While out visiting my Nan on the weekend, I decided to cheer myself up with a cheeky purchase. Now that I am not obliged to read, as was the case at University, there is a whole world of literature that has opened up to me. One of the books that I bought was Fumio Sasaki’s “Goodbye, Things”, which has inspired today’s pondering… What makes us happy and is that happiness sustainable?
There are a number of points made in Sasaki’s book that I will certainly explore in later posts, but the one thing that struck me was his take on happiness, where we find it, and letting go of what society thinks happiness is.
What makes you happy?
Maybe you enjoy treating yourself to new clothes, or buying tonnes of books, or you love owning the latest tech. You may be at a stage where you are not ‘buying’ happiness anymore, you are going to concentrate on going to museums , or developing your painting skills. Maybe, travelling the world and experiencing new cultures and people is what makes you truly happy.
How sustainable is any of this?
That top you bought for ‘going out‘, has now been relegated to a ‘wear it to work‘ top, it may even become an ‘around the house‘ top, before finally making its way into a charity bag, or the bin.
You’ve read the books you bought, really enjoyed some of them, and they now line your bookcases, a testament to all visitors, and yourself, of how widely read and interesting you are. (We don’t talk about the ones we haven’t got around to reading yet, but when we have time, we definitely will…)
Do you have a drawer that is basically a tech graveyard? With a Blackberry, some cables that connect to long ago broken phones and some batteries, that you can’t throw out because you’re not sure if they work or not. I used to live for my iPad Mini; took it everywhere. It was my camera, my link to the Web, where I played games, learned Japanese, watched YouTube… Where is it now? My phone does all those things. The most important piece of electronic equipment in my life got too slow and I moved on.
Perhaps we shouldn’t look to “stuff” for our happiness – every would be minimalist knows that experiences are better than things. Doing something for the first time, like zipwiring, or getting a degree, or even learning to drive can all be sources of happiness. But once you have achieved your tasks, how long does the buzz last before you are planning your next challenge?
In his book, Sasaki uses the example of Tal Ben-Shagar, who became a national squash champion at the age of sixteen. On returning home after his victory he realised that the initial feeling of euphoria he had felt after his win had passed – this was just three hours later. Once we have something, we become complacent to the point where pockets of happiness last mere moments and we then have to search for another high. Another adventure to keep our ‘joy levels’ up. Constant happiness from external sources is unsustainable and unobtainable.
Wow, thanks for the downer Polly, so I’ll just get on with never being happy again then…
Just because constant happiness is unachievable, don’t mistake that for a lack of joy. Nothing is constant; if it were life would be boring. We can all joke about having sex every day, or eating cookie dough ice cream every evening after work while watching ‘Pretty Woman’ on DVD, but the novelty of these would certainly wear off – I am more than happy to save it for the weekend! (You will have to guess which one!)
So how can we be happy?
Studies have clearly shown that to be truly happy requires an amount of self-reliance. Depending on others, be that your partner, your friends or your children, for your contentment can only lead to disappointment. They are only people, they will make mistakes and if your joy is tied up in what they do, you will put undue pressure on them and yourself.
You are ultimately responsible for creating your own happiness; constantly looking to others for validation is a short fix. We all know the temporary thrill of getting lots of likes on our social media posts – why is it important that others like what we produce? Why is the action of creating not enough for us? Sometimes we need more introspection, and need to consider why we think the object or experience of our desires will make us happier.
Here are a few pointers.
Quick ‘be happier’ tips:
- Alone time – some people confuse lonely with alone. Ultimately the only person we ever have to live with is ourselves. Get to know ‘you’ better. Spend time listening to yourself and what you need. What will make you happy? Are you trying to work towards it?
- Friends and family are often full of advice – it is a lot easier to tell a friend to ‘dump her loser boyfriend ‘ than it will be for the friend to end a relationship. Remember that advice is a suggestion. The person who should be making decisions about your life, is you. Be willing to own those decisions and any fallout that comes from them.
- Appreciate that happiness is an emotion, just like all other feelings, and cannot be permanently enjoyed. As the saying goes you can’t enjoy the highs, if you never suffer the lows. Happiness is just part of life’s rich tapestry and we should embrace it when it arrives, and look forward to seeing it again when it departs.
- Perhaps I notice this more now that I am consciously looking for it, but have you ever listened to the people around you, and been aware of just how much people moan? Genuine conversation openers should not be ‘weather’s rubbish, eh? ‘ or, ‘nothing on the telly last night’, or ‘look at the state of her, over there’. Actually consider what you are saying to people and whether your words make you sound happy or miserable. We are mirrors, and what we reflect comes back to us, in one distorted way or another.
- It is a fact, that making others happy, makes us happy. Who hasn’t felt the buzz when offering a gratefully received present, or a smile from a stranger when you unexpectedly held the door for them. By default, I am obnoxiously polite – my early ponders will attest to the fact! – but I always get a kick from the pleased looks I receive after having been nice to someone. Studies show that the surest route to happiness is to make others happy.
If happiness is found in giving to others, then it is totally sustainable; there are over seven billion people in the world that aren’t you who you could spread joy to!
This is, of course, not to be confused with being dependent on others for your happiness, and others should not come to rely on you as their only source. It is too much responsibility for one person – share the load!
Although buying yourself things, or even experiencing adventures can offer a temporary high, mindfully deciding to be happy by making others happy can be longterm.
While these suggestions may fall short when dealing with people with long term depressive or mental health issues and are in no way alternatives to medical advice, I believe there are still a great number of people that can benefit from consciously deciding to embrace happiness when they have it, accept that it can never be permanent, and to seek it out when we feel we need it.