at those who have had really rough and challenging lives, again, some are happy, others are not.
All this seems to suggest the relevance of an age-old truth: happiness has less to do with circumstances than with our attitude and approach to life.
Happiness does not happen to us, it happens by us. Know that each of us is the creator of our own thoughts and state of mind. This does not mean ignoring the often, painful reality of what happens, but understanding that you can choose your response to something at any given moment.
For example, you can choose to be frazzled and furious with the demands and pressures of a hectic day, feeling miserable about bad luck, colleagues, weather or bad whatever. Or you can call upon the grace of the moment – reminding yourself to stop and breathe calmly for just a few moments, finding some beauty to focus on, something to be grateful for in all this. You can choose between forever brooding on an unhappy childhood, or focusing on healing and moving on.
Happiness is called upon and cultivated, involving unlearning as much as learning. Consider that for a lot of people, unhappiness can be a ‘patterned response’; where we choose a familiar emotional place even if it mostly hurts and brings sorrow. It’s a bit like Shadow, my friend’s rescued puppy; a bruised, starving, sick little creature, he was given a loving caring home and owners. But after all this time, he still twitches, jumps, and scuttles away at the slightest sound or sudden movement. Shadow doesn’t run and hide so much because he has something to be terrified of today but simply because that’s what he has always done.
Experiences from early life can create habits and patterns that become deeply ingrained, influencing our moods and choices. But, unlike that miserable little dog, we do have the capacity to replace acquired fear or sadness with learned happiness. We can realise that blaming the past or others for our misery, even if partially true, can only give us excuses; it cannot give us the happiness we crave inside.
In fact, it usually serves to increase our suffering! It is established that cultivating feelings of happiness results in a self-generating cycle of biological as much as psychological wellbeing. When you carve out time to go for a walk, or just to the nearest window, or to stop and pray, or dance or sing along to a favourite tune, or share moments with special people, ‘happy hormones’ flood your system, keeping you healthy. For this, you need to first accept that happiness is something that is generated from within, and it comes with time and practice.
Happiness, at its core, is about discovering meaning, and counting your blessings, not your woes. Happiness grows in nurturing relationships.
All kinds of intentional relational activities – practices in which people actively choose to reach out and engage with and serve others – can offer a promising route to lasting happiness.
Happiness then is simply about saying a heartfelt “yes” to all of life; to more positive emotions, to more engagement, to more meaning and purpose, to more caring relationships.
The writer is a Mumbai-based personal growth coach and workshop leader