In my last article in December, I finished by leaving you with three questions:
- Why am I here? (everyone is here for a reason);
- What am I supposed to be doing?; and
- How do I go about doing it?
I would like to expand on what I was trying to get across. All of these questions are asking you to find a purpose in your life and to bring some sort of fulfillment and meaning – a kind of happiness. Sounds easy? But for most of us it can be overwhelming.
Where do we start in this new journey? We can start by developing a plan on paper by listing things that are important to us and finding a way to connect the dots. Ideas that can help in finding meaning could be as simple as meditation; socializing; networking; and joining groups with similar interests. Even doing these suggestions, I guarantee that you will not be happy ALL the time. So many of us place too much importance on feeling happy which is unrealistic as happiness is a fleeting feeling.
Happiness is brain-directed meaning you can redirect your negative thoughts to positive thoughts similar to cognitive behavioral therapy. For example, instead of thinking, “I am always failing,” you change your thought to “I sometimes fail” or “I may have failed at this particular task, but I learned something from it.” By making the choice to focus on the positive things in our lives versus the negative ones it can bring a sense of gratitude.
Also, when we complete a task on our own, we feel a sense of pride and fulfillment. It makes us feel a sense of power in our own destiny – that we were able to do something on our own instead of having to depend on others to do it for us! Figuring out what drives our happiness is key – everyone is different, and no path fits us all!
We also tend to equate success with happiness which can lead to a feeling of emptiness. Instead, doing meaningful work such as volunteering for a charity can lead to happiness because you are helping others which brings a sense of fulfillment and joy. Many of us think that if we could only win the lottery this would make us happy because we would have the resources to buy whatever we wanted. However, happiness is not related to material things but rather life experiences and the memories we create.
Money and success are not the path to happiness in fact it can be quite the opposite. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we see the character of the nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge saying to his uncle, “You are rich, you should be happy,” but he is far from happy, he is downright miserable. What is missing in his life is empathy and compassion for mankind. It is not until he is visited by Marley, a business partner and friend who passed away years before. Marley is shackled in locks and chains representing the life he led and tells Scrooge that his chains are much longer and heavier than his. He is trying to help Scrooge by telling him there is time to change his fate. He tells Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts who will show him the past, present, and future of his life.
The ghost of the past shows Scrooge memories of his childhood as a lonely young boy in boarding school, his relationship with his beloved sister, and his first love who left him because he chose money over their relationship. The ghost of the present shows Scrooge his miserable ways, the lives of those who have little or no money and Cratchit’s life of love and happiness with his family despite their poverty. The ghost of the future shows the passing of Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s youngest son, and the passing of Scrooge himself with no interest from the town’s residents only scavengers robbing his casket. Through all of this, Scrooge was able to see what a miserable person he had become and decided to change the way he lived his life to one of purpose, gratitude, and compassion for mankind.
People who see themselves as a victim cannot be happy because they blame others for what happens to them, see the world as unfair, and are generally angry. As an adult, you need to take responsibility for your present life and not continually blame your parents. It is important to address those childhood issues through therapy or other positive means and move forward with your life. Blaming others for our misfortunes as adults stagnates any chance at finding growth and happiness. Sometimes these grievances held since childhood can result in estrangement that can last for years if not forever!
Lastly, there are those losses in life that we all go through such as your children growing up and moving away; sudden illness such as stroke, cancer, or heart attack; aging and death. However, one can choose to adapt to these unavoidable circumstances in a healthy positive way by putting your energy into working on improving your outlook.
Eddie Jaku, who spent seven years in the horrors of Buchenwald in Auschwitz, and then was forced to walk in the death march during the Third Reich’s last days, demonstrated how one can overcome these very negative traumatic experiences. In his book, The Happiest Man on Earth, he talks about courage, resilience, kindness, and love. At the age of 100, despite these horrific events, he called himself the “happiest man on earth.” It was his determination to redirect the way his brain into turning very negative events into something he learned from.
In the end, having meaning and purpose in life are important components to being happy!