The feeling of happiness has been scientifically studied for thousands of years. We now know it can enhance our health and longevity. Unfortunately happiness is not something that just happens to you. We have the power in ourselves to determine our own scales of happiness by being clear in our minds of what instances and surroundings would fulfil the need that will put a smile on your face.
According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices, some of which may be very difficult.
Consider this, what do you think makes you happy? A new car, more money, finding the right partner or your dream job. Western materialism can mislead us towards quick fixes, we all are clever enough to know these things can make us equally miserable.
I am presently listening to an audio book by Gretchen Rubin ‘The Happiness Project”
Rubin sets out on a year of discovery to find out what are the things in her life that truly make her happy. She starts out by stating that she already considers herself reasonably happy, but as she researches into her project she becomes aware that she has a lot of room for improvement. Her project starts in January where we usually start with new years resolutions. As she moves through the months of the year, I start to relate with some of her new found discoveries.
As a child I was always told, I was a happy child. I have no recollection of feeling bad, apart from the usual moments all children go through such as boredom and rebelliousness. It had been instilled in me that I was carefree and easygoing. I described myself as thus all through my early years up until I reached the age of 39 and my life was turned upside down when my husband died. Although I never suffered from depression or a breakdown, I did feel like someone had pushed me over a cliff and I was hanging on to the edge by gripping with my fingers. I was so scared and did not want to fall off the cliff. I believed it would be the death of me. Determined to hang on to the part of me that was carefree and easygoing, I existed in a fog for the next few years deluding myself that I was OK. In fact I was so unhappy it took all my strength to disguise it.
Gretchen Rubin describes that listed in her project is the desire to be Gretchen. During the years after my husbands death, I believed that the Lauren who always had a smile on her face was not the person she truly was. I felt like a fake. This Lauren was someone I did not want to be because I did not like her. I told myself, be patient and the happiness will return sooner or later. I wanted to be the same old me again, trouble was, I was now a widow and living without my soul mate. My best friend asked me what it was I thought would make me happy, my reply, ‘I do not know.’
Fake and unhappy Lauren, tried to make sense of it all as friends she trusted abandoned her, she felt lost, confused and would often wake up paranoid that she had said the wrong thing or upset someone. The old Lauren would have been mortified.
It took ten years, yeah! believe it. I woke one morning and looked at my kids, who had only ever known their mum as being unhappy. If I wanted to find happiness again, I had to find the true me. This was going to take some work.
So my list started…….
Change your hairstyle, start swimming, give up smoking, get out more, maybe start a new relationship, lose some weight. All the normal things that we think we need to make us happy. Were these the things I needed to find my happiness? I questioned myself as I dug deep looking for those tell-tale moments that would bring me some joy. I hated myself and the image I reflected in the mirror. Everyday that I looked at myself, I saw a tired and overweight woman. I saw an advert for a local hypnotist. I contacted her hoping she could help me lose some weight.
On my first consultation she asked me what my last few years had been like. I reeled a list out and she started taking notes.
I recently split up from a relationship I had been in for five years, I have just moved from France, I lost my Dad, before that I lost my husband, a baby and my mum. I also sold a business I loved, oh and my dog also died, But I am OK. REAllY!
I explained to her I had recently done a stress test. ‘I came out with flying colours. I could not believe it I exclaimed proudly. I was asked to think about all these things as I held on to two magnetic devices. The man giving the test was surprised and asked me how I was able to keep my stress levels low. My niece did the same test and hers came out high on the scale all because she had lost her hairbrush that morning. I do not think we should entirely link stress to our levels of unhappiness. Fake Lauren was clever at keeping stress levels low. Was my mental state working with an alternative plan here? one that was going to stop me falling over a cliff
As my hypnotherapist peered over her specs, she smiled at my grinning face as she said,
‘Lauren, I think we should deal with all of this stuff before you can even think about losing any weight.’
She was right of course. Deep down my survival mechanism was actually playing havoc with my happiness scale. This unhappiness was blocking any chance I had of beginning to love myself and enabling to build a new and beautiful me.
I spent the following year, learning to meditate, having hypnosis sessions and talking in therapy, I laughed and I sobbed at the same time. I was living a wonderful existence in Spain, I had three wonderful kids, my house overlooked the ocean and I had plenty of money. My therapist would often get frustrated. I would get the impression she wanted to find some dark secret in me about my childhood, I constantly reminded her I had a happy one.
“Why do you find it hard to enjoy all the things you have?” my therapist asked.
‘Because’, I said, ‘I think I associate it all with the loss of my husband.’ And that is where she started with me. I had to learn to let go and say goodbye. Little by little I started to become aware of the things that made me happy and embrace them. All my previous happy thoughts I had carried around with me now were seeped in sadness.
The memories of Ibiza where I met Paul had always been filled with Joy, now it became a sad memory. The same can be said about the things we treasured, the house we lived in, Christmas, birthdays and the beautiful son we had, his smiling face would remind me his dad is not here to see his face. I had to learn a new way to allow my happy thoughts to come back acting as triggers to smiles and warm feelings. I started to do things the new Lauren loved and was able to wave goodbye to the old me, the fake me.
Hypnosis definitely helped me with this process, I learned to open up and allow thoughts to enter my mind that fake Lauren had blocked. In some of those sessions I was able to speak to my father who had passed. Feeling he was there for me, helped me with healing. The old Lauren that I liked tentatively welcomed herself back knowing that she had to build new happy moments that she could store and re-visit, without them being tainted in sadness.
Our past certainly does drag along attaching itself to us like a heavy load. It can also shape us. Traumas can often make us stronger. I can look back to my past and give myself a medal for surviving it all but I try not to wear it. People really do not want to be around sad people. My past has made me wince on occasions, especially when I hear people complain or whine about their troubles. I remind myself life is not a competition. I try and concentrate only on the things that make me happy.
Gretchen Rubin talks about doing things that make her happy, Going for long walks and appreciating her friends, doing nice things for people. Involving herself in projects that continuously give her pleasure. Mine is my garden, I can spend hours on it and then it will surprise me by sprouting a new seed or flower. I watch and appreciate miracles happening. You just have to welcome them into your life. If you are aware, you will see them every day. It is then you are able to express gratitude.
They say it is the little things that make you happy, I view them as big miracles.
Today my friend cooked me three meals to put in my freezer. This has made me happy, Three wholesome meals I do not have to prepare. I will love them because I know they were created with her kindness. Kindness makes me happy. If everyone practiced one act of kindness everyday there will be enough kindness to fill everyones lives.
When life is not going your way and your unhappiness becomes internal, you may feel that nothing can help. Circumstances or surroundings, even material items are not the cure. The cure is inside you. The smile I put on my fake face for ten years helped me to survive. I am sure of that. My story would have been so different if I had not clung on to that cliff edge. It took me a long time to pull myself back up from the edge, but when you finally do, take a deep breath and just admire the view. Life truly is worth living when you work at it.
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