Wednesday 7 July 2010

How to be happy

Yesterday morning, I was sitting Gaby's restaurant with Roger.  Although the conversation had moved on, my mind was still going back to our previous conversation thread... 

Someone had disliked an article he had posted entitled How To Be Happy: and they had emailed to tell him, in no uncertain terms.  I could see where Roger's article was coming from, I could also see that this reader's criticism was an invitation to re-examine the idea.  And re-examine the idea, we did!  So here, minus the coffee-stained shirt and calorie-laden pastries, are some everyday thoughts on how to find happiness in life.

By community, I mean anywhere that we find kinship, love and kindness.  This may be through friends, family, a relationship, the community in which we live or our colleagues.  Our community is where we feel accepted for who we are (more or less!), and where we are able to give and receive support. 
Most importantly, our community is where we are able to expand our hearts, to experience that warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging, care, and nurture, at least some of the time.

Meaning and purpose
For me, this is about the feeling that 'I matter'.  It is about seeing and acknowledging our own contribution to society.  Some of us find in through career, some of us discover it in a social cause, others live it through caring and supporting... through mentoring... parenting... or even checking in with an elderly neighbour. 
The essence of Meaning and Purpose is, for me, an acknowledgement that 'Who I am, and what I do benefits others'.  My life makes a difference.  Now that may just be to just one other human being or it may be to millions.  The scale is not what matters - what matters is the care and integrity we bring to what we do, however large or small. 

It's one of the great paradoxes of life: we hate change and yet it's the one enduring, consistent feature of all our lives - from waistlines to aging, from relationships to income - change is eternal.  But in the midst of this, developing a sense of acceptance about our worth, about what we are doing (even if it's accepting that we don't know the answer right now) is a relief.  It can release some of the pressure that grinds us down. 
We can fight reality.  We can fight change.  But it will always win.  Acceptance allows us to ride the storm waves and the dead-calms more easily and gracefully, knowing that this too will change.

A bigger picture
For me, this is vital.  It's all too easy to become sloppy in my thinking, to see the worst, and to notice what goes wrong more than what goes right.  And believe me, I can be pretty good at this!  The advantage of having 'bigger picture', whether that is a religion, a spiritual practice or a philosophy of life, is that helps me see my life in a larger context. 
I believe that, if something goes 'wrong', then it is offering me an opportunity to learn more about myself and life.  I believe in a divine force that is benevolent, that has a great sense of humour and that stretches the definition of love beyond my limited understanding.  Those beliefs give me comfort when I feel alone; they give me strength to get up again when I feel miserable, and they give me something to aspire towards when I get tempted to live in anger instead of compassion.

Beauty lifts our spirits.  It helps me move beyond my rational mind and connect with the poetry of the soul.  It reconnects me to a wider world.  It can be any form of beauty: music, art, reading, comedies, nature, a child's laugh...
I think it's invaluable to know what lifts our spirits, where we find beauty, and to incorporate that into our day as much as possible.  Whether it's candles on the dinner table, buying a plant or bunch of flowers, listening to a piece of music you love... the more times we can touch upon beauty in our daily lives, the happier we are.  Beauty soothes our minds. It even recharges our batteries and nourishes our hearts.

There are many ways to feeling happy.  Following our own joys, what nourishes us, is always the surest way.  The challenge is that many of us have been socialised into listening only to our minds... and away from listening to our hearts.  Our delight, laughter and sense of well-being are the hallmarks of our hearts' whispers.  Following them will inevitabling increase our Happiness.

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