From a young age we are taught that there is a formula for being happy. It usually goes something like finding someone that will validate our worth, a job that gives us what we want, and money. We take that formula and, for many of us, start trying to chart a course to happiness like it is some exotic destination or treasure to find. That once we get to that place, bliss will take us and everything will be as it should.
We struggle along the way, reassess what we are going, and trudge ahead on a new heading. All in the hopes that when we reach this elusive destination, we will know that all we have done will pay off with that complete and total happiness.
What is the truth is that we have been fed a myth about what it is to be and achieve happiness.
If someone asked you to describe happiness, what would you say? Take a couple minutes and think about it. No, I mean really think about it. When that word comes to mind, what do you see? Is there a vision there? Maybe it was something you saw as a child from a movie or someone you saw. Perhaps your idea of happiness came from a book you read. I would be that in your vision, you see yourself smiling and full of energy. You are surrounded by people who love and uplift you, treasures that mean something to you, and money enough to not worry about life’s discomforts.
Now, think about where those thoughts came from. When you were first taught about happiness, was it your parents or teachers? Did you see it on a television show or movie? Why did you latch onto those particular versions of what happiness was? Did they reflect moments in your life where you were not happy? Maybe watching that special TV show allowed you to escape what was going on in your household. All of those thoughts and ideas are like the sugar coated frosting on a doughnut, they are designed to make you want it and give you something to work towards. The truth is, that isn’t happiness.
Happiness is, plain and simple, our ability to be okay, no matter the situation, It is our innate ability to be content regardless of how the shit is hitting the fan around us. As the Buddhists would believe, it is simply the act of being. All of this talk of some state of continued positive contentment and things, more often than not, keep us from actually being happy.
Running up that hill
In Greek mythology, the Corinth king, Sisyphus was known as a trickster. In fact, he cheated death on several occasions. Seeing this, Zeus – king of the gods, decided on a punishment.When Sisyphus died, he was sent to Hades and his punishment, as well as a way of getting out of Hades, was to push a boulder up a hill. If he reached the top, he was free. The problem is that Sisyphus would never reach the top, as the boulder would be pulled back down, everytime. But Sisyphus never gave up.
I use this story to show the pursuit of happiness is much the same as the toiling Sisyphus did with his boulder. It’s a never ending struggle to get somewhere we can, ultimately never achieve. Before you get upset, this analogy is used because like Sisyphus, we are pushing that boulder with a predetermined belief of our rewards. We are struggling for a destination that we cannot get because it is predicated on a formula that isn’t for everyone.
In the previous section, you were asked what your idea of happiness is. Everyone reading this will have a different answer. That answer is based on the boundaries they were taught. Those ideals were given to those we learned from by those that were influential in their lives, and so on.
We need to learn what happiness truly is and what makes us happy. Then, we can see Sisyphus for what he truly was, a determined person who kept to his task unbothered but convinced he could change.
With that, let’s try to see things in a new way by talking about 5 Myths of What Happiness is.
Myth 5 – You have to be happy all the time
We all know someone who moves through life always projecting happiness. No matter the situation, they see it as a blessing. As much as we like having them around, on occasion, we often wonder what drugs there are on to stay in such a perceived, blissful state.
The truth is that life and the world isn’t always fun or nice. There are hardships enough to go around. Sadness, loss, anger, hurt, rejection, and jealousy paint rich tapestries into our lives. We need to experience them to be whole. They help us grow and become more than we are. Pushing those emotions aside can often do more damage to us as a person and it wont change the situation that sparked them
It is a tired cliche, but you can’t know the light if you haven’t known darkness.
Myth 4 – Your past will dictate your future
This mindset teaches us that we can only have a happy future if our past wasn’t dark. It speaks that if a person has a broken past or made wrong choices that they cannot know happiness in the future. That kind of verbiage strips us of our agency to change who we are and learn how to use it to make different choices. Your past will not doom your fate in the future.
Healing, of ourselves, can only come by understanding who we are and our past. Showing yourself love and compassion will help you navigate the shoals to a happier future.
Myth 3 – Happiness is a predetermined set of ideals
So many things in our world cannot be changed – eye color(only with contacts), our genetic make-up, or Trump’s mindset. The thankful part is that happiness is not one of those. I have started learning, in my journey, that happiness is more like Play-doh, or clay depending on which generation you belong to. It can be molded and folded into our own ideas of what it is.
Humans have been given an amazing gift, the gift of choice. We mostly squander that gift away on small things. But here, it can be so magical. You have the gift of choosing how you react or feel about a situation. When something bad happens to us, we tend to retreat inside and nurse our wounds. We feel bad for ourselves and wonder how we got here. That is a choice. We can also choose to look at the situation differently. Sure, it’s going to be painful but we can see it as a lesson to change what got us there. Maybe it was words we said to our significant others or maybe it was how we acted. While we cannot change what has happened, we can use that as a measure to do differently in the future. That is what can bring us happiness.
Myth 2 – Outside factors bring us happiness
Admittedly, when we receive a gift it makes us feel happy and excited. We start to crave that feeling. Then we start to think if we have the money to buy the things we want, we can continue that happiness. Maybe we feel finding the perfect mate will make it all come together and be happy. These snapshot experiences of life often leave us feeling good but it isn’t true happiness. Its the chemicals in our brain making us feel good. The truth is that happiness is a state of being, not a set of situations or tangible articles.
To be clear, those things can be components to making you have a better outlook on life, but thinking of happiness as a commodity only leads you to chasing more. And the more you accumulate, the more you want and the further away from happiness you get.
Myth 1- Happiness is a state of mind
I know what you are thinking, I just said that happiness is a state of being. A state of being is not a state of mind. A state of mind comes from emotions and no matter how much we think otherwise, emotions are not fact. With that said, having an optimistic mindset can help you feel better about the circumstance you are in, but assuming that happiness is a state of mind can lead us to not realizing we can access that feeling wherever we want. That we are left to the whims of our feelings to get there.
Happiness is an amalgamation of many things – it is emotion, life’s purpose, our connections to people, a meaning in our lives. It is a measure by which we can assess our lives, it is not fleeting like a feeling or a state of mind. We determine happiness by our own accord, not the whims of flights of fancy or others preconceived notions.
So much of our life teaches us that we need to develop things. After all life is a skillset that we have to improve on daily, health, interactions, emotions, and ambitions. These are things we need to look at and reevaluate as we progress to the next chapters of our lives. Happiness is no less than those skills and it has to be worked on. You CAN learn to be happy and it is a skill that we need to work on over time, to achieve.
What about you? Do you feel happy in your life? What makes you happy? Where did you learn your visions of happiness and have they changed since you learned them? Let me know in the comments below. Remember that your journey and lessons could be the catalyst that causes change in another’s life.