Happiness may not be quite as simple as some of the self-help gurus suggest, but neither is it as far out of reach as the panicky headlines of the evening news implore you to believe.
This isn't about peppy giddy euphoria — though that's nice too.
Before diving deeper, let me clarify what I mean by “happiness.”
I am not referring to the “Oh yay, I found a ten dollar bill in my coat pocket!” fleeting peppiness, nor to the “OMG my team just won the [big sports tournament prize]” adrenaline-fueled giddiness, nor to the “I finally graduated / he just proposed / we got the new house we wanted” quick spike of euphoria that gradually fades.
No doubt these are all happy moments in their own right, and I wish for you many such moments in your life, but they're not the kind of happy at topic today.
Instead, I'm speaking specifically about the deep, abiding happiness that exists with a consistency and resilience the peppiness, giddiness and euphoria lack.
Think of the former as the mountain top, and the latter three as snowflakes. Neither is more or less real or legitimate than the other, and the presence of one does not negate the presence of the other. But while the snowflakes come and go, the mountain is steadfast.
That is the deep and lasting happiness these 8 principles support.
But isn't that mountain reserved for the wealthy, the privileged, the few? Good news: it really isn't.
Happiness is neither predetermined nor exclusive to a certain kind of person.
I believe, and I am backed by science in so thinking, that happiness is available without regard to the lot in life we usually associate with being happy. Neither wealth nor health, marital status nor family size, the existence of “lucky” or “unlucky” events, profession nor education level, accurately and consistently predicts a person's happiness.
If that is true (and it is), then there must be some other quality that ushers in and supports the existence of deep and lasting happiness.
In my experience, it is a collection of qualities and perspectives. And if you weren't born with all of them (or any of them), you're not out of luck. Every single one is learnable.
Principle 1: Be open to the possibility of optimism.
No, you do not have to be Pollyanna to be happy. But happiness is supported by having a willingness to peer behind a gray surface for possibilities that may not be evident to the negative–er, naked–eye.
If you're shut off to the idea of a silver lining, you'll never find it. You don't have to ooze positive affirmations or greeting card platitudes to find your silver lining; you just have to be open to the possibility that it exists.
Principle 2: Get energized
Happiness has an energy, a wavelength. It literally feels different. All of us are capable of noticing that energy, and how we get in touch with it varies. Because of that, it sometimes helps to experiment with different levels of physical energy to find your own personal “sweet spot” where happiness is the most noticeable.
Some folks are most aware of happiness while they're in motion: traveling, running, redoing a room, dancing. Other folks are most acutely aware of their happiness when they're more still: reading, meditating, watching the clouds drift by, sewing. Notice when you feel most aligned with your own contentment, and make sure to include that kind of (in)activity in your schedule.
Principle 3: Remain curious
Sometimes the difference between sadness (or frustration) and happiness is simply letting yourself wonder: what might be through the next door, what's around the next bend, what might be there just outside your range of vision.
Viewing any situation through a perspective of genuine curiosity diffuses negativity. Look at any two year old to know: It is really hard to be down when you're looking at life through a lens of “What's this? Why? How come? Can it do this? What if it did this?”
Plus, practicing curiosity around a sensitive or volatile situation usually thwarts what might otherwise be the start of a downward spiral. It redirects your energy attention from the sore spot toward wondering about its cause, reason, resolution or possibilities. From there, you tend to be more empathetic and compassionate — and (yay bonus!) you also tend to be more grounded and aware, which helps support boundaries and problem solving.
Pepper your days with even a little less rush to judgment and a little more curiosity, and I guarantee you'll be delighted by the results.
Principle 4: Laugh!
One of my favorite things about the Dalai Lama is his giggle. He giggles often and openly, and once, when asked about his laughter, he just shrugged and said something like, “Humans. We are funny, no?” He isn't (usually) laughing at someone else or even at something in particular. He giggles because life so often amuses him, in all its glorious absurdity.
Life is absurd. We all do and say ridiculous things, and occasionally act like idiots. If there is one thing that unites us all, it's that we are all sometimes total buffoons. Even life around us is delightfully absurd. Take, for example, this cartoon smiley face come to life.
Remember this, a favorite quote: “Life is too important to be taken too seriously.” Not every situation is a laughing matter, but most are benefited by a lightheartedness that, conveniently, develops alongside deep happiness.
Principle 5: Keep perspective.
Notice what matters. Let go of what doesn't. Be aware of the difference, and act accordingly.
Principle 6: Choose it & practice it.
Accept that “happy” is not a destination. You will never “get there,” hop out of your car and take selfies in front of the official You Are Now Happy road sign.
Happy is also not a possession. You will never earn enough, spend enough, do enough, be pretty / handsome / smart / popular enough, to “have” happiness.
Happy is a choice and it is a practice. This means you can choose it right now, and you can choose it again in the next moment, and in the next. You can't put it up on your shelf or tuck it away for safekeeping… you can only choose it, be aware of it, and revel in it. But you can do so as often and as deeply as you'd like.
Principle 7: Share it!
Happiness multiplies as it is shared. It rarely flourishes when we try to confine it, hoard it or isolate it. Deep and lasting happiness is the province of the generous. (This is why you've likely never heard anyone use the phrase “miserly” to describe someone deeply happy.)
Extend compassion, grace and happiness to others. Even if no one else felt it and appreciated it (which is just enormously unlikely), the act of sharing happiness — even as simply as extending kind thoughts — stimulates and supports your own experience of happiness. It's a no-lose situation.
Principle 8: Do not chase happiness.
When you run after what you think is happiness, you often later discover you've been sprinting away from the real thing. Happiness isn't coy, and it doesn't play hard to get. You can stop trying to chase it, trick it, or outfox it.
All you have to do is let it land.
To your deep & abiding happiness,