Tag Archives: gratitude

What is happiness?

Standard

jumpforjoyI’ve  been pondering this question a lot over the past few weeks.  We all wish each other a happy new year, we all wish happiness for our friends, our family and ourselves. So, what do we mean by that?

Do we want ourselves, and others, to be jumping for joy?  Is that really what we want, all the time?  Is joy a sustainable emotion? Or is it followed soon enough, for most of us, by the inevitable not-so-wonderful experiences of our lives?  If moments of pure joy are really to be fully appreciated, they need to be just that – moments.  High points of happiness, in which we are bubbling over with pleasure, excitement, exuberance.  Which are all the better for the humdrum nature of much of our lives. And which are unsustainable in the long-term.

So, what is happiness?  Is it merely the absence of sadness? Can we define it only by what is missing?

For me, happiness is a calmer emotion than joy.  There’s a bit less excitement, a bit less disruption to my equilibrium!  It can be quiet and still, calm and peaceful, brought on by the simplest things – spending time with loved ones, cooking, reading, walking by the sea or in the countryside. By laughter. By yoga and meditation.  By being alone, and by being with others. It’s less fleeting than pleasure, which is ‘only the shadow of happiness’, according to a Hindu proverb.

Happiness, it is true, can be lost.  But happiness can also be found. It can be cultivated quite deliberately. Happiness takes practice, but can become a habit. It’s a skill that can be learnt, and relearnt. Even when you think it’s gone forever, it can creep up on you and surprise you.

As Matthieu Ricard says in his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:

‘..achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill.  It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love’

So whilst some of us have a more naturally sunny disposition than others, happiness can be created, fostered, tended to. It can grow. In his book, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, Rick  Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’, really noticing and savouring the good times we experience.  If things aren’t great right now, we can recall a time we felt truly happy and bask in the memory. And don’t let the good moments pass by without noticing. Notice what being happy feels like, right in the moment. Pause for a moment, and truly experience the sensations of happiness. Truly, madly, deeply feel that moment. And at the end of the day, recall those sensations, those feelings of wellbeing before going to sleep. Write about them if you keep a journal, express gratitude for all the good in your life. Deliberately, patiently and tenderly foster good feelings.  So that when things aren’t so great, your basic sense of wellbeing, your basic ground of happiness, isn’t rocked so violently as it might otherwise have been. So that you have resilience when things – inevitably – don’t go all your own way.

There will be days when nothing goes right.  There may be weeks, months or even years that are more difficult than others.  That’s life.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, life is the:

‘…full catastrophe….the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but is also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up….life is always in flux’.

And we won’t always feel happy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. Unless we have reached enlightenment! But with mental health such a huge concern, we can work to improve our underlying happiness.  We can build our happiness muscle as if we’re working out at the gym, being grateful for all the good in our lives. We can make time for things we enjoy, we can look after ourselves emotionally as well as physically. We can make sure we get enough rest, sufficient exercise and good nutrition. We can practise being happy.

Celebrations

Standard

We are just coming up to a 4-day weekend for the Diamond Jubilee, and the flags and bunting are going up everywhere.  It’s a big event, once-in-a-lifetime (I was quite young for the Silver Jubilee back in the 70s, and don’t remember a lot about it!).  On top of this, we will be hosting the Olympics this summer, and most of us are feeling at our most patriotic.  We are fostering our sense of belonging and security at our base chakra, at a national level.

It is so important to have something to celebrate in our lives.  Not necessarily, and certainly not only the big things, but all the little things as well.  Our own birthdays, those of our families and friends, Christmas, Easter, whatever festivals  are in your own tradition.  It can be all too easy to get bogged down in the more humdrum aspects of our daily lives, and to forget the wonder that such events can bring.  As adults, we may say we don’t care about our birthday, it’s  ‘just another year older’ – but this sort of thinking can certainly make us feel older.  Children would never say such a thing – and nobody would get the chance to forget their day!  Now, I’m not suggesting that we should go and tell the whole world when our birthday is coming up, but rather that we take the time to think what we would like to do on our birthday.  Even if we have to go to work, to think of some small – or enormous! – way to mark the day.  To see or talk to our closest family and friends, to visit a place we love or would like to see for the first time.  If we most love to cook and share good food,  to do just that.  To have some quiet time if that is what we would truly value.

And, even on our ‘ordinary days’, to reflect upon the things that have made them special, whatever that may be.  It could be some goal that we have achieved, a book we have read, some music we listened to, a yoga sequence we have practised, a meal that we ate, a walk by the sea, the people we have spent time with.  Let us not assume our happiness comes only from the ‘high days and holidays’, but that it comes from within us.  And the more we notice and pay attention to the ways in which we can foster those good feelings, the more we celebrate that which is good about our daily lives, the better we will feel.

One of my yoga teachers once remarked that she has a little holiday every day.  By which she meant that, whenever she really needed it, she practised some yoga or meditation during each day.  What a wonderful idea!  Not feeling a sense of duty about our practice, but using  it to lift our energy and our spirits.  Sometimes it can take only a few conscious breaths to alter our mood and our perception of our situation.  At other times, it may take some movement, whether flowing or energetic.  We may need some quiet time in meditation.  We may need to listen to some uplifting or calming music, or to get outside in the fresh air. It doesn’t necessarily need to take very long.  With Jin Shin Jyutsu, we may use the finger holds (mudras), to subtly identify and change our dominant emotions.  It doesn’t matter what works for you, it only matters that you do something to make every day that little bit special, to give you something to celebrate and be thankful for at the end of the day.

What do you do that makes your day flow more easily?