The Pursuit of Happiness
In the workshops I do, whether we are discussing a life well-lived, a job well-done, a great relationship, a corporate culture, or a well-executed strategy, when we ask what is the essence of what we truly want, the answer is always happiness. Corporate leaders, blue collar workers, moms and dads, sixth graders, teens, seniors, spiritual advisors all want to be happy. “The pursuit of happiness,” is listed in the United States Declaration of Independence among the unalienable and sovereign rights of man. The Dalai Lama teaches that the purpose of life is happiness. This Forward ThinkingTM Reminder offers some guidance on how to choose and experience happiness – every day – at work and in life.
Emotional Happiness vs. True Happiness
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines happiness as a state of well-being and contentment, joy, a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Wikipedia says, “Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. ”
To me, there are two kinds of happiness – emotional happiness and true happiness.
Emotional happiness is momentary. Fleeting. It doesn’t last and attachment to emotional happiness eventually results in its opposite—sadness. True happiness, on the other hand, just is. It remains steadfast no matter what happens.
Emotional happiness changes according to my mood and depends upon my interpretations of and reactions to external circumstances and the behavior of other people. True happiness is a state of well-being and contentment that remains unchanged by external circumstances.
Let’s pretend that I am playing for you the songs Happy Birthday, Pomp and Circumstance, Taps, Auld Lang Syne, and The Wedding March. What happens to you as you hear each song? I experience a wide range of emotions, happy and unhappy. Yet at the same time, I am still here, I am still me, unchanged. I can experience sadness, grief, anger, and other “unhappy” emotions AND at the same time, I can experience true happiness.
It is not my goal to suppress my emotions, because emotional rigidity affects the experience of true happiness just as much as emotional indulgence. I like to follow the example of the Great Lakes—while the surface of the waters can become rough and excited, deep down, it is very still. So I want to experience every emotion as it arises AND not let it rule my world. I want to feel it, acknowledge it, and then choose thoughts that move me in a direction that truly serves my purpose.
When are we truly happy?
True happiness comes from knowing who I truly am, as an individual or as an organization, and living it.
My thoughts, words and actions produce a result – an experience –and with that experience, a feeling. When my experiences are in alignment with who I really am, I am truly happy. Gandhi said that happiness is when what I think, say, and do are in harmony. When I am being who I really am – that’s when I experience true happiness.
I know I am experiencing true happiness when I feel good—in my gut and in my heart. I feel at peace. I feel inspired. I feel content. My eyes are lit up. I love myself. My soul sings.
What causes unhappiness?
Simply put, the source of our unhappiness is our thoughts. Nothing causes unhappiness in and of itself. It is how we choose to think about it that causes the unhappiness.
What I feel and what I experience depends on what I am focused on in each moment.
Most of us are not aware of what we are focused on each moment. And when we are not aware of what we are focused on, then our focus is based on our prior thoughts about previous experiences, just as you experienced prior thoughts about previous experiences when you thought about hearing the songs Happy Birthday, Taps, and The Wedding March.
It’s the attachment to past thoughts that brings about unhappiness. Beliefs, perceptions, expectations, and judgment are all past thoughts based on our prior thoughts about previous experiences.
Think about it. When we open ourselves to a new belief, unhappiness goes away. When we learn something new, change our perspective, let go of expectations, remove judgment, and dispel fear, unhappiness disappears.
When it comes down to it, what we choose to focus on arises from either fear or love.
Whether we are dealing with personal, business, political, societal, or international relationships, our focus is either one of fear or love. Our decisions and choices on how to save, spend or share our time, energy, money and resources are based in fear or love. What we choose to teach and learn; our goals, plans, strategies, and tactics; our decisions to unite or divide, keep or let go, attack or defend are all based in either fear or love.
When we choose thoughts of fear, we are not in alignment with our true nature. We experience unhappiness when we are not in alignment with our true nature.
How can we experience true happiness?
True happiness begins with self-awareness. Learning what brings about true happiness takes self-awareness. Being true to who I am, choosing thoughts rooted in love vs. fear, takes self-awareness.
Self-awareness involves looking at our thoughts, noticing the thoughts that are presented to us by our brains, creating a pause to add light, and choosing thoughts that are in alignment with who I am and who I aspire to be in this moment.
Most of us have not thought about our thoughts. I know I didn’t. Before I started practicing self-awareness and managing my thoughts, I had no idea what I was thinking. I was not aware of the thousands of choices and decisions I was making each day that were not serving my purpose and moving me away from experiencing true happiness.
When I started looking at my thoughts, I became aware of the power of thought—aware that each thought either leads me to true happiness or it doesn’t. And I could practice choosing thoughts that make me truly happy – that are in alignment with who I am and who I aspire to be.
Any one of the six practices below can help you bring about self-awareness and true happiness.
- Use My Feelings as Key Indicators. Practicing noticing how we feel helps us to become aware of our thoughts AND how to know that a thought is bringing us true happiness or not. When a thought is working against us, we do not feel good as we are thinking the thought. We can practice noticing that we are tense, our brows furrowed, our jaws clenched, necks tight, hearts pounding, breaths fast, stomachs knotted, queasy, or in butterflies. When we are truly happy, we are relaxed, we feel at peace, our eyes are lit up, we feel energized and true to our selves. We feel inspired.
- Choose My Thoughts. Imagine the you that you could be if you were truly happy. What could you think, say and do and how could you respond to what others do and say? Then watch your thoughts. Examine each thought. Notice, without blame or judgment, as an outside observer, if you are happy with who you are. (Only you know if you are happy.) Then practice choosing thoughts that move you in the direction of the highest and best idea you have ever had about you. When you decide to start watching your thoughts, they do slow down (a nice fringe benefit!) and can be seen, one and all. You will find, as I did, that these thoughts are not unconscious at all!
- Seek to Understand. We can take a big step toward true happiness by seeking to understand vs. be understood. Everyone’s choices and perceptions, including mine, are a function of their viewpoint right now. My perception is my reality. It is not everyone else’s reality. So we can make the most of each moment, and experience true happiness, by not taking things personally, making assumptions, being judgmental or condemning the choices of others. Instead, we can seek to understand. We can invoke the state of wonder, be curious, open, and receptive. We can ask open ended questions, learn their perspective, shadow them, walk in their shoes and be ready to assist when they seek a new choice, a higher choice. When we seek to understand, instead of seeking to be understood, we open ourselves to what’s possible, we widen our view. We learn, we are effective, we achieve significant results.
At the same time, we help others feel valued, respected, and give them the opportunity to make a difference. In so doing, we make a difference, which brings about true happiness.
- Take Time to Be Quiet Each Day. When our minds are clear of distractions, we become open and fully receptive to our highest awareness, the world changes, and remarkable things start to happen. We get to know who we truly are and what we truly want. Make it a practice to take some time to be quiet, take a walk, get some fresh air, be in nature, do what you enjoy, and see what happens. Creative ideas emerge when we give our minds a rest, when we do what we love to do. These creative ideas result in great decisions. And we don’t waste time, energy, or money. We focus on what is significant, on what makes us truly happy. We all have the ability to ask ourselves questions and listen for the answers. We discover the right thing to do and how to do it. We find a power within that indeed transforms us.
- Practice Thankfulness. Thankfulness is one of the quickest and most powerful ways to create a change in our circumstances and experience happiness. Being thankful raises individuals and organizations to a new level of consciousness. Our brains perceive even more that makes us thankful. A physical and mental transformation occurs. You find yourself smiling. Your spine straightens. Your muscles relax. Your creative juices begin to flow and you get ideas on how to turn your situation around and experience happiness in each moment. For more on practicing thankfulness, feel free to read or listen to my Forward ThinkingTM Reminder on The Power of Thankfulness.
- Practice Do-Overs! I call the Do-Over the Amazing Managing Thought tool. Because Self-awareness takes practice. True happiness takes practice. It is a constant awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and choices. Telling ourselves that we need to think more positively or be happy doesn’t do anything. And criticizing ourselves for thinking “bad” thoughts doesn’t work either. It is practice that makes permanent. It’s practicing noticing our thoughts and feelings and, if they are not in alignment with who we truly are, taking a breath (focusing on the exhale), adding light, and choosing thoughts that move us in a direction that serves our purpose. Remember, our brains are fast—very fast. And we want them to be fast. So there’s no reason to be surprised when our brains continue to quickly deliver to us old, habitual thoughts (followed quickly by our mouths!) That’s what the do-over is for—to give our brains a script and practice the script to re-wire our neural nets. It’s like learning to ride a bike, play tennis, or golf! With practice, our new way of thinking and being becomes natural for us.
When we, as individuals and organizations, are being true to ourselves, living our truth, that truth offers more happiness and love of our selves and others than we can imagine. Our souls sing. We are inspired and impactful in all we do. We achieve significant results and long-lasting success.
And the ripple effect is of considerable magnitude. Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world. ” Let’s be truly happy, content, at peace. Let’s make that difference.
May your thoughts bring you peace and inspire you.
Founder and President