Thursday, 28 August 2014

What it Takes to Be Happy

Success. Wealth. A perfect body. A perfect love life. A dream house. A dream job. The perfect life. I see and hear these linked to happiness every day. Somehow, happiness has been confused with perfection and a life where nothing is wrong or lacking. People spend a lot of time and effort pursuing this elusive fantasy, thinking once they achieve it, it will make them happy. Yet from time to time, we encounter people who have achieved this state of perfection and still are not happy. Because happiness doesn't come from the outside, it comes from within you. It's not a trophy you get once you achieve perfection in every aspect of your life - it's a skill, a state of mind, an attitude you need to learn and consciously practice and cultivate. External things can make it easier or harder to be happy, but ultimately, happiness comes from within. The only one that can make you happy is you.

I have been unemployed for a few years now. The state of my bank account is such that any small disaster - an accident leading to medical bills or property damage, an expensive household appliance breaking - would land me in financial trouble. I have no financial security whatsoever. The relationship I'm in is not the kind I dream of. I don't have enough money to decorate my home the way I'd like to, buy the kinds of clothes I'd like to wear or eat the kinds of foods and snacks I'd like to eat. My body is pretty far from perfect, and thanks to years and years of total neglect, I'm overweight and nowhere near the shape I'd like to be in. There's no way I could possibly be happy, right? I used to think so, too. I, too, used to think that happiness was perfection and that the closer I got to perfection, the closer I'd get to happiness. Turns out I was wrong.

One day, I thought "Wouldn't it be nicer to focus on the positive instead of the negative?" and that's where it began. I started to notice things - just little, everyday things - that were beautiful and enjoyable to me. The smells of baking and cooking, of opening the door to the cupboard where I keep my selection of flavoured teas, of scented candles and aromatic oils. The taste of my favourite foods, of chocolate (especially when enjoyed with one of my favourite flavoured teas), of the fruity bread I bake myself, of hot chocolate enjoyed on a chilly evening. The wonderful peace and quiet enjoyment cross stitching gives me. The comfort of my sofa, perfect for napping or enjoying a movie on. The exhilaration of zumba and the healing power of yoga, the joy of movement. Music. Books. Movies. The peace and calm of my home. My ability to go on all kinds of mental journeys with my inner self - into memories, dreams, hopes, fears, inspirations, meditations and analyses just to name a few. I could go on, but I think you get the point already. There is so much good here, in this imperfect life I have, and being conscious of it, appreciating and enjoying it, I am happy. How could I not be?

Success, wealth, the perfect guy and the perfect relationship, the dream job and all that other stuff would be nice to have, of course, but I don't need them in order to be happy. I just need to be mindful of all the good things in my life, right here and right now. That's all it takes. Seriously. It may not be an easy skill to learn and external circumstances can sometimes make it quite hard to practice, but if I could do it, you can too. Whatever your situation, right here, right now, being happy is an option - it is up to you to choose it.

By this, I do not mean to say that if something is really wrong in your life you should just accept it and settle for what you have. No. Being happy in a less-than-perfect life does not mean abandoning your dreams and aspirations or letting other people walk all over you without doing anything to defend yourself and fix the situation. Notice the negative, and if you can, do something to make things better, but generally, focus on the positive and notice the good things as well, no matter how small they are, and appreciate and enjoy them. You can still go for your dreams, but this way, you'll be able to enjoy the journey. Plan and dream for the future, but, at the same time, be present in the present and mindful of the good things you have right here and now. Because that's what sustainable everyday happiness is all about.