Happiness is a huge thing.
Thousands of books tell us how to boost happiness. Hundreds of articles are written on happiness. Global campaigns promoting happiness garner thousands of followers worldwide (100 Happy Days, Action for Happiness etc.).
All this for the pursuit of happiness. We can set goals for ourselves and eliminate our fears. But no, scholars now argue that happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey! Author Chris Guillebeau even wrote a book that reverses this idea to “The Happiness of Pursuit: Find the Quest that will Bring Purpose to Your Life“.
What most of us do
Certainly, there are many things you can do to be happy: Travel. Shop. Dance. Have parties. Go out with friends. Eat your favourite food. Spend time in nature. Find a hobby. Talk to your closest family.
These work in making you happy. But they are merely events. Events are short-term. What happens when they end?
When the vacation ends, you start looking for the next holiday to escape from work. When shopping ends, you end up with a bunch of awesome new things, but an emptier wallet and maybe some guilt. Indeed, research shows that the gratification you get from possessions does not enhance well-being in the long term.
The danger of basing your happiness on events is that your happiness becomes dependent on what happens to you, on external factors you cannot control. Events become categorized into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Good events make you happy. Bad events make you unhappy.
What an unstable foundation upon which to build our well-being. No wonder people’s moods fluctuate so much.
So what’s the REAL secret to true happiness?
You have it in you. It is entirely within your control. Happiness is easily within your reach if you take special care in:
Your response to events.
No matter the stresses you face, no matter the events in your life. Your response is the constant you have full control over in determining your happiness.
Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, was made prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camps at the age of 39. His entire family – his parents, brother, and wife – perished in the camps, except for his sister. He never knew at any moment if he would be sent to the gas ovens.
One day, he realised he still possessed the freedom in his mind to decide how the situation could affect him. His captors had the freedom to decide his environment, but he retained the freedom to perceive.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space in which we have a freedom to choose.
– Victor Frankl
You have the ability to create in your mind a reality that extends beyond what is presented to you in your environment. Think about people who’ve been through the worst in their lives. Think about people you know who’ve had a hard life, and those who haven’t. How do they react differently in times of trouble?
Cayden Chang, a businessman and cancer survivor, suggests in the book Master the Art of Your Life to keep this formula in mind:
Event + Response = Outcome
Many events happen to you everyday. Maybe your mum made your favourite breakfast. Your favourite songs are playing on the radio. Your friend surprises you with a small act of kindness. Your colleague offers to offset your workload. You close a major deal with a client.
Maybe it rains the whole day. Your colleague snaps at you. Your boss dumps a lot of work on you with tight deadlines. Your car tyres got punctured. No one is replying your messages. The train got delayed and comes late. The crowd at the cafeteria is huge and you can’t find a seat.
What happens to your state of mind in these events?
YOU have the power to decide
Are you going to let these events control your emotions? Take control of YOUR reality. YOUR happiness lies in YOUR decisions in responding to events.
The way you interpret a situation makes it your reality.
Victor’s reality was that he was separated from his wife. He was physically tortured. His parents, brother, and most of his immediate relatives were victims of the gas chambers or physical torture. He was alive with no way of knowing if he will survive the ordeal. If he had allowed his situation to determine his state of mind, he would have slipped into despair or even depression while imprisoned.
But he chose to see the light in the darkness, and found peace within amidst external chaos.
The fact is, stress passes through the 2-pound tissue in your head, also known as your brain. You cannot control what happens to you. You can only control how you respond to situations.
Stress is not what happens to us. It is our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.
– Maureen Killoran
Happiness is holistic
This does not mean to say your life will be free from stress from this moment forth. Happiness is not just about pleasure and the lack of negativity. That’s hedonism. True happiness is eudaimonic: the holistic, intrinsic, contentment with life, no matter the events in life.
Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility.
– Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for affecting your happiness. Your happiness is a matter of choice and a state of mind, not a result of external factors or your emotions.
You have the power to choose how you perceive what happens to you. Do it and you’ll find that happiness is easily within reach, when you want it.
Change your thoughts and you change your world.
– Norman Vincent Peale