In one of my personal development workshops I get my students to close their eyes and imagine, in vivid detail, one of their happiest memories, and to fully re-living it in that moment. It is amazing to witness the instant transformation in their facial expressions and body language as their nervous systems kick back into happy mode. I then ask them what actually changed in the outside world while they were doing that. Of course the answer is nothing, but isn't it interesting how easily they were able to access deep feelings of joy without there having to be an outside cause?
When was the last time you felt really happy for no reason whatsoever?
The term 'The Human Race' is very apt because metaphorically speaking we seem to think of our happiness as being out there in front of us and that we must race to catch up with it. We use language like 'chasing our dreams', and 'the pursuit of happiness', which on the surface seems like very exciting things to be involved in, but it also presupposes that happiness is somewhere off in the distance and that we are lagging behind. We immerse ourselves in an "I'll be happy when..." mentality, in which we are convinced that happiness will arrive in the form of that next promotion, or the bigger house, the perfect relationship, or that lottery win.
We also tend to think of happiness as being an 'it' - a something that has a form - like one day there will be a knock at the door and the FedEx guy will say "Hi, who's gonna to sign for this box of happiness?"
But look at a child. Children are much smarter than adults when it comes to being happy. For them it is just a state of being. They don't place conditions on when they will and when they won't feel it. As long as they're not hungry, in pain, or being told off, they are happy. It's their default program. And it is meant to be your default program too. The thing is, at some stage in a child's development they start copying what the adults do. They buy into our cultural idea that, actually, you can't just have your happiness, you have to earn it. You have to prove that you are worthy of it. If you work hard enough at working hard then one day just might get lots of nice things that will 'make' you happy, but you have to deserve it.
Of course we all know what happiness feels like, and we do encounter many happy times throughout our lives - marriages, births, birthdays, holidays, parties... It can even take us by surprise sometimes, like when you are out in nature and suddenly you are filled with a strong and comforting sense of connectedness with the world around you. This kind of happiness is great, but it is a fair weather friend; it comes when the going is good and shoots off again when the party is over. But a lot of people settle for it because they're promised to a more permanent kind of happiness - they just have to wait for the future to arrive!
The real truth about happiness is that you do not have to wait for it happen to you. You do not have to be in the right place at the right time. You do not have to keep gambling with life until it comes knocking at your door. You have all the resources you need already within you to turn it on at will. It's like a switch. If you are stood in a darkened room you have the choice to flick the switch and turn the light on, but in order to do that you must first know that the switch is there and that you have the ability to control it.
Your happiness switch is exactly the same. You must recognise that it there for you to use at any moment and that you can control it with the belief that it is only ever your thoughts and attitudes that light up your world.
Happiness brings with it the kind of creativity, openness and clarity that makes any task seem almost effortless. Work stops feeling like work as soon as you go about your business with a genuine inner smile. But why do most people find this so hard to do?
It's because somewhere along the line we learned that we cannot be truly happy unless there is a reason to be happy. We introduce criteria that must be met before we will allow ourselves to let happiness in and feel ok about having it. Some people have even learned to attach guilt to their happiness. "Why should I feel happy while others still suffer?"
There's a very quirky thing about us humans, and that is that we can become very suspicious of other people who do not appear to have a good enough reason for their blatant displays of happiness. Whenever someone asks how I am I will usually say something like "I'm great" or "fantastic", to which the next question is often "Why, what's up?" I'll say "Nothing, I just feel good", and then enjoy the confused look on their face as they let out a slow "Riiiiiiiiight!"
The thing that really throws a spanner in the works of the common belief about happiness is that actually you can have it whenever you want it, and you don't have to do a thing to earn it. Because 'it' isn't an 'it' at all, it's a function of the human condition that serves a very practical purpose. As Michael Neill would put it, to ask if you deserve happiness is like asking if you deserve a nose. "Well....eeerrrrr.... I have a nose, but I don't know what I've done to deserve it". It sounds silly, doesn't it?
The key to having your happiness now rather than later is to know that happiness is not something that happens to you, it is something that you do. You must let go of the idea that happiness is a reward for good behaviour or that you must be worthy of it. You must also accept that your happiness is not on that ship that you're waiting on to come in. It is the ocean in which the ship sails, so if you want it, dive in and learn how to swim. In other words, your life is your happiness and you just need to start responding more happily towards it.
Numerous scientific studies into whether success leads to happiness shows that there is no quantifiable evidence to suggest that it does. What has been highlighted though, is that people who already experience high levels of happiness are significantly more likely to become successful later. Interesting! Happiness leads to success, not the other way around. Who'd have thought?
What this tells us is that genuine authentic happiness is unconditional. It is not out there. It is in here, and always has been. Happiness is only ever the result of your attitude and your behaviour, and learning to nurture it unconditionally gives you much more than just a good feeling; it makes your whole life run a lot smoother. That's nature's plan.
The only reason you ever need to be happy is that it allows you to get things done in a really efficient way. The most successful people learn to master the simple notion of being happy in the moment, not just because it feels good, but because being happy puts them into their most resourceful and productive state. I consider happiness to be a vital tool in the work I do because I am committed to producing the best quality output I am capable of. I know I can only achieve that if I am in a happy mood. Whether I'm running a workshop, writing an article, recording some audio, or coaching someone one on one, I will always spend a few moments up front getting myself into a happy frame of mind, because that's how I need to be for my best work to come out. Things just seem to flow better, I'm more creative, I see the bigger picture, and here's the really interesting bit, I encounter fewer obstacles.
I have spent countless hours studying the different philosophies about what happiness is and, while the various teachings use different kinds of language and terminology, they all agree that happiness does not wait on time, it waits on welcome. You may as well just open the door and let it in because it's already here, just waiting for your invitation.
"But hang on a minute, Paul. Surely it's unrealistic to be happy all the time. What about when you really do have problems. Sometimes, things just piss you off. That's life!"
Absolutely, life happens, and it doesn't always happen the way we want it to. It is the most natural thing in the world to feel unhappy, angry or sad in certain circumstances, and it is right and proper that we do feel that sometimes. But the problem comes when we habituate into these negative feelings; when being pissed off or grumpy becomes your standard response to most things.
There is nothing that you can achieve in an agitated frame of mind that you cannot do better with happiness.
There are two things you can choose to do to enjoy feeling more happiness more often.
1. WORK ON YOUR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Just like happiness, all feelings have a practical purpose, even the bad ones. They are signals from you unconscious mind as to whether or not life is happening the way you want it to. Bad moods are not designed to just give you the experience of feeling miserable. If you listen closely to what they are telling you then you will always be able to find a much quicker route back to happiness. Negative emotions are like the warning lights on the dashboard of you car. They are a call to action. When the petrol light comes on, that is not a signal for your car to become depressed, it is a sign that action needs to be taken to get fuel. When you add more petrol the light goes out. The moment you bring your conscious attention to the cause of the feeling, and realise what actions needs to be taken to redress the balance, then its job is done. It no longer serves any useful purpose.
It is critical to acknowledge all of your feelings and not to mask them with a fake happiness. If you just cover them up with a painted-on smile then their simmer will turn into a boil and eventually the pot will overflow. Remember, they have a message they want you to know about, so stop and take the time to listen. Ask yourself, "Why might I be feeling like this in this situation? What is it trying to suggest?" And it's important to focus on the areas in which you have an element of control. It is no good to say "Well, it's suggesting that Bob is a pillock!" Get clear about the steps that will lead you away from frustration and toward a solution that feels better. As soon as you get an answer then exercise whatever control you have and decide to let go of the negativity around it. Ask yourself the question, "Now that I know what to do to sort this out, is it possible and acceptable for me to do it happily?" You'll be surprised how easy it is when you are willing.
2. GET TO KNOW THE PHYSIOLOGY OF HAPPINESS
Happiness has two parts: the internal experience of joy and the physical aliveness in your body. You've probably noticed that when you are down your body language becomes an outward symbol of how you feel inside. It becomes slouched, tensed and heavy and lacks signs of energy. When you are happy you stand taller and have a more open airy posture. Often the quickest way out of a negative mood is simply to move and adopt a more empowering body language. This sends a very clear signal to your brain that it is time to start feeling happier. Try this out for yourself the next time you are being a bit of a grump. Stand up straight, stick your chest out, and put a deliberate smile on your face. Your nervous system can only respond in a positive way to this kind of instruction from your physiology, that's just the way we work!
Paul Dalton is a Personal Development Coach / Trainer with bags of experience in helping people change their lives for the better, combining skills from: hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, life coaching, leadership effectiveness, metaphysics, motivation techniques, and more.
Paul is also the proud creator of www.Life-Happens.co.uk - a Personal Development resource website for everyone interested in the fields of human potential, self-improvement and positive living.
Visit Life Happens today for:
*** FREE "Deep Daily Relaxation" Hypnotherapy MP3 (22 mins) *** FREE Personal Development Podcast: Life Happens LIVE *** FREE "5 Steps to a More Fulfilling Life" E-Course *** FREE Articles and Daily Coaching Blog *** FREE Life Happens Café: Personal Development Forum ***