By Carlene Sterner
Hmm, “happiness” turned out to be a rather extensively examined topic as I started exploring what to write about it. There is a plethora of information and insight to be garnered from definitions, articles, books, YouTube/videos, TED Talks, research/papers, studies, stats, sayings, and general observations to be garnered and contemplated from so many learned leaders and masters of thought and wisdom with many more letters and years of education attached to their names than I have to offer (thank you Google!). As I am not about to condense the “wisdom of the ages and sages” into a few hundred words, I thought I might just try keeping it simple and ramble through a few musings, like a leisurely walk through the woods where you give your attention to the delights that you encounter on your part of the path rather than trying to take in the wonders of the whole woods (there is always more to explore another day).
If you aren’t already aware of it, please be reminded that happiness, joy, bliss, contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, pleasure, merriment, delight, gratitude, and love are states of emotion and “energy” that WE CREATE for ourselves in response or reaction to what goes on around us. We receive information and generate a perception that often results in a judgment that gives value to what we experience in turn (the good/bad, desirable/undesirable, positive/negative, glass half full/glass half empty kind of thing). So maybe what is on the outside doesn’t “create” our state of “happiness,” but our perception of it certainly can.
Soooo, how do you change your perception from that sense of “what you lack” to the sense of “life is good”? I am working on that one every day both from the inside out and the outside in. For the “inside” part, it starts with awareness (can’t change what you don’t acknowledge because it doesn’t exist for you until you give your attention to it). Awareness is a tool or state of BEing we can all CHOOSE to PRACTICE; and it takes practice, like anything you want to be better at, to get there. Yet once there, you can make different choices from the usual pattern of thought or behavior that takes you down the “I am the victim of everything bad and am so unhappy” road to the “Wow this was challenging and I took it on regardless of the outcome and I feel pretty darn empowered” road (or something along the line of reframing the “bad” to “what is the opportunity here,” stay in the same place or DO differently and get to a place of BE/FEEL differently). As the wise old bumper sticker says, “CHOOSE JOY” because you can.
Then there is the part of “getting outside of yourself.” In laughter yoga we choose to play and be silly and laugh without any particular reason because we CAN; just going through the motions feels good. You “fake it ‘til you make it” since the body generates feel-good hormones doing something you have known how to do since you were a baby and laughed from your belly without knowing what a joke was or what humor was (though that is great stuff for moving up the happiness meter too). I like how smiling feels whether my brain is in agreement or not; I will go around smiling at people—most of whom smile back—and pretty soon that sensation of joy starts growing from the outside in. Giving your time, money, skills, experience, kindness, compassion, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on, without expectation for anything in return, can create something wonderful for another human being, and that gratitude is contagious. Hugs are gifts that give where words cannot (to both the giver and the receiver of the hug).
And if all else fails to kindle the spark of joy, my most reliable source for growing my happiness is to feed my soul with nature. Give your awareness to an awe-inspiring sky of stars, an achingly blue sky, the dance of the aurora borealis, the molten gold, red, and orange of a sunset, the mystery of the glowing moon, the power of pounding surf, the boundlessness of open prairie, the grandeur of towering mountain peaks, the impossibly turquoise waters of glacier-fed lakes, the grace of an eagle soaring overhead, the dancing branches and leaves of a tree strummed like a harp in a gentle wind, the music of running water, the sound and light show of a thunderstorm, the delicacy of a frost-clad tree, the intricate complexity of a single snowflake, the perfection of the petals of a blooming flower, the hidden world of a forest of moss, the playful antics of your backyard birds, the warm comfort of looking into the adoring eyes of a loving pet, and so on. Notice the details and revel in the wonder of being a part of/connected to such a Universe, and pretty soon “me becomes we,” and you begin to feel that we are all in this together, and like the song says, that gives “comfort and joy.”
We are human, and part of the human experience is to feel emotions that are not joyful or happy. However, unless suffering from a state of unwellness, such as clinical depression, we do have a choice in what we will do with those emotions and what they will bring us in turn. So in this moment, may you BE HAPPY.
For more information contact Carlene Sterner at Creative Life Coaching, LLC: thecenter.com/practioners or firstname.lastname@example.org.