On Part 1 of this series, I have explored the need to be present in order to feel happy. But, as with everything in life, there is more to it. The below is not an exhaustive list of boxes to tick and bam! you are happy! No, these are simply directions, roads you can travel to help you reach your destination.
So, other than living in the present, how can we be happier?
Some say money can’t buy you happiness. Well, it can. In the right doses. Money is essential to cover your basic needs (shelter, food, water and clothing). Having more money however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be happier – just ask a billionaire if he is twice as happy now that he has 1 billion than he was when he just had 1 million. On the other hand, if you give enough money to a deprived person to cover his basic needs, he most likely will be happier. In the Western world money is overrated and living in a society pressurised to achieve financial success and consume, it is easy to fall for the money=happiness trap.
We need to connect, we need to belong, we need to feel that we share Life with other humans. There are different levels of relationships and how these contribute to our happiness. Family, friends, neighbours, a club, a sports team, a whole community, can make one feel connected. This is essential.
Something for others
Together with the connectedness mentioned above, we take great fulfilment from being part of something bigger than ourselves. Helping other people, working towards a common goal, somehow contributing to a greater mission can help us feel happier.
As humans, life ‘makes sense’ through experiences – good and bad. The more, the better. Variety in experiences makes us feel alive, and therefore, happy. Why? because when we are experiencing something, even a bad thing, we are living. We are being human to the core with all that it entails. This is where personal development, travelling, reading, listening to new music, experiencing art, nature, food, meeting new people, etc., comes in.
Let it be
It’s raining, you are stuck in a traffic jam, your girlfriend cheated on you, you lost your job, life sucks. You can and should take action, but it is your reactive response that will perceive the event as ‘bad’ and therefore make you feel unhappy. It’s not that you should not feel bad, or sad. Just acknowledge the feeling – the event is not good or bad, it just is. Action should not be influenced by emotions – just take a good look around and see what emotional reactions lead this world into.
But my dog just died, Am I not supposed to feel bad about it? how does that contribute to my happiness? In short, it doesn’t. And it is absolutely fine that you feel devastated by your dog’s death, just feel it, be at peace with being devastated, don’t go get another dog the next day and blaming the vet for not doing this or that. Remember, no emotional reactions. You just have to let things be for now, only this way you can experience freedom and ultimately, happiness.
This is a tough one to swallow but the truth is, unhappiness is also genetic. So, yes, part of it is in our genes. It’s all about the good ol’ 5-HTT gene, which is involved in the process of transporting Serotonin to the brain. But note that, this only affects your happiness levels partially, so all the points covered in this series can help you increase what you can, in fact, control.
In conclusion, the ‘search for happiness’ is doomed to fail. You cannot try to be happy, you have to be happy. But hey, there are signposts for a happier life so go ahead and follow them.
Live happiness, don’t chase it.