I’ve read many interesting and helpful articles with titles like Ten Ways to be a Happier Person. Common answers are exercise, practicing gratitude and kindness, healthy eating, and limiting social media. There’s a whole science around happiness. There are entire industries focused on happiness. In fact, you could argue that nearly all industry is focused on happiness or satisfaction, not the least of which involve drugs both prescribed and illegal.
But what does it really mean? What is happy?
Google simple defines happy as:
feeling or showing pleasure or contentment
feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
Those are radically different definitions. The first says nothing about external factors. It doesn’t suggest at all that happiness has anything to do with “your life, situation, etc.”. This is a profound difference. I suspect entire books have been written about this difference.
I lean toward Google’s definition. In fact, I’ll take it one step further and say that maybe happiness is the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment regardless of circumstances.
This is a spiritual kind of happiness, and it’s a spiritual kind of question: How can I feel happy with unhappy forces surrounding me? Again, many books have been written about this including scriptures of several religions. I have no intention of writing any of those books, or of examining the science. My study here is a self-study. The truth may be that all I truly know in the world is that which I’ve experienced. Although I can reason and study the nature of happiness in the world, I cannot truly know it until I experience it; empiricism. By the end of this post, I will no precisely how to be happy.
My natural inclination is to attach my happiness to the things and experiences of my day. I’ve lived this day hundreds of times.
- I wake up and I’m unhappy. I wish I could go back to sleep.
- I forget to pray and I feel unhappy that I didn’t do it when I do remember.
- I take my medicine and I’m unhappy because of the one pill that I frequently choke on.
- I stop at the 7-11 and buy an apple fritter, which brings me pleasure, but I feel unhappy because it makes me feel guilty because it is not good for me.
- I arrive at work and get a bad parking place and I am unhappy to have to walk in the Oklahoma weather to get to my office.
- Then I feel unhappy have to work for eight hours.
- I break for lunch and/or swimming. When I swim, I feel happy, but I become unhappy because I worry that my shoulder hasn’t healed enough for me to swim regularly. I might then eat at McDonald’s which is neither healthy or economic. It tastes good, but I feel unhappy about eating there.
- I drive home and listen to NPR or a book which makes me happy because it satisfies my craving for knowledge and because I feel good about myself, because smart, cultured people read books and listen to NPR.
- I come home to my family, and am unhappy to find a mess in the kitchen because my kid didn’t do a load of dishes. I do dishes, and even though it only takes 10 minutes, it makes me unhappy for longer than ten minutes.
- I love to cook, but sometimes I just want to order a pizza and watch tv. If I order a pizza, I feel unhappy about not cooking my family a healthy, economic meal.
- Then I may or may not clean up. If I clean up, I don’t feel happy doing it. If I leave it, I feel guilty not doing it.
- I truly enjoy watching tv with my family, but I feel unhappy about it because I feel bad for not doing something more interesting.
- On Tuesdays I play in orchestra and feel 100% happy.
- On Wednesdays, I direct choir and feel happy if they sing well, and feel unhappy if no one comes or they sing poorly.
- As I lay down, I feel unhappy because I am anxious about getting to sleep because I struggle with insomnia.
- Then I realize I haven’t brought our coffee mugs up the bedroom. I worry that my wife will think I don’t love her as much if I don’t.
- I pray which makes me happy because it helps me let go of my anxiety.
- If I’m not asleep by midnight, I take 2 Benedryl and hope for the best. If I sleep, I am happy the next day. If I struggle, I feel unhappy that night.
That might be a relatively unhappy life by Mirriam-Webster’s definition. But we make choices. I can choose to be happy. There are reasons to be happy that have nothing to do with the circumstances of my.
Here is a very self-tailored plan for happiness
- I wake up being grateful to live another day on earth.
- I pray, or I don’t pray; either way, God is with me.
- I have great health insurance that enables me to buy the medicines that keep me well.
- If I’m going to buy the apple fritter, I should enjoy it. If I want to be healthy then I should feel good about not getting it.
- If I get a bad parking place, it gives me the opportunity to be outside under the sky, and a chance to be grateful for my legs.
- I like the work that I do. I’m good at it. It’s even easy for me. And I get paid a very good salary for it. What is there to complain about?
- Swimming is one of the great joys of my life. Any day I can swim without shoulder pain is a day to be grateful for.
- The food I eat is a blessing no matter what. If I truly wanted to feel better about it, I would make the effort to eat healthier and cheaper. Until then, I can enjoy my burger.
- Reading books and listening to NPR is about satisfying a fundamental human need for knowledge and art. If I let go of my superficial need to be cultured and smart, I might even enjoy myself more.
- I have a family to come home to. I nearly lost that privilege once. It was grace that brought me back to my home. I can treasure it if I choose. Washing dishes is a very small price to pay.
- The truth is, there are few greater pleasures for me than cooking a beautiful meal. I sit all day looking at a screen. Why is it so attractive, then, to sit all evening looking at another screen when I could be standing in a kitchen doing something that I enjoy and that I’m good at and brings pleasure and sustenance to my family? I can choose to do the happy thing.
- Doing my share of cleaning the house brings peace to my wife. When she leaves for work early in the morning, why would I want the first thing for her to see to be chaos? Cleaning is a way of loving my wife. I love her very much, so I should love her very much and very often.
- Watching tv after a day well-lived is a pleasure. There are so many amazing and inventive shows these days. They give me an excuse to get cozy with my three favorite people. There is no need for guilt there.
- On Tuesdays I play in an orchestra and feel 100% happy…end of story.
- For years, I prayed for an opportunity to direct choir at a church. I have that now. It’s thrilling to get to do something that I am uniquely trained for and gifted with every week. People come when they can. They sing the best they can. What is not to enjoy? The truth is, I’m not unhappy with them. I’m worried that I will be perceived as not doing my job well, but I get nothing but positive reviews from my employer.
- Bringing up coffee mugs is such a small thing that I do to tell my wife that I love her. It allows her to stay in the bedroom and brew a cup before she’s ready to face the world. I know she doesn’t need me to do it for her to feel loved, but it’s a way to show my steadfast love for her. There’s no reason to worry about it.
- I cannot really help if I sleep or not. It either happens, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t I feel sick all of the next day. But you know what? Some people feel seek EVERY DAY. Feeling sick a few times a year is not really anything worth complaining about. It feels good to lie in a bed with the woman I love whether I’m asleep or not.
- And then I pray. Sometimes I feel a connection and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I believe God hears me and cares about me. Gratitude is a good last thought in a day.
It’s all about choices. Ultimately, it’s about two choice: Gratitude and Living in the Moment. There is happiness to be found in every moment of the day if we would just live it. There is a reason to be grateful for anything, no matter how terrible. It’s impossible to feel regret, guilt, or worry when you are living in the moment and in a state of gratitude. Regret is living in the past. Worry is living in the future. The possibility for happiness is in one place: the present. The surest route to that happiness is one action: gratitude. I have every reason to be the happiest man on the planet, why would I choose to be otherwise? So, here’s a new definition:
Happiness is the state of pleasure and contentment found in any moment or in the result of expressed gratitude.
I leave you with one question: What would your plan to happiness look like?