When did you last feel happy or “jump for joy”? When was the last time your heart was bursting with love, happiness and the sheer bliss of being alive?â€¨â€¨ For most of us it’s so long ago, we can’t even remember. Maybe in early childhood, when life was less complicated, stressful and serious. Before our struggles and responsibilities beat the joy out of us. Before too much suffering, rejection, abuse sucked all happiness from our injured hearts.â€¨â€¨And yet, we never stop searching for this Holy Grail of feelings. We sense that happiness and joy should be natural parts of our Being. Their absence bothers us, causes us pain, distress and anxiety.
What are we doing wrong? â€¨â€¨We listen to other people describe how they found joy, bliss and fulfilment. And how “we can do it too” if we follow their lead. Every day our minds are flooded with TV commercials implying that we will be happy if we buy a seductive perfume, a new car or certain brand of dish soap.â€¨â€¨ And we try. We comply. We buy.
But still, happiness eludes us. A new exercise regime, spiritual practice or purchase may give us pleasure for a while, but it rarely lasts.â€¨â€¨And we start to think: “Maybe I’m not good enough? Maybe I just don’t deserve happiness in my life? Maybe joy is only for special, more capable people. Who cope better with the trials and tribulations of life?”â€¨â€¨ But, the truth is, that a happy life has nothing to do with our deservedness, societal status, number of possessions or level of enlightenment (or lack thereof).
In fact, only 4 obstacles tower between us and happiness.
Why happiness keeps eluding you (and 4 powerful action steps to reclaim it)
Happiness is absent from our lives because, as a species and society, we make 4 disastrous mistakes that have become so normal that we aren’t even aware of them any longer.
â€¨â€¨1. We allow unqualified tools to lead us
The mind developed as a marvellous tool designed through evolution to keep us safe and alive. It was meant to be used whenever we need it to solve problems, analyse situations and evaluate dangers. To be put down, like a hammer or a laptop, when the job is done.â€¨â€¨But at some point, we started to identify with it. We began to believe that our mind is all we are and that our thoughts are the absolute truth. â€¨â€¨Nowadays, for most people, the mind is in charge. It worries, criticises, overthinks, overanalyses, catastrophises, warns. Non-stop.
Because that’s its job!
Itâ€™s a warning system with integrated problem solving capability. A tool meant to foresee threats and suffering and to defend us against them. Very useful in sticky situations.â€¨â€¨But it is not qualified to run our lives!
All it knows is how to foresee risk, avoid danger and maintain survival. And if it runs out of problems to solve, it will create them. So it has something useful to do.â€¨â€¨And the problems the mind creates to justify its existence drain the happiness from our life.
ACTION STEP 1: Make it a habit to observe your thoughts
For 2 minutes each day, sit down and watch your thoughts. Observe your mindâ€™s chatter. Donâ€™t judge. Just listen. With the same patience and understanding you would find when lending an ear to a dear friend. Or witnessing the antics of a small child.
Become aware that your mind is separate from you. You are the consciousness observing the mind. And you are in charge.
Your mind is not you. Itâ€™s a survival tool tasked with keeping you safe. Itâ€™s not omniscient and not always tells the truth. It hates change, runs on autopilot, spins in repetitive, unproductive circles and clings on to negativity.
Identification with your mind is hurting you. It needs to stop.
â€¨â€¨â€¨2. We seek happiness on the outside
As a society, we are focussed on externalities. We believe that our happiness depends on our circumstances, our looks and weight, our finances and relationship status.â€¨â€¨We seek joy on the outside.
We expect from our new partner, new job to make us happy. And feel frustrated when they don’t succeed. We accumulate possessions so they can bring us joy. And then curse them for causing debt, clutter and anxiety.â€¨â€¨Because happiness can never come from goods, possessions, other people or new circumstances. It originates on the inside. It is part of our true Being. â€¨â€¨And if we are silent enough to listen to our true Self, happiness will emerge from the depths.
The problem is that we are constantly on the go. Stressed out, busy, overwhelmed. Sprinting through our days with never enough time to get everything done. And distracted by our ever noisy mind that preoccupies us with anxious, depressing, negative thoughts.
And happiness remains unheard. Swallowed by the deafening racket of a modern life.
ACTION STEP 2: Give happiness space to emerge
So, for 2 minutes each day, sit down and just breathe. Focus on each breath, relax your muscles, be still.
Allow yourself time to just be. Without pressures, constraints or expectations. And give happiness room to expand.
Moving faster and faster on the frantic quest for a happy life is stopping us from feeling our happiness. Itâ€™s within us. We just need to slow down and listen.
3. We feel unworthy of happiness
The reason why we obsess about accumulating external sources of happiness is because we believe that we donâ€™t deserve to be happy until we fulfil certain criteria.
As a society, we accepted our inherent worthlessness as a fact. And we mistake worth for the currency we require to buy happiness. The more money, qualifications, popularity, success we pile up, the more worth we earn. And the happier we expect to be.
So we work harder, prioritise others over ourselves, strive to be perfect and burn ourselves out to gain other peopleâ€™s approval. And precious worth.
So we can be happy.
The truth is though, that worth is nothing we can earn, gain or increase. Unconditional, limitless worth is the essence of our Being. Like happiness, love and peace.
We ARE worth personified.
We donâ€™t need to deserve happiness. We just need to become aware that we already are infinitely worthy of everything we desire. And embrace the good we receive instead of doubting whether we deserve it.
ACTION STEP 3: Realise your true, inner worth
Whenever you get a chance throughout the day, affirm â€œI AM worthâ€. Feel inside and sense the infinite, absolute worth that resides within your Being.
Your true, inner worth is a fact. And so is your deservedness. Now you just need to convince your mind through consistent repetition: I deserve happiness. I AM worth!
4. We build walls to keep others out
We all experience heart-ache, rejection, abandonment. All of us went through trauma, disappointment and failure.â€¨â€¨ And the common reaction to these experiences is to close our heart. To build an enormous wall around ourselves and block all exits. In the hope to shut out the pain so no one can ever hurt us again.
This numbs the negative emotions and makes it easier to cope. As such, closing our heart is an automatic response to suffering.
But our desperate attempt to protect ourselves backfires when closing our heart blocks our energy flow. Because without balanced flow, positive emotions such as love, joy and happiness stagnate and the grief and anger that is already in our heart is trapped.
Eventually this may lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Because you barricaded all the windows and doors, pulled the shutters and now live in darkness.
But it doesnâ€™t need to be this way.
ACTION STEP 4: Open your heart
To open your heart to happiness, for 2 minutes once a day, sit or lie down comfortably. Don’t cross your arms or legs. Close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths. Try to relax.â€¨â€¨Focus on your heart in the centre of your chest. Does it feel heavy or light? Dark or bright?â€¨â€¨Now simply imagine that you open your heart. Use a visual that appeals to you. You might think of opening the shutters of a window, the unfolding of a beautiful flower. Or, like me, the opening of an automatic door on the starship Enterprise (I admit Iâ€™m a geek).â€¨â€¨Once your heart is open, flush it through with lots of love for as long as it feels good and comfortable.â€¨â€¨This will help to eliminate feelings of hopelessness, release negative emotions and allow happiness to flow freely.
â€¨Living a happier life
Itâ€™s time to face the truth.
Happiness wonâ€™t come to you once your circumstances improve, certain prerequisites are fulfilled or the conditions are right. You will never find it searching on the outside. And nobody can give it to you.
But you can reclaim it with 4 daily action steps.
Because itâ€™s right here, within your grasp. Already a part of you. Dormant, idle, waiting for you to slow down in silence, look inwards and accept that you deserve it. And then open your heart so happiness can flood through the gates.
It only takes a few minutes a day to change your life. You have nothing to lose.
You are worthy of joy, you deserve happiness. And itâ€™s there for the taking.
Now go and get it.