There is a course now being given at Harvard University that is being called the university’s most popular course. It is called positive psychology, and it is referred to by many as Happiness 101! The course is really the most popular and filled to the rafters every semester.
Seems like just about everyone at Harvard wants to be happy or happier. Us too.
Why should we want to be happy, and what exactly is happiness anyway? To start, happy people, all things being equal with unhappy people, are enjoying better relationships, living longer, and just about doing better and having better in all areas of life. Sounds like something we should all want.
Experiencing yourself to be a happy person does not mean that sad things are not experienced; it just means that these things are happening to an otherwise happy person. In other words, the circumstance does not make you an unhappy person. The circumstance does not define you.
But being happy is not some goal you attain and that once you get there, that’s that. Being happy is about remaining positive about yourself, your future, and your possibilities with an ongoing attitude of optimism, of hope. Ongoing. So many of us find ourselves unhappy because we have projected some future doom and gloom, which many times never turn out as bad as we thought and maybe didn’t turn out badly at all.
So is there anything we can do to become happier? Yes, there is. First, you can start to feel some measure of joy that you are alive and able to experience life. Second, you can stop and take note if you are projecting a future outcome that may never happen, and instead try to enjoy the moment, this day. Third, you can focus on whatever you can be grateful for—family, health, friends, food, work, shelter.
Fourth, acknowledge that sometimes you are in down mood and that these times are not the times to make decisions that have lasting effects. Our moods have a great influence over our thoughts, just like our thoughts have a great influence over our moods.
Is that all we have to be or do to be happier? No, it’s not. We should also be doing things that make us feel happy, fulfilled. A good deed, a sympathetic ear for someone who needs it, a kindness, a courtesy—these things make us feel happier. There is an expression that says, “Fake it till you make it.” So will yourself to feel happier, not happy just yet, but on your way.
Remember not to take your own miserable thoughts as gospel. Many of our thoughts are random and not worthy of causing us to have bad feelings. We also need some meaning in our lives to have feeling of happiness.
Meaning can take many forms. A career, being a good parent, a good partner in a relationship, any of these things plus many more give us meaning. Many people today, especially young people, are expressing and experiencing depression. Wouldn’t it be important to have a course on happiness in school?
Many of them are convinced they do not have what it takes in this highly competitive world or school setting. No wonder drugs are so appealing. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on people in all age groups, and these pressures propel these fears to suffocate or overshadow other things that would give them pleasure. It is so unfortunate that if one area of life is difficult, we seem to let it permeate all other areas of life. Not every single thing in every single arena is unworthy of some feeling of gratitude.
I ask my clients to remind themselves on a daily basis about those things for which they feel gratitude. And to really take stock of the things that are truly bothering them to see if they can imagine some of those things in more manageable sizes. I ask then for them to tell me how many things were causing them sadness last year, and they cannot recall most of these things. So then, next year, you will be able to say the same thing about this year. This gives a little perspective. Reality is to know that there will always be problems, and that is part of living. Solve your problems to the best of your ability and then move on, move along. Do not get stuck.
I ask my clients to picture themselves as being happier. Actually form an image of what it will feel like when they see themselves happier. So many people think being happy is dependent upon a future if and when. “If such and such happens, I will be happy.” Or “When such and such happens, I will be happy.” Well, maybe you cannot be happy just yet, but you sure can be happier right now just by deciding to be! Try it: decide to be happier. Start with a smile right now at yourself in the mirror. Sounds silly, but silly is happier!
Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Make up your mind.