Happiness is a state of mind, a habit which can be cultivated by human beings. Everything we do is directed toward achieving happiness and it is our ultimate goal. Yet why is it that we have difficulty achieving this goal despite our effort to achieve it? Many people believe that happiness is a kind of euphoria, something like a drug induced high. However, it is possible to attain this state now and then, but it is hard to sustain it for long periods of time. If we define happiness as a positive state of mind in which we feel good about ourselves and others, it can be cultivated. It is possible to learn to be at peace and be strong inside, laugh easily and feel love for our fellow beings.
Happiness is like a journey that the person undertakes with milestones along the way. The goal is a state of being which is achieved step by step like any other journey. Most of us have deeply rooted thinking patterns that make us unhappy and it is really crucial to identify and transform it bit by bit. There are five pillars to happiness, according to Dr. Arun Bhargava of Himalayan Institute in Honsdale, Pennsylvania, who believes in yogic practices to create the state of happiness.
- Living in the present.
- Seeing yourself as an actor
- Cultivating self esteem
- Practicing non attachment and being an observer.
Live in the Present:
We tend to occupy too much time worrying about the past and future often bypassing the present. We get angry about the past and feel depressed even though we cannot change it. Anxiety stems from worrying about the future and not enjoying the moment at hand. The only existence we have is here and now. The past is a memory, and all our worries about the future are nothing but memories of past projected into the future. However, by weaving old and negative memories you affect your current state of mind and become unhappy. Eckhart Tolle has made this point very clearly in his book, “The Power of Now”. I really recommend this book to the readers. It is very helpful to act as a witness and practice staying in the present. Every time you notice your mind either brooding over the past or worrying about the future, visualize a big red STOP sign, replace negative thoughts with affirmations and you will notice that the negative thoughts will fade. Those who learn to live in the present do not know what sadness is and cannot be swayed by moods or the phases of life.
See Yourself as an Actor:
Imagine that the world is like a stage and we are the players and actors playing several roles in the drama. The trouble is, we forget that we are playing roles and become attached and overly involved in the drama. Try to witness the drama of life and notice your role in it. Notice how fellow actors change costumes as they change roles. Life will have too much chaos if you put on the wrong costume for your role in the drama. You will enjoy life if you do not take the play or your role in it so seriously. Play your part, enjoy yourself with the role you are playing and continue to be the witness as you change roles. Thus by detaching yourself from the act, and becoming the witness, you will be able to enjoy your role.
Most of our unhappiness is the result of being obsessed with our ego. We surrender unconditionally to our ego and this is the source of our unhappiness. We live life with inflated egos and become upset and unhappy when our egos are hurt by others. We like it when people give us compliments, appreciation and positive feedback. As soon as you get some negative comments from others, you take it personally and lose your peace of mind. When you surrender your ego, you also drop your anxiety about the result of your action. It is crucial to focus on your actions and do the best; let the results take care of themselves. Once the blockage of the ego is cleared, the energy of the Higher Power can flow through you with ease and facility. It has been found that people with narcissistic personalities indulge too much in their egos and they get easily offended by rejections, criticism and disapproval. Our bringing up determines the nature of our personalities and it is very important to be aware of our personality traits so that we can work on them.
Cultivate Self Esteem:
It is important to make a distinction between egotism and self esteem. Egotism is a barrier to happiness while self esteem is a means. When you like yourself for who you are, you feel happy. Self esteem is a way of thinking, feeling, and acting that implies that you accept, respect, trust, and believe in yourself. Self acceptance promotes a sense of well being and it becomes easier to live comfortably with your strengths and limitations without berating yourself. You begin to honor your dignity and like yourself as a person. You treat yourself well and also treat others with respect. People with high self esteem tend to face the adversities of life more effectively and also experience an inner sense of harmony and coherence despite facing adversitiies and challenges in their circumstances.
Self esteem comes from within. People with low self esteem experience a feeling of emptiness which they try to fill by latching on to something external to get a temporary sense of fulfillment. When the quest to fill your inner void becomes desperate, repetitive, or automatic, you get addicted. A healthy alternative to addiction is to work on building your self esteem which means developing confidence and inner strength. This is a state when you do not need to identify with something or someone outside yourself to feel good. The basis for yourself worth is internal, which is more lasting and stable. It is important to take care of your basic needs. You can achieve a lasting experience of self worth when you have the ability to give yourself love, care and nurturing.
Maslow has proposed five levels of human needs and he arranged them into a hierarchy, as follows:
Self Actualization needs (fulfillment of your potential in life, wholeness)
Esteem needs (self respect, mastery, a sense of accomplishment)
Belongingness and Love needs (support and affection from others, intimacy, a sense of belonging)
Safety needs (shelter, stable environment)
Physiological needs (foods, water, sleep, oxygen)
Maslow contended that taking care of higher level needs is dependent on having fulfilled lower-level needs. It is difficult to skip a level and be able to attain the higher level. For example, it will be hard to fulfill your full potential and become self actualized if you are isolated and alienated. There is a whole list of needs that human beings have, for example, need for physical safety and security, financial security, friendship, the attention of others, being listened to, guidance, respect, validation, expression of feelings, intimacy, creativity, and unconditional love. It is important to engage in self nurturing activities to meet your needs and promote a better sense of self worth. Self efficacy is also an important part of self esteem which means having confidence in your ability to perform task, and be competent in playing your major roles. This gives a boost to your self esteem and makes you happy also.
It is also important to develop support and intimacy in order to have better sense of self worth. You will need close friends and support so that you feel comfortable trusting them and also be able to confide in them. Such friends can help provide continuity in life through adverse times like loss, divorce, and moving away from home. Intimacy in relationship is also crucial to having high self esteem. This allows you to communicate your feelings; helps overcome a certain loneliness that you might have.
Practice Non Attachment:
When you live life with a detached attitude from all the material and possessions that you have, you will be able to avoid suffering, pain and depression. It is useful to believe that we are not the owners of these possessions. You do not take any of your belongings with you when you die. The house you own, does not belong to you permanently even though your name is on the deed.
Following are some additional tools to attain the state of happiness that a person aspires for, in life.
Break the Habit of Thinking Negative:
Most of our unhappiness is the result of our negative thinking. We harbor angry feelings, resentment, frustration, jealousy, need to take revenge and get even with those who have hurt us. We tend to isolate ourselves when we own these feelings. Moreover, we tend to vent our frustrations on others, blame others, indulge in self pity and lose our mental peace. Negativity becomes like a struggle and it tends to grow stronger and stronger. When you catch yourself doing negative thinking, try to talk to your mind, use thought stopping technique to interrupt the negative thought pattern and use some affirmations to positively program yourself. If you do this gently and become a witness by supporting it, you will be able to feel happy, sleep better, and have contentment in life.
Have Healthy Boundaries:
Boundaries simply mean that you know where you end and the other person begins. You do not define your identity in terms of another person. When you have healthy boundaries, you do not derive your sense of worth by attempting to take care of, rescue, change or control the other person. People who are codependent in relationships tend to set aside their own needs and feelings in an attempt to please others, rescue and control them. Your inner happiness becomes difficult when you have poor, rigid or unhealthy boundaries and you lose your sense of inner reality.
Use of Affirmations:
Affirmations help you change your negative thought patterns and help in positive programming of your subconscious mind. They help you change your mind set and you feel happier once you begin to engage in the positive mind chatter. Some of the affirmations could be, “ I feel lovable and confident”, “I am learning to let go of my guilt, fears, and doubts”, “ I am learning that it is okay to make mistakes”, You can put these affirmations on 3×5 index cards then read through the stack slowly and with feeling and conviction twice a day. Doing this will help you boost your self esteem and also help fade the habit of thinking negative.
Sense of Accomplishment:
When you accomplish your personal goals, it gives you happiness. Think about what are the most important things you want out of your life- now and in the future? Also ask, what are you doing about them? It is important to have a good balance in your life and break your life goals in some important domains like physical health, psychological well being, finances, relationships, family, friends, career, education, personal growth, recreation and leisure and spirituality. Prioritize your goals and take full responsibility of your life by working toward your goals. Set realistic time lines for achievement of your goals. It is also important to consider writing your goals because it gives a concrete form to your goals. When goals are fleeting and they do not have any directions, you tend to ignore them and do not put forth your best efforts to accomplish them. As you begin to work on these goals in different domains, you feel more fulfilled and accomplished with each attainment and it also gives you a sense of happiness. Material things can only give you temporary pleasure but working on your personal growth and accomplishing what you want to achieve in life will give you more lasting happiness.
Challenge Mistaken Beliefs:
When you distort your perception of events because you hold some irrational beliefs about people, situations, your past, you tend to harbor feelings of anger and develop very low frustration tolerance. It is important to challenge and dispute your irrational beliefs and become aware of your cognitive distortions so that you become more objective and do not base your perceptions on subjective bias. Writer has covered this topic in detail earlier in the blog post on “Decreasing Emotional Distress with the help of Rational Emotive Therapy”.
Develop a Positive and Optimistic Outlook:
It has been found that optimistic people are happier than pessimistic people. Optimism is more a matter of our general attitude towards life. It also implies that the optimistic person tends to always look at the brighter side of the situation versus dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation. To an optimist every cloud has a silver lining. A pessimist on the other hand, sees only the clouds. People view situations according to their outlook and attitude. An optimist believes in opportunities and the pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity. A person who thinks positively gains acceptance in the society and has lasting and meaningful relationships. An optimist does not allow himself to sink into a state of depression but a pessimist is a perpetual loser. If you learn to steer your attitude in a more optimistic way, you will guarantee your happiness. It is possible to change your attitude but it requires persistence and strong determination. It is also important to change how you view adversity.
In summary, we see that happiness is a desirable state of life. We all have the need to be happy. We strive for money, health, fame and power not for their own sake but for the supposed happiness they may bring. Many of us are content with this mixed bag of happiness. We try to maximize our joys and minimize our sorrows, and failures arising out of our daily happenings. Using the above mentioned tools, one can achieve this desirable state of mind.