25 Jun ENJOY the journey instead of focusing on the destination and happiness will be yours
Here’s an interesting happiness article, from the Sunday Telegraph, featuring yours truly!
It’s a modern refrain most of us know by heart: “I’ll be happy when I finish the house renovations, get a promotion, update my car, meet a loving partner, get through this busy time, have a deposit for a house, fit into my skinny jeans, retire, go on holiday, have more money, buy a plasma TV…”
Happiness becomes like your finest cutlery set: sitting lonely in the hallway cupboard, patiently waiting for that special occasion.
Clinical psychologist Susan Raine says we are taught that happiness is dependent on external triggers.
‘so we delay happiness until things are right in our lives,” she says. “But life is never just right. There will always be another something else, so happiness is just out of reach. Which means the cycle of desire and dissatisfaction continues.”
Consequently, happiness becomes like saving for a rainy day, but not enjoying the beaming sunshine when we’re in it.
“We become resigned to the status quo until happiness comes along – some time in the future,” Raine says. ‘so instead of enjoying the journey of life, we pin our hopes and dreams on the destination.”
But does the thing we think will make us happy ever live up to the dream?
Dr Timothy Sharp, psychologist and founder of Sydney-based The Happiness Institute, says: “When we achieve what we think will bring happiness rather than what makes us happy, it has limited benefits.
“It’s like buying a new car. For the first few weeks, it’s a brand new car. Then, within a matter of weeks or months, it’s just a car and we’re onto the next thing.”
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be striving for and achieving our personal best in life. “Goal setting is one of the keys to happiness,” Dr Sharp says. “The trick is not waiting until you achieve your goals to be happy. It’s being happy in the meantime.”
We are constantly sold the myth that rich people are happier and more content, while the rest of us mere mortals miserably struggle on trying to pay the mortgage.
A brief glance at gossip magazines reveals the farfromhappy lives of celebrities, but consumerist philosophy teaches that getting what you want makes you happy. Just look at those shiny happy people in ads flogging designer clothes, fancy cars or holidays.
Despite what marketers would have you believe, the reverse is true. Researchers at the University of Michigan for World Values Survey describe the desire for material goods as “a happiness suppressant”. They say happiness levels have remained virtually the same in industrialised countries since World War II, although incomes have risen considerably.
A study from Deakin University comparing the wellbeing of people in Australia’s 150 federal electorates found that the Queensland seat of Wide Bay, one of the nation’s poorest electorates, came out on top, while one of the richest, the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler, was at the bottom. So, while we think the Joneses in their fancy house with the Lexus out the front are happier than us, it isn’t necessarily true.
British philosopher Alain de Botton, author of Status Anxiety (Pantheon), believes that comparing yourself to others is a fast track to discontent. “For this reason, we worry whenever we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society,” he says.
“We worry that we may be stripped of d lives and others who we perceive to have more than us, we’ll always fall short.
“Essentially, we know it’s ridiculous, but it is ingrained. However, research shows that happy people tend to compare themselves with people on the same or lower levels. They have the ability of appreciating what they have now, rather than focusing on what they don’t have.”
Own your happiness
When happiness becomes a distant future event, it’s easy to blame everything around you when you feel discontent. “But it’s about taking responsibility for how you want to live your life,” Raine says. “For people who feed negativity and don’t seek to go beyond these feelings, psychologically, dysfunction sets in. If you’re defeated, or don’t believe you have the right to be happy, then that reinforces a negative belief over and over.”
Raine says happiness is a choice, and that if something isn’t working for you, you have the power to change it. “Ask yourself, ‘If I did one thing different today to make myself happier, what would it be?’ “Try to take joy from the simple pleasures in life, like playing with your kids, watching a sunset, having a glass of wine or taking a bath. That way, you’re experiencing the moment with a sense of gratitude. By coming from a perspective of thanks, your thought process becomes positive and creative, and you can manifest those feelings.”
To achieve lasting happiness, Dr Sharp says we need to manage how we look at the world. “Challenge your automatic thinking about your own happiness,” he says. “Analyse your thoughts and whether they are helpful, positive or negative. If they’re negative, ask yourself what evidence you have for your mood.
Remember, your thoughts aren’t necessarily facts.
“Instead of focusing on the trivial hassles of life, learn to focus on working towards something, and making a habit of noticing the good things in your life,” says Dr Sharp. “We take for granted what other people on the planet think is absolute luxury – like being able to turn on a tap and have fresh water; the choice of fresh, healthy produce; good health care and education; and freedom of speech. Just giving thanks daily reinforces the fact that you have things to be grateful for which, in turn, makes you happier.”
So, don’t put off happiness and make it dependent on something, someone or some other time. Look around and appreciate what you’ve got – and make today the happiest day for the rest of your life.