I hear many people say, “I just want to be happy”. The problem with just wanting to be happy, is that we set ourselves up for failure, as we are unable to maintain this state perpetually. The expectation of perpetual happiness creates internal conflict as we begin to disconnect from ourselves and our common humanity. As humans, we are born with a diverse range of emotions that includes happiness but also includes a great many other emotions. As an alternative, I suggest we all seek to be more “fully alive” and connected to the various messages our emotions can provide, guiding us towards a deeper understanding of self.
What is happiness and where does it come from anyway?
Sonja Lyubomirsky a researcher in the field of positive psychology and the author of The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness provides us with the The Life Satisfaction Pie, helping us understand where our happiness comes from. We receive 50% of our proclivity to happiness from our genetics, so are thus provided with a set point or set range where our ongoing experience of happiness usually resides. Many of us believe that our wealth, occupation, the quality of our relationships, and the place we live contribute significantly to our happiness, but the research shows these factors are really only worth about 10% of it. The good news is that the remaining 40% of our happiness is within our direct control - built on how we think, feel and behave.
Happiness appears to be more about how we relate to ourselves and our circumstances than it is about the things we often strive to own, accomplish or possess. So, rather than limit ourselves with an expectation to “just be happy”, let’s give ourselves permission to strive to be “fully alive”, instead.
If what you truly want is an increase in the happiness in your life, that is a goal worth pursuing and there is a lot of research out there to teach us how to do this. A few key elements include:
Optimism is the foundation of both happiness and resilience, many of us believe we are either optimistic or pessimistic but really these are patterns of thinking.
Gratitude: By shifting our awareness towards gratitude or what is good or great in this day, we can increase the neural pathways and behaviours that seek to notice the good.
Sharing our thanks with others can help us build community, bringing people closer to us and increasing happiness within us and around us.
Dr. Maria Sirois, encourages us when noticing a pessimistic thought to ask ourselves, “Is there any other story or belief that I might hold?”, opening ourselves up to the possibility of another perspective, a more positive or optimistic one. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar encourages us to build grounded optimism, this positivity does not negate or ignore reality but rather embraces it while also paying attention to whatever is in front of us to enjoy, savour and celebrate.
Dr. Maria Sirois author of, A Short Course In Happiness After Loss (And Other Dark, Difficult Times) shares the wisdom she has gained through the exploration of her losses, helping us see that happiness and pain can exist within ourselves at the same time. She encourages the reader to be open to all emotions and invites us all to allow ourselves to know what we truly feel and to increase our comfort there, becoming comfortable with the good and at ease with the difficult.
I have used Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar words ‘permission to be human’ many times in my own life and as you seek out more happiness in your life, remember those words and open yourself up to feel fully alive and not just happy.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier. McGraw Hill Education.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn't, what shouldn't make you happy, but does. Penguin.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.
Sirois, M. (2016). A short course in happiness after loss (and other dark, difficult times). Green Fire Press
Written by Amy Capern, PITC Student Therapist. Learn More about Amy.