If we all agree on something as human beings, it’s that we want to be happy. The problem is that we think that happiness is achieved. But in reality, happiness is awakened by very specific habits that we have to exercise.
While it is true that genetic factors play a role, this is only a small percentage. Our happiness depends to a large extent on the habits carried out in our daily lives.
The first thing that we have to examine is the belief that happiness is associated with the achievement of a certain goal or objective. While it is true that our level of wellbeing increases when we achieve something that we set out to do, this feeling is short-lived. That is, it doesn’t increase our happiness index. It only makes us happy for a relatively short period of time. Spending our lives chasing carrots exhausts us, because happiness is not an obtained result but a way to position ourselves and live everyday.
Happiness also does not mean not feeling tension, not feeling negative emotions or smiling all the time. These emotions - such as sadness, discouragement, dissatisfaction - can act as compasses to guide us where to go and where not to go. These negative emotions that we feel bring us messages that we need to hear. This way of contemplating our emotions is very different from the idea of quickly escaping from them or trying to eliminate them as soon as possible! The only people who don’t feel painful emotions are psychopaths and people who are no longer alive, so take the time to celebrate that you’re alive!
We can say that one of the reasons for unhappiness is the false expectations of what we think will make us happy:
Achieving certain goals
Not feeling negative emotions
So, if happiness cannot be achieved through these two things…
What are those habits that we can exercise to strengthen a lasting happiness and not an ephemeral sense of well-being?
First, happiness is intimately associated with the construction of deep and meaningful relationships. It’s not about having a million friends, but a few of quality. Trusted people with whom we can feel ourselves around, without armor. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid being alone. It is a very different thing to be alone than to feel alone. There are many people who feel alone yet are still surrounded by people. And this is because their relationships are not of quality. We have to learn to build a bridge between our inner world and the outside world. Go inside and then go outside. We are not islands, we are social beings in constant interaction with one another. Therefore, invest energy in building bonds of intimacy. This is the first step for happiness.
The second habit is to simplify your life. Doing one thing at a time with full presence nourishes us much more than doing five at the same time and ‘not being in any of them with full consciousness’. In such a fast-paced world, having these quiet spaces reassures us and helps us to focus on what we want - and to do it the best we can. For example: if you are playing with your child, play and stop watching the clock at the same time. If you are talking to your partner, listen to him or her and don’t answer that email that can wait. If you are with your friend, stop chatting with your neighbor. Learn to be where you are. So you will learn to enjoy the present moment - try to be in the here and now. Try to get all the juice of what you are experiencing. If your mind is in another place, you won’t enjoy the richness of that experience. Your life is where your attention is.
Physical exercise is fundamental. It has to become a sacred habit in your life, whatever your age, your weight, your physical condition, or the time you have in your schedule. If you don’t have time, start scheduling it in with a highlighter. Daily physical activity, even thirty minutes of walking, releases norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, which is equivalent to the most potent psychiatric medication. Your body is your medicine, remember this.
Being happy also means allowing ourselves to be human beings… just human beings. In a culture that idolizes perfectionism, which condemns failures and pretends we are superheroes or superwomen, the true heroic act is to transcend this culture mandate and turn a deaf ear to what stresses us more than relieves us. Let yourself fail, rest, learn to say no, love yourself with your faults without wanting to always change, without seeking to be perfect but to focus on your own growth with patience and love for yourself. And allow others to be themselves, without condemning them or judging them for their failures. After all, we are just mortal human beings who do what we can - sometimes we improve, sometimes not so much. The important thing is to not stop trying to be a better person every day, but to do it without criticizing ourselves harshly.
Express gratitude. This means that we need to stop mistaking the miraculous for the natural. How many things have you experienced today that you haven’t appreciated, but that would suddenly become important and valuable if you stopped having them. Don’t take for granted your health, your affections, your food, your work, your breathing, the water you drink, a smile, a caress, your home, your pets, your lucid mind. Feel them as a blessing because any day these could stop being in your life; and only then will you realize the value they had. Be grateful! You will find reasons at every step - as many as you can easily find to complain about. Be thankful for that call, for that song that makes you vibrate, for that flavor that you like so much, for your clean bed sheets, for your great body that allows you to walk and dance, to be able to appreciate with your eyes the beauty of a flower. Be thankful for your hands that allow you to write, to draw, to hug, to cook, to raise that wine glass and drink that wine that feels so good on your palate. Look into the eyes of that person you love, that friend who is always there, that unconditional mother, your life partner, your daughter, and say thank you for existing, for being ‘there’.
“Do not be thankful because you are happy, be grateful and you will be happy.”
Finally, you need to do activities that give meaning to your life and not only give you pleasure. Besides those activities that you love, try to do other things with more meaning - that contribute to something greater and are more lasting. We feel very happy when we do something good for others. Solidarity gratifies us and gives us peace. It makes us feel useful and kind; and it awakens in us a healthy personal pride that strengthens us. When an action, a counsel, a word, a gesture, helps to increase the welfare of another human being… maybe someone smiles or it alleviates a difficulty… it feels wonderful. Why? Because the other person is in each of us, everything is united, in a connected relationship. Happiness is a collective heritage. There is no happiness more felt than that which is shared.
Create daily happiness habits and the sum of your days will result in a happier life. There is no magic here: they are habits that, when sustained over time, generate new neural connections associated with happiness.
When you feel unhappy, take a break and look at your life… how do you live? What are you leaving out? What activities that made you happy did you stop doing? What do you need to add to your life? What do you need to leave behind?
Being happy is a decision that is trained in the gym of life. But does everything depend on us? No, of course not… but make sure you are doing your part. This way, if things are not going as planned, you will feel the inevitable pain… but not more. Don’t add additional suffering. Be active in practicing the habits of happiness that you can give yourself and give to others. Because being happy is also an act of generosity - you will give others the best version of who you are.
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