Are You Happy Right Now? If Not, What Would Make You Happy?
If someone asked you: are you happy? What would your answer be?
For the purposes of this article, I’m defining happiness as an inner state of contentment and satisfaction, not the euphoric state of pleasure that comes and goes. Unhappiness in this context is about functional dissatisfaction and not debilitating emotional distress.
“The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment.” ~Doug Larson
As much as I’d like to feel fully contented with my life as it is, it seems there is always an underlying feeling of unease (some sort of dissatisfaction). It‘s a vague feeling that runs in the background. It’s not as pronounced as anxiety, sadness, or other negative emotions.
I can’t tell you exactly why I feel this way. And if my understanding of others around me is correct, I don’t think I’m the only one with those feelings.
We learn to tolerate and live with the unease. We don’t stop to analyze it or give it much attention. It’s just there.
“The happiness of most people is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things.” ~Ernest Dimnet
On the surface the feelings of unease and dissatisfaction are not that harmful. If we can learn to pay attention to (and appreciate) the good in our lives, then a bit of negativity in the background won’t be that bad. Until …
An innocent remark, an inconsequential tidbit of news or information, a fleeting twitter update, a photo on Facebook, or anything of that sort, ignites the spark of this subtle dissatisfaction and the feelings start to boil over.
A trivial outside stimulus triggers emotions of irritation, frustration, resentment, victimhood, unworthiness, and much more.
The seemingly harmless background of dissatisfaction is now a blazing emotional fire that consumes everything in its path and turns it into more fuel.
Yet this fire is barely noticeable. It doesn’t result in an outright burst of anger or an emotional meltdown. Instead, it manifests in more self-judgment and apathy. It demotivates and demoralizes. And the state of dissatisfaction grows deeper and deeper.
When I get into this state, instead of questioning the feelings, I tend to numb them by escaping.
Going on line, watching TV, checking email are all distractions that take our attention away from the issue. After a while one of two things happens: the first is more indifference, and the second is guilt. Both are more damaging to our inner state.
Then we get busy again and the feelings subside to the background, only to be triggered again by another silly thing in the future. And the cycle repeats itself.
Who is in control?
Do we feel what we feel? … Or do the feelings feel themselves and we just react, unconsciously?
Let’s look at a few examples.
You are satisfied with the amount of income you earn. You even get to save and invest a little. In a conversation with a friend, you learn that she earns a lot more than you thought she did. And you start feeling differently. How come she makes more money? Why can’t I earn the same? This is so unfair.
A father brags about how hard he worked to contribute to your success. You feel that your success is yours. Your father was far from perfect and he really didn’t go out of his way to help you. Why is he giving himself credit? It’s so irritating.
You go on Facebook and find a childhood friend embellishing the history of your relationship and not giving you the credit or consideration you deserve.
You learn that your parents gave more of their inheritance to a sibling than they gave you. Though you were not expecting anything in the first place.
Someone makes more money, takes credit for something, or doesn’t give us something that we were not looking for in the first place; these things should not make us unhappy.
But we do feel unhappy. We feel slighted, ignored, unappreciated, deserving of more, or in some cases we beat ourselves up.
Why do we feel this way?
The simple answer is: we don’t know what truly makes us happy and we allow the subtle, but very powerful dissatisfaction, to roam in our minds and hearts without questioning. And we learn to live with the consequences.
What happens when we feel unhappy?
If we don’t know what makes us happy, we will be in a negative state most of the time. And this makes us feel worse because:
Nothing (or no one) is good enough. We’ll always be seeking more and wanting better. This constant seeking compounds the dissatisfaction.
Continued reaction to outside minor events that can be easily ignored. All of the above examples should not cause us to feel miserable. They are situations that do not affect us in any way. So what if a father took credit or a friend made more money?
Feeling like a victim most of the time. We feel emotionally naked and exposed to anything and everything. We strip ourselves of the most powerful thing we have—the power to choose.
Frequent numbing distractions. If we’re not guarding our own inner state of peace and contentedness, we allow anything and everything to grab our attention, and subsequently our emotions.
Stunted growth. All of the above feed the dissatisfaction and keep us stuck in an emotional rut. And we stay where we are and repeat the same cycle of suffering.
To move forward and change how you feel I suggest spending time, and as truthfully as you can answer this question:
What would it take for you to feel happy right now?
You don’t need to look for reasons why you feel unhappy. It’s much better to focus on what you can do right now to feel happy and contented.
This is a question that only you can answer. Think of what gives you joy, ease, and peace, not what validates you, or makes you look good.
The deeper we dig, the more we realize we don’t need much to feel happy.
If we allow ourselves to just be, without huge expectations, comparisons and attention to outside influences, we will be happy.
“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” ~Epictetus
And when we consciously choose to focus on our true sources of happiness, we can ignore the rest. It’s not easy and it takes awareness, but it’s doable.
Choose and practice feeling happy
Here are a few reminders I’m using right now to focus on (and choose) happiness, instead of dissatisfaction.
Notice how you feel after an event. If something is triggering a painful reaction stop and ask yourself one question: How does this matter, or affect my life right now?
In most cases it won’t affect you at all. Choose to let go and move on.
Feel the feelings instead of numbing them. One sure way to make a feeling stick is to suppress, or numb it. Sit with the pain for a bit and let it run its course. This is not about dwelling but about allowing the feeling to run through your mind and body in a state of stillness, not reaction.
Do things you enjoy doing. We all need to do something we’re passionate about. It doesn’t matter what it is. It is what makes you tick, regardless of what others think or expect.
“Tranquil pleasures last the longest; we are not fitted to bear the burden of great joys. “ ~Christian Nestell Bovee
Take responsibility for your happiness. No one, other than you, is responsible for your inner state. People will say and do things that you can’t control. But how you feel about them (if anything at all) is up to you.
If you catch yourself reacting unconsciously, remind yourself of who’s in charge and how you would like to feel about things.
Don’t chase happiness, choose it instead. We are entitled to feel happy as much as we’re entitled to breathe. The mistake we make is to keep seeking the things that will make us happier. We chase an illusion and ignore the obvious that’s right within us.
“If you search the world for happiness, you may find it in the end, for the world is round and will lead you back to your door.” ~Robert Brault,
Over time we can learn to feel peaceful and contented, regardless of what’s outside. We learn to choose our own happiness and diffuse outside influences without much effort. And that is true inner mastery.
“You need to learn to be happy by nature, because you’ll seldom have the chance to be happy by circumstance.” ~Lavetta Sue Wegman
The world will not stop doing things that may aggravate our feelings of unhappiness. But it’s always up to us to decide how we want to deal this incoming torrent of mostly insignificant stuff.
It only takes a nanosecond of awareness to change how we feel. A tiny pause creates space between the instance and the reaction; it brings with it the power to choose differently. And this is something we all have. We just need to use it more often.
“How simple it is to see that we can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” ~Gerald Jampolsky