Let’s start 2021 out on a positive note. A happy note. We need it! What is happiness? It seems simple enough, easily definable and hence easy to have it. But then again, happiness is both broad and vague and so subjective and it is absolutely different for everyone. Thinking about happiness also brings up so many questions. We have all felt it at one time or another, right? So, what is it? When do we have it? Can we get it on demand or does it just come to us? Happiness is not just a one-time thing. Sometimes it is momentary, sometimes it lasts a little longer and sometimes it lasts a really long time. It may not always be evident, but it is always peeking around, under the surface ready to make itself known when the time is right. How do we know if we have it, especially if it’s different for everyone? I guess we might have to try to define it and then figure out if we have it or if we don’t, how we can get it, because we need it!
Happiness is the result of a positive emotion. Something we do or experience triggers emotions and due to the insanely difficult year 2020 was, the “happiness emotion” in all of us is way down deep under layers and layers of other emotions that surfaced so many more times than those that cause happiness.
Positive psychologist researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Excitement, pride, delight, gratitude, passion, forgiveness, faith, and love are also important to our life’s happiness and factor into how happy we can be.
Ok. So what does that mean for you? Happiness, after all, is personal. Each of us has the capability to be happy, so on a scale of one to ten, where are you? More questions… What brings you joy? Are you content? What’s your positive well-being? Are you an optimist? Are you hopeful? Do you take care of yourself and are you mindful of your health and lifestyle? That’s important in being happy. Or are you a pessimist who expects the worst, selling yourself short and taking all negative things that happen to you, even those totally beyond your control, to heart and finding it difficult to let go of them? It appears that we do have some control over our happiness. To be happy or not to be happy. That is the real question.
When was the last time you thought you were happy or actually were happy? When was the last time you laughed? Not just a chuckle or a smirk, but a real belly laugh? When did you get excited about something or delight in something? What did you do to make you feel good? When did your passion for something show itself? What did that mean for you? How long did it last? Was it brought on by one thing or by a series of events? You need to pay attention to the moments, the things, the people, and the thoughts that make you happy. Seek them out and hang on to them. As a test, try answering these questions for yourself:
“I would be happy when ___________________.”
“I would be happy if ________________________.”
“_______________ makes me happy.”
“Happiness is ________________. “
Happiness is something we all want in our lives. We actually need it in our lives. Think, then, if the filled in blanks will truly bring happiness. Are they sustainable or momentary? Will they really make you happy? For over 70 years, Charles Schulz’s characters have encouraged us to pay attention to the many ways that happiness can express itself. Set a goal to accomplish them and the way is clear.
So how do we get it? Some people look to the Scandinavian countries, which seem to have cornered the market on happiness. According to the UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report, Finland is ranked # 1 once again. This is based primarily on the work – life – culture elements of the country and the country’s overall ability to meet everyone’s conceivable need and care for their people. I'm sure many of you have heard of “hygge,”(pronounced hoo-ga) the Danish term originating from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being,” or hugga, which loosely means “to comfort,” and is related to the English word “hug,” I’m sure we can all use a great big hug right about now. Hygge is more of a feeling of comfort rather than happiness and it is generated from light (candles), hot drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine), comfort food, and mostly spending time with family and friends. According to Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes, that really exists), the company looks into how people leave their worries, stress and troubles behind and focus on savoring simple pleasures. The Swedish have a word “lagom” that roughly translates to “just the right amount” and illustrates how to strike a balance in your daily life between work and relaxation. It’s more about how to live your life on a daily basis and it can include hygge, which shows you how to relax and create special individual moments. So if we wrap ourselves in a warm blanket, drink some hot cocoa by the fireplace and chat with friends, will we be happy? It’s a start towards being content at least and a stepping-stone toward happiness.
Lykke (pronounced loo-ka), is the Danish word for happiness. In his book, The Little Book of Lykke Secrets of the Worlds’ Happiest People, Meik Wiking says there are actually three dimensions of happiness: being happy right now, being happy overall and eudaemonia, Aristotle’s perception of happiness which to him was that a good life was a meaningful and purposeful life. Wiking illustrates that there are basically six essential factors that result in a person being happy: Togetherness, Money, Health, Freedom, Trust, and Kindness. Sounds easy enough, but mitigating factors keep bumping happiness in and out of our lives. All of us face challenges, heartbreak, sorrow, and pain. This past year has taken its toll on everyone, wreaking havoc on us physically, mentally, financially and spiritually. There are so many whose lives have been irrevocably changed in 2020. It’s no wonder happiness for us was in short supply, and we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still hope to find happiness in our lives. Happiness is the result of personal effort. Taking some initiative to move towards it, is up to us and here are some ways to do it.
Togetherness - Sharing our life with friends and family and nurturing relationships bring happiness. Know whom we can turn to in times of strife. Be the support someone else needs. Love our neighbors as ourselves.
Money - Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it doesn’t hurt to be comfortable in our wealth. We are happy when we can put food on our table, have a roof over our head, support our children and meet our basic needs. Enough is sufficient. More doesn’t necessarily make us happier. With what some are facing these days, “enough” would be a miracle.
Health - Feeling good, taking care of ourselves mentally and physically and indulging, once in a while, with treats and feats that keep us healthy lead to happiness. Go for a walk, breathe and ask someone how they’re feeling, then be prepared to take them to the next level after “fine.” Happiness and being mindful of our health go hand in hand.
Freedom - Having the ability to choose what we do with our life, how we spend our time and following our dreams is a huge component in determining how happy we can be. Free to be who we want to be is a definite factor in our happiness.
Trust - Despite the fact that most of us are skeptical, fearful of betrayal, wary of others and unabashedly unwilling to let our guard down, especially these days, we still feel the need to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the best in people. Being trustworthy is a good step towards developing trust in others. It is very important that we know who and what we can trust if we want to find happiness.
Kindness - This is the key to a happy life. Be generous, considerate, empathetic, sympathetic and caring. Don't wait for someone to ask for help, just help. COVID-19 has negatively impacted everyone on this planet. Everyone needs someone to be kind to them.
No matter who we are or what we do with our lives, the ultimate goal is to be content and satisfied with our current state of being. Happiness can be elusive at times so it is important to choose to do what makes us happy. In order to live a fulfilled life we are going to have to work on pursuing happiness. We don’t always know where life will take us, but we do have a say in how we respond to it. It is up to us to work through the struggles and adversity and know that when negativity and unpleasantness come our way we need to be resilient and find the happy. The truth is that when we are facing difficult situations that we may or may not understand, one of the best things we can do is trust God to help us find our way. Having faith and praying are definitely happiness enhancing activities. Be open, be hopeful, be positive, be happy.
As we begin this new year, keep thinking about the premise behind Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights: “When we hit yellow and red lights, a green light follows.“ For many of us, there were a lot of yellow and red lights in 2020. Let’s hope that 2021 is the best year ever. Look for the green lights, stay positive, and find happiness wherever you can.
Joan Shisler, Senior Warden