How many times have you pursued something that was intended to bring you happiness? Was it a relationship? Was it a major life choice like where to live or a career path? How many times has that choice fallen flat? Probably more than a few. Perhaps that is because the hunt for happiness has us looking everywhere around us. We look to things, our environment, and other people to make us happy. We job hop, relationship hop, and house hunt. But happiness is nowhere out there. It isn’t out there because it is in here – in us.
Happiness is an Inside Job
Inside can be a scary place – especially if we have never gone there before. And quite frankly, everything about our culture tells us that we shouldn’t go there. We should measure up and achieve – show the world what we are made of. Only we don’t really know what we are made of. We strive for an ideal that has almost nothing to do with who we really are.
Today’s measures of happiness are money and achievement. Money and the collection of it has become our god – we will lay down our lives before jobs we hate and a lifestyle that forces our hand in religious fashion. But does that make us happy? We strive to constantly achieve, but for what sake? Do we achieve because that is what we are “supposed” to do or do we achieve for a higher purpose – something more like a calling than picking the highest payer at a job fair.
Finding True Happiness
If the measures by which we are supposed to be happy consistently fail us, how do we make a change?
There are innumerable ways to practice happiness, but consistent practice is key. A launching point for many is the physical body. This was absolutely true for both Jake and me. When we care for our body with good fuel and daily movement, we show kindness and respect for our own self. Physical wellness doesn’t wear a size or lift a certain weight, but it does aim to find that edge between effort and ease, comfort and discomfort. Our physical pursuits become a model for the rest our lives – finding the edge between risk and reward, knowing when to go for it and when to have patience. Physical practice begins to inform our whole life.
Breathing is an amazing tool in the hunt for happiness. Intentional breath is the one tool that connects our body to mind and spirit. Breath becomes a gateway to deeper self understanding and wisdom. The more we see into this deep part of ourselves, the more we can pursue meaningful work and big love connected to who we really are.
In addition, breath also has biological and physiological effects on our nervous system, allowing the system to calm and integrate. It is nearly impossible to feel happy when we are all revved up and frazzled, so breath becomes a tool to consistently bring ourselves back to center.
Practice also includes simple things like language. Think for a minute about the regular internal dialogue that runs through your mind day in and day out. Does it feel good? Does it sound like “poor me” or “thank God?” (Breath also helps recognize these patterns, by the way.) Practicing kind, positive, and affirming language can quickly change our interpretation of the life we lead.
The list goes on. We don’t have to do them all at once – huge change rarely sticks. But we can pick one thing to consistently practice and build from there. Habits that support well-being – from practicing gratitude to daily movement – inherently support the pursuit of happiness.
A major issue with the way our society values money is that a whole bunch of us are running around with our heads chopped off, crazy busy, doing things we don’t actually care about. How many of us are working jobs that make us miserable – daily – in the name of living a certain lifestyle? Boo. Yes, everyone needs to put food on the table but meeting needs and driving fancy cars are not the same. Doing work that is purposeful is very different. Even when the work is hard, it feels good to do it.
Purpose is purely individual and calls to our unique set of skills combined with interest. But it takes some examining. If we have only ever followed the path of “supposed to” it will take some serious reflection to even get a glimpse of what purpose we can serve in the world. And speaking of service – that is a big clue. If this life could be of service to one thing, what would it be? Whatever that answer might be, begin to see how that can be folded in because doing work that matters to the deepest part of who we are is the ultimate pursuit.
The biggest misconception about happiness it that it feels big and powerful and dramatic. Like maybe we should be belly laughing all day, every day. Sure, there will be moments of big joy in life. But happiness is so much more subtle than that. True happiness is much more stable.
There will be moments in life of despair and disappointment, but even in those moments we can feel content. Not that we won’t feel the emotion of a loss or being wronged, but simply understanding that it is still okay. We might enjoy bliss at the birth of a child or on a beach at sunset. But as we stabilize ourselves we recognize that these moments come and go. There is no need to grasp after them. When the moments come, we can see them for what they are and enjoy their presence but they don’t change us (or our emotional state) because we are already content.
If happiness is how we measure the quality of our life, it is high time to make a hard left away from the cultural focus on the things around us, outside of us. We know happiness doesn’t live out there – in the things, places, or people. So let’s get in here – doing the inside work that reveals the true happiness that lives inside.