The other day I cried tears of joy…no sobbing, just a few tears that is all. There was no great event, no birth, no proposal nor completion of a long-awaited project. I cried because I was happy, and in realizing my happiness I felt grateful for all the people in my world, and all the factors that had allowed this Moment of Bliss to occur. If you are wondering, I was walking in the forest, in South Tahoe near Emerald Bay. I was walking alone, taking my time to note the smells and sounds of nature and felt completely happy to be there, and also glad of my awareness of that moment.
I have spent the last several years carefully studying the concept of happiness both in my life, and in working with others to define it in theirs. I have looked at happiness in terms of the special moments that create great opportunity for joy, and the smaller occurrences that contribute to overall satisfaction. My own quest for happiness began after the responsibilities of motherhood, small business ownership, and day-to-day life left me too often complaining about being tired and lacking the time or the opportunity to do the things I believes I wanted to do. To me that was the first sign that something was amiss. The second was that I actually felt tired and disgruntled much of the time. That is not the way I want to live my life, and so I made a conscious effort to create change. But in order to effect the right kind of change I first needed to identify what was missing.
I asked myself what makes me happy. There is a whole industry centered around convincing people that acquiring new things will create happiness. The success of that message is reinforced by the natural endorphin and dopamine boosts we get when we think about and then first acquire new items. Unfortunately, consumerism is not in fact a road to true happiness for most, and it leaves many feeling empty and lost; so buying new toys, clothes or accessorizing my home was not the answer. Most people when thinking about happiness focus on big, special events – a vacation, a party, a special dinner. Although those can produce momentary joy and gratification, it seems to me that biding our everyday-time to wait for something great is a waste of time and opportunity. So looking into what drives happiness, required a bit of soul-searching. Here are five steps I took:
- I thought of things that had made me happy in the past, but as I change so did my interests and therefore the list was insufficient.
- I asked myself what things I believe matter to me. The reason I use the word believe, is because we sometimes think something matters, but upon inspection might realize that it doesn’t really.
- I ran through an exercise I give many of my patients and clients, which involves imagining oneself as a wrinkled, old and very content person. In that state of mind you think of all the things that you would look back upon in you long life that you believe would allow you to categorically state that all in all you lived well.
- Once a list is created using these elements, next step involves trying, practicing and attempting new things in a hit or miss/exploratory manner.
- Finally, I put in place systems and reminders to reinforce self-awareness so that I can continue to practice self-care and build satisfaction (after all, I have to live up to the ideals of that 80-year-old me who looks back upon her life with satisfaction and contentment)
I recommend this exercise to everyone. I especially recommend it for anyone who finds that they are complaining daily or weekly about not having enough time, or feeling dissatisfied or feeling overwhelmed. It is not an easy exercise, it takes time, and there is a real chance that many of your questions will remain unanswered. There are follow-up steps once you do finally identify some key players. Sometimes the first step is creating an operational definition of your goal. For example, I can say that being in nature makes me happy. If I can’t clearly define what that means and what it will look like, my chances of incorporating it in my life is pretty low. Other challenges, once the goals are defined, include planning out how you will incorporate them, learning how to prioritize tasks and responsibilities, and developing a continuing practice of self-awareness and change.