“I’ll be happy when ________ (fill in the blank: I get married, I get a promotion, I lose 10 pounds).”
For many years this phrase ran, unconsciously, through my head.
I believed I would find happiness once I gained or achieved a particular thing.
But as I began to check things off of my list, that I had thought would bring me to a state of absolute happiness, I was disappointed to find that the state of happiness I had been seeking didn’t stick around for long.
There was always something else pending on the horizon; keeping me on the hamster wheel, in a seemingly endless attempt to reach my unlimited source of joy. It began to feel as though I was always waiting for something to happen that would bring this unlimited source of happiness into my life.
What about right now?
What if I jumped off of the hamster wheel and searched for happiness right here, in this moment, instead of waiting around for it. Why wait for a proposal, a promotion or another degree to bring me happiness when I could have it right in this very moment?
I began to study happiness through various authors and documentaries, and eventually experimenting on myself. Through my self-study and experiences, I have found the following seven ways of generating happiness to be effective.
Express gratitude. Throughout all of my readings and research, I continuously come across the concept of gratitude as an important component of happiness. Some might even say it is at the core of happiness. When we express gratitude for the things we have instead of complaining or worrying about the things we don’t have, we are able to cultivate a sense happiness within. Instead of constantly reminding myself of what I didn’t have, I began to focus on all of the wonderful things I do have. There are many ways to express gratitude; one of my favorites is a gratitude walk. While strolling through my neighborhood I point out things in which I am grateful for: blooming flowers, the scent of rain, puppies playing in the yard and so on.
Let go of attachment. Attachment to ideas, beliefs, objects, the way in which we think things should be unfolding in our lives—all of these are blocks to happiness in the present moment. Attachment leads to suffering. When we attach ourselves to an idea, or thinking something should be a certain way, we undoubtedly become disappointed when our unrealistic expectations are not met. Instead try to embrace the unknown and the uncertainty that comes with life—you never know what might be waiting around that next corner.
Release the need to control. Once we are able to realize and understand that the only thing we have control over in our lives is our own actions and reactions, we are able to release the need to control. Not just to control others, but to control situations and outcomes. We cannot control how others treat us, or the things they say to us, but we can control the ways in which we choose to react to them. If we react in a way of loving-kindness, we are actively cultivating feelings of happiness within ourselves; regardless of how the other person chooses to behave.
Embrace the moment. When experiencing a moment that brings pure joy, I have found that slowing down and using all five senses to fully embed the moment into my being, my levels of happiness are significantly increased. As a photographer, I find that I am always behind the lens trying to capture every moment in an attempt to hold onto it forever.
I found embracing the moment to be challenging at first, as it required me to put down my camera and be present. I was fearful that if I didn’t capture the moment through pictures, I would forget about it all together. I found the opposite to be true. When I was able to put my camera down and allow myself to experience a special moment using mindfulness and all of my senses, I was actually able to take the moment with me everywhere I went. During tough times, I am able to call upon my memories to tap into that source of happiness. I now pride myself in capturing mental photographs.
Come into the now. The present moment is where life is taking place—right here, right now. I, like many others, found myself spending a majority of time thinking about the past, or worrying about the future. I found neither to be productive, as the past has already taken place and cannot be changed and the future is yet to come and cannot be predicted. When I am able to come into the present moment, I realize that right now I am okay, I am safe and I have everything that I need. This allows me to connect to a place of inner peace and happiness.
Appreciation of the little and simple things. It is the simple things in life that can bring great pleasure. In the past, I often found myself in a hurry. My focus was to get from point A to point B while attempting to multitask in-between. In doing such, I was missing out on the little things: the intricate detail of a sunflower, the way a sea turtle glides through the sea, a bright rainbow spanning across the sky. Now, I mindfully take time to notice the little and simple things in life. I allow myself the time to gaze out at the ocean in an endless wonder, or to look in awe at a hibiscus flower, noticing the diversity in these marvelous creations. Over time, I began to notice a deep level of happiness that this activity brings to me.
Play. Be silly and goof off. When was the last time you danced in your living room, did a cartwheel at the park, ran into the ocean with your clothes on, or laughed until your face hurt? Hopefully we are all thinking, “earlier today,” but if not, it’s time to let loose a little, be silly, and engage in an activity that makes your heart smile so big that your whole body feels it.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
~ Dalai Lama
Author: Melinda Quesenberry
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Carlos Mozo (Used with permission)