Focusing on Happiness
There’s an assumption that we go through life wanting to be happy. We're assumed to be looking for happiness or trying to create a happy life. Much of practical self-help and classical philosophy is based on this. The US Declaration of Independence enshrines this in the sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We do tend to focus on “having fun” or trying to find things to enjoy all the time, especially if we have been struggling to find any consistent sort of positive feelings in our day to day existence. We can be generally unhappy with all kinds of things at the same time, but we often focus on work, money and our relationships.
Does your focus on fun, keep you from seeing or noticing how you keep on creating your unhappiness through the everyday habits you largely ignore or remain oblivious to? Is looking for fun another way you stay stuck?
We each also keep coming back to a few habitual feelings. Yours might be anger, blame, anxiety, worry, sadness, grief or loss. As you develop your personal awareness, you need to pay attention for them rather than stay stuck in them or to continue to cycle through them. Your feelings are better used as a wakeup call to change things.
We all need to regularly be aware of what we’re thinking and feeling instead of just being our thoughts and feelings. You need to stop being fused to them or identified with them. You need to know that they are simply stuff that goes on in your head. You really do have a choice to keep on cultivating them or to start letting them go.
When you see what’s going on inside yourself, you can choose to enjoy what's worthwhile and do something to change what isn't. You can choose to not keep suffering. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you might create ongoing unhappiness.
Ways You Might Create Ongoing Unhappiness
In no particular order:
- You’re always waiting for the future. You need something to happen or need to have something more to be happy.
- You’re living in the past. You won’t or don’t let things go. You have trouble forgiving.
- You’re isolating yourself. You stay at home too much. You’re lonely and yet you avoid others.
- You keep seeing yourself as a victim. Others or life is “unfair” all the time.
- You’re chronically pessimistic and rarely have anything good to say.
- You’re a perfectionist. Nothing and no one are good enough for you. You constantly focus on what’s missing, wrong or flawed. You’re a glass half-empty kind of person.
- You constantly complain, blame, whine and find fault whenever you can.
- You have a tendency to ruminate and overanalyze.
- You frequently blow things out of proportion.
- You keep ignoring problems. You won’t or don’t talk about or deal with things.
- You’re not changing, growing or developing. You’re ignoring yourself and your weaknesses, limitations and faults.
- You stay focused on what you don’t have but really need for some reason. You’re determined to keep up with the Joneses or to have all the latest (and most expensive) toys and goodies.
- You’re not taking care of yourself by not sleeping enough, eating decently or exercising and being active.
- You’re wasting too much time by watching TV all evening or getting involved in too much social media, gaming and other time wasting entertainment.
- You tend to hoard stuff and you home environment is cluttered, messy and chronically dirty or disorganized.
- You procrastinate whatever you can.
- You manage your money poorly. You have significant debt issues.
- You have out of control, unhealthy habits. You drink too much alcohol. You use drugs, shopping, eating, sex or porn to cope with the stuff that isn’t working in your life.
- You feel stuck or overwhelmed. You’re avoiding and not dealing with stuff.
- You ignore or aggravate relationship problems.
- You compare yourself to others, especially on social media.
- You’re worrying about the future all the time.
- You “catastrophize.” You see things in the darkest ways possible. You’re jumping to conclusions a lot.
- You keep assuming others have bad intent or you’re expecting the worst from them.
- You keep doing stuff you don’t like. You’re “stuck” in a job or relationship.
- You hang around negative people including complainers, users, cynics, the sarcastic, the unhappy or depressed and the mean or angry.
- You stay focused on changing others.
- You’re focused on pleasing others or making others happy. You can’t say “no.”
- You care too much about what others might think.
- You’re trying to control everything, especially others. You’re thinking everyone should play by your rules or do things your way. You’re trying to micromanage life.
- You’re holding grudges, staying bitter and resentful or being judgmental.
- You don’t have a purpose. You don’t know your values. You’re not developing meaning. You don’t know yourself.
- You react to or wait for others. You’re not initiating, self-starting or going first.
- You’re afraid to fail or make any mistakes. You aren’t taking good chances. You don’t or won’t challenge yourself.
- You’re insecure. You lack self-confidence and self-respect. You’re hung up on what you think you lack rather than recognizing who you are. You focus on your perceived flaws rather than your strengths. You keep looking for others to validate you.
- You stay bored, complacent or apathetic.
- You’re way too busy.
- You’re impatient or impulsive.
- You don’t spend enough time with yourself by yourself.
- You have no goals. You aren’t actively working toward something.
- You stay dependent on others.
- You don’t think you deserve to be happy.
- You ignore, downplay or otherwise fail to take advantage of opportunities (or you stay so distracted you never see any).
- You keep chasing the wrong or unimportant things.
- You have no spiritual life.
- You have no worthwhile or real friends.
- You’re afraid of yourself.
- You don’t learn from your mistakes.
- You’re so focused on or worried about some future destination that you can’t enjoy the ride.
- You focus way too much on yourself or what’s in it for you. You don’t like to help others with your time, talents or resources. You often see others as not deserving stuff, or you see yourself as too busy or too poor to give meaningfully.
- You settle and don’t pursue what you really want.
- You feel entitled or special, and others aren’t really worthy. They constantly interfere with or bug you.
- You set few or poor boundaries.
- Your never say you’re sorry.
Your happiness is waiting.
Quotes Worth Remembering
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“We create our own unhappiness. The purpose of suffering is to help us understand we are the ones who cause it.”
– Willie Nelson
“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Questions to Journal
- How have one or two of the bulleted ways of creating unhappiness that really resonate with you been part of your life? How will you start to change that this week?
- What are one or two other things that sap your happiness?
- What do you wish you had more time and energy for? How would it increase your happiness if you took the time to consistently do it?
- How much do you enjoy your current relationships (significant other, kids, family, friends, coworkers, etc.)? What do you know you do that limits those relationships by your creating or maintaining unhappiness?
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006)
Richard Carlson, PhD, You Can Be Happy No Matter What (2006)