Some weeks ago, I started publishing this guide to happiness, but had to stop writing before finishing for personal reasons. In this post, we will continue creating a guide to happiness, taking up where we left off.
In the previous post I argued that happiness and fulfilment are two separate yet interwoven concepts. You can be happy while unfulfilled, and you can feel sad despite having everything you could possibly need. This is because even though happiness is somewhat influenced by outside circumstances, it is a creation of the mind and therefore only truly dependant on your own thoughts and attitudes. The power of your surroundings or circumstances is that they can make it easier or harder for you to create the feeling of happiness.
When you have just woken up from a good night’s sleep, the sun is shining, and you are about to do what you love most, surrounded by those whom you love most, feeling happy is easy. When you’re stuck in traffic, late for a meeting in a stressful job you hate… not so much. So most people simply assume that, in order to be happy, they have to change their lives. If only they lived somewhere else, got the promotion, or had time to read a book, they would be happy. Except that as we have seen over and over, happiness doesn’t work that way.
All it takes to be happy is being happy.
Read that carefully: all it takes to be happy is being happy.
But happiness is an emotion, you say, and emotions are short-lived! Even the happiest person on earth will feel sad sometimes, right? Right. But that person can still be happy. Because happiness is a feeling (emotion) as well as a way of life. It is this distinction most people fail to see: the difference between feeling something and being it. This is how @manimal, a member of the High Existence forums, puts it:
Being happy and feeling happy are different things, you know. You can be happy but feel sad or angry or cold or whatever, people let their pseudo-emotions dictate how they ARE, not just how they FEEL. That’s where the confusion comes from.
Instead of saying “I feel angry” people say “I am angry” and that’s what turns them into angry people. They make a personality out of their bullshit emotions, disregarding the real emotions of the true self. I am always happy but sometimes I FEEL mad, it’s like a lake where even though the surface might be chaotic, deep down it’s always calm.
Being constantly happy is not hard or special or new. People have been trying to teach this to other people for thousands and thousands of years. People are just too self-righteous and unteachable to accept it as reality. They’d rather believe in a tragic world and be tragic. Don’t be like that.
The world is your playground filled with all your favourite toys. It’s for you, ENJOY IT (source)
With this paradigm in mind, it is easy to understand why most people aren’t happy: they believe that in order to feel happy (which they think equals being happy) their outside circumstances have to meet certain criteria. Their first mistake is not noticing the difference between the state of mind of deep joy (or being happy) and the emotion we call “happiness”; the second mistake is believing either is dependent on anything but themselves.
Don’t get me wrong – changing your external reality can be beneficial to your long-term happiness, and we will cover that in the next post – but in order to create any meaningful change, we have to tackle the root of the problem. Be happy first, then create the circumstances that will help you stay happy.
Happiness First – But How?
In the last post we went through a sort of “happiness-exercise”. That exercise – based on gratitude – was supposed to teach you how easy it can be to invoke the feeling of happiness. If you didn’t read that post or didn’t actually do the exercise, I encourage you to (re)read the exercise and go through the described steps. It will take you less that 3 minutes.
Now we will go through the much longer-term steps of changing your mindset to one of happiness. Going through the steps might take you a long time or it might take you only a couple of minutes, but it will definitely be worth your investment.
1. Know that feeling happy most of the time is under your control
By now you should know that, at least in theory, you are responsible for your own happiness. If that is not clear yet, please reread this series from the beginning and check out my post on responsibility.
Knowing something in theory, though, is not nearly as powerful as when you have acquired your knowledge through personal experience. One way to do this regarding is playing with your emotions. Make yourself feel happy, sad, angry, afraid, etc. Exert as much control over your emotions for short periods of time as possible. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take acting classes, especially if they use Stanislavski’s ideas – they are a great way to experience how much control you actually have over your emotions.
Once you have played with emotions, play with your mood. Can you induce a sad/happy/irritable/… mood in yourself? Can you get out of the mood you’re in and into another one? Can you identify circumstances that would usually put you in a certain mood and consciously change your response? For example, if you are usually in a sad mood during overcast weather, can you decide that the clouds will make you happy? Can you be grateful for the rain?
This sort of “exercises” will not only help you understand that you can consciously influence you emotions, they will also provide you with a tool to better cope with any emotional slumps you might experience. Practice them for a while until you feel comfortable moving on to the next step.
2. Decide to BE happy (and take appropriate action)
Now that you know yourself to be capable of choosing how you feel – at least some of the time -, make a commitment to being happy. This is not the same as trying to feel happy all of the time. It implies a different level of understanding, namely that there is a difference between what some call deep joy and the (fleeting) emotion of happiness. This step is not about unlocking your deep joy just yet, but it is very good preparation.
An integral part of personal development is making conscious decisions and implementing them. This step is all about that: at one – but most probably on more than one – point in time you will have to consciously decide to be happy. Not wish, decide. Acknowledge your wish to be happy, and turn it into a must. This is not about trying to be happy; that doesn’t work, especially not with this kind of goal. This is about deciding that you will be happy, with full knowledge that you will have to change something about the way you think, talk and act in order to achieve it.
But a decision alone won’t cut it unless you already know how to unlock your deep joy and can do it instantly. For beginners like you and me, it requires preparatory action and change. It requires applying all that you have learned so far in your everyday life to change the way you perceive reality. First, start by training yourself to think positive thoughts:
- Have a gratitude journal. With only five minutes a day, you can program your brain to look at the bright side of life. Just get a notebook (or a sheet of paper, or anything you can write on) and, every night, livst five things you feel grateful for; it’s that easy.
- Have a gratitude mindset. Eventually, and if you consistenly write in your gratitude journal, you should naturlly begin to spot things you’re grateful for throughout your day without having to look. Well, guess what, you’ll spot even more of those things if you remember to look for them. So, instead of only thinking about your day to find things you’re grateful for at night, start actively looking for them during the day. It’s a virtuous cycle: the more you look, the more you’ll find, the better you’ll get at looking, and the more you will keep finding.
When thinking positive is easy for you, progress onto the next stage and say positive words:
- Pay attention to what you say and change it. Remove expressions such as “this sucks” and “I hate my life” and say “life is beautiful” and “I love my life” instead. Complain less, thank more. Judge less, compliment more. You get it, right?
These changes will already give you a substantial boost in happiness. You will be in a happy mood more often, which is also conducive to more happy feelings. In fact, you might experience “explosions of happiness” from time to time – moments when, out of the blue, you feel so happy that you cannot stop yourself from smiling. Usually you will also experience a very positive mood for hours after such an “event”. This is an indicator that you are getting more and more connected to your inner deep joy, a very good sign.
However, to truly unlock your deep joy, an unshakable, unreasonable joy that will accompany you no matter what emotion you are feeling, you have to go deeper. You will have to integrate all that we have discussed into the fundamental way you approach life. It is simple, but not easy.
3. Resist nothing.
Personally, I feel that I have not fully reached this third part of the process in my life yet. If I had to describe the stage I’m in, I would say that I am currently progressing from step 2 to step 3. For that reason, I can’t fully explain all that his step is about from personal experience just yet. However, a lot of reading and introspection has led me to believe that the final step is indeed to “resist nothing.” The following are three examples of what led me to this conclusion:
As I walked down Shattuck a couple of fire engines wailed by me. I didn’t think anything about it until I neared the cafe and saw the orange sky. I began to run. The crowd was already dispersing when I arrived. Joseph had just arrived himself and was standing in front of his charred and gutted cafe. I was still twenty yards away from Joseph when I heard his cry of anguish and saw him drop slowly to his knees and cry. He leaped up with a scream of fury; then he relaxed. He saw me. “Dan! It’s good to see you again.” His face was serene. The fire chief came over to him, and told him that the fire had probably started at the dry cleaners next door. “Thank you,” Joseph said.
“Oh, Joseph, I’m so sorry,” then my curiosity surfaced. “Joseph, I saw you a minute ago you were very upset.”
He smiled “Yes I felt very upset, so I really I let it out”
I remembered Soc’s words “let it flow and let it go.” (Way of The Peaceful Warrior)
This excerpt from Way of The Peaceful Warrior is the moment when Dan (the main character) realises the truth of Soc’s (his mentor) advice to “let it flow and let it go.” When Joseph (a mutual friend) sees his most beloved possession, the place where he can best express his passion for cooking and healthy food, burning down, he accepts his emotions, expresses them, and lets them go. He feels sad and angry, but doesn’t become sad or angry – he is still as joyous as he had been before.
Another post by @manimal, a member of the High Existence forum, expresses a seemingly paradoxical view:
How to be happy in every situation: Stay aware of your emotions as frequently as you can and know that when you feel a negative emotion you’re doing something wrong, resisting something. Follow this simple step and you will both become happier and unblock your deep joy.
This is what it truly means to be high on life. It’s the higher existence (Source)
However contradictory they seem on the surface-level, theses views go together and complement each other.
When you experience a negative emotion, you are resisting something in your reality. However, it is counter-productive to resist the emotion itself, since emotions occur naturally. Thus, it is not the experience of a negative emotion that is “wrong.” Instead, and I believe this is what @manimal meant, emotions are indicators of how you are responding internally to your outer reality.
On a similar note, Soc’s advice is to notice whatever emotion you are experiencing, realise that you are resisting something in your reality and accepting both what you were resisting and the emotion itself, thereby “letting it go”.
My third inspiration for choosing “resist nothing” as the ultimate step on your path to happiness was a post called “Secret to Life in 2 Words“. It is an infographic illustrating the arguments we just went over earlier in this section and sums everything up pretty well.
In the next post in the series – which might only come a week from now; too much work at the moment – we are going to go over how to change your outer reality to support long-term happiness. Until then, you have work to do: knowledge to integrate, attitudes and behaviour to change, and happiness to feel