  If you find yourself involved in an unhealthy relationship that does not return love and support to you, consider what benefits you receive from that relationship and how your happiness may be affected if you chose to invest in healthier social bonds.

(4) Letting Go

Mindfulness allows us to fully embrace, accept, and let go of all aspects of reality.  There is a natural human tendency to want to control ourselves, other people, and external situations.  The need for control brings about a great deal of unnecessary suffering.  When you realize that you don’t “have to” control, your heart and mind begin to soften and relax.  Your relationships with other people change as you drop the need to monitor, boss, and control what they do.  Remember that accepting reality does not necessarily mean approving of reality.  You can begin to recognize the difference between the two as you recognize that acceptance brings peace to yourself and to others, and does not need to be accompanied by your approval.  Ironically, once you accept things, they often begin to change.

(5) Meaningful Goals

When our lives are driven by worthwhile and meaningful goals that are aligned with our true values, there is a resulting sense of deep happiness and contentment.  We all need to feel a sense of connectedness and purpose in our lives.  This purpose is entirely dependent upon you and your most deeply cherished values.  Perhaps you deeply value family or marriage, and building a strong and loving family or marriage is a meaningful goal for you. Or maybe you deeply value education and knowledge, and pursuing dreams related to furthering your knowledge gives you great fulfillment.  There are no “right” or “wrong” goals as long as you are not causing harm to others. What matters is finding out what matters the most in life to you, and then going after it.

(6) Positive Light

Choosing to view life from an optimistic stance naturally brings about greater feelings of genuine happiness. Being “optimistic” does not have to mean viewing the world through unrealistically rose colored glasses.  It simply means really noticing all of the positives that truly exist!  This is closely connected to experiencing and expressing gratitude.  There is so much more positive than most of us realize.  We are wired evolutionarily to notice the negative as a means of ensuring our survival.  Historically, it has helped us all to survive to pay very close attention to signs of potential danger.  The sad news is that this tendency often takes our attention away from the reality of all that is positive.  Start really noticing the positive aspects of things in your life.  You may surprise yourself.

(7) Laughing

It’s true!  Laughter is powerful medicine for both mind and body.  Laughter is a strong protective mechanism against stress, pain, and conflict.  When you experience a good hearty laugh, your muscles remain relaxed for a full 45 minutes afterward.  It even boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.  It also naturally triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.  Fortunately, life is full of things to laugh at.  Practice being able to see the humor in seemingly tense or unpleasant situations.  When you learn how to reframe difficulties in a positive light, you are boosting your resilience and ability to get through difficult times.

(8) Sense of Service to the Community

The idea behind this final step in the recipe for happiness is that we feel a greater sense of true purpose and connection, and thus happiness, as a result of providing service to others.  Many people say that the easiest way to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy.  Consider this… if you find yourself feeling as though you lack something – love, energy, time, support, understanding – try giving it away to someone else.  Give away that which you seek and watch it boomerang right back into your own life.  That’s happiness.

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Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Featured image: My definition of happiness by Gonzalo Merat / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

1 Comment

  1. Art Marr on February 19, 2020 at 8:09 am

    Happiness, Mindfulness, and Affective Neuroscience

    Happiness is an elusive property, but it can be argued that it should meet certain objective criteria. This is the argument of the affective neuroscientists Kent Berridge and Morton Kringelbach. Per this model (linked below), happiness is a function of affective states of arousal and pleasure mediated respectively by the activation of mid brain dopamine and opioid systems. However, this analysis neglects the fact that these systems when jointly activated co-stimulate each other and provide an enhanced affective experience that is subjectively reported as ‘peak’ or ‘flow’ experience. This observation can also be easily repeated procedurally, as demonstrated below. (and yes, mindfulness is essential for happiness!)

    Simple Procedure
    Just attain and sustain a state of rest (mindfulness practice is the best way to achieve this) and simultaneously and consistently engage exclusively in meaningful or important behavior and you will feel relaxed, pleasurably aroused, and ‘intrinsically’ motivated. The more meaningful the behavior, the greater the affective response. That’s it.

    Simple Explanation
    Individuals who engage in tasks that have a consistent and high degree of ‘meaning’ (e.g. sporting events, creative activity) naturally experience a state of high alertness and arousal (but not pleasure) that maps neurologically to the activation of mid-brain dopamine systems. However, many of these individuals also report a concurrent feeling of pleasure or bliss, but these reports are evidenced only in non-stressed situations when the covert musculature is inactive or relaxed. Since relaxation engages opioid systems in the brain, and because opioid (pleasure) and dopamine (arousal) systems stimulate each other, blissful states require the simultaneous engagement of resting protocols and meaningful cognitive states, behaviors that can be very easily achieved and sustained.

    I offer a more detailed theoretical explanation in pp. 47-52, and pp 82-86 of my open source book on the neuroscience of resting states, ‘The Book of Rest’, linked below.

    The Psychology of Rest
    https://www.scribd.com/doc/284056765/The-Book-of-Rest-The-Odd-Psychology-of-Doing-Nothing

    Meditation and Rest
    from the International Journal of Stress Management, by this author
    https://www.scribd.com/doc/121345732/Relaxation-and-Muscular-Tension-A-bio-behavioristic-explanation

    Berridge-Kringelbach on the Neuroscience of Happiness

    https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/berridge-lab/wp-content/uploads/sites/743/2019/10/Berridge-Kringelbach-2011-Building-neuroscience-of-pleasure-well-being-Psychol-of-Well-Being.pdf

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