A good friend of mine recently asked me, “How does a person know if he or she is really happy?” She followed it up with, “What would be the indication of real happiness and its sustainability?” My friend’s a doctor, and always very thorough in her thinking!
I address happiness and its sustainability directly in the latter half of my book, Winning the Fight to be Happy, but here I will give some more concise answers to my friend’s question.
To begin, let’s look at how we define “happiness”. Popular culture often represents being “happy” as jumping up and down in ecstasy. However, happiness is not a moment. It is a perspective, a state of mind and action, a point of view, based on a foundation of peace of mind, and fused with a positive approach to life’s challenges. Once you have an understanding that happiness is really a feeling of contentment and positivity, with occasional moments of extreme joy, you know more about your happiness level.
It helps to ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I, overall, a positive person?
- Do I look at challenges and see opportunities?
- Do I base my happiness on external things, or does it come from within?
- Do I have a sense of “enough”, or does my concept of being happy involve always wanting “more”?
Naturally, the answers to the first two questions should be “Yes”! For the third question, the more you base your happiness on external things, such as material possessions, the more fragile is your happiness. External things are outside of our control, and therefore, cannot be relied upon.
The fourth question is the most complicated one, and is related to what I call the “Law of Subtraction” in my book. As human beings, we want more, more, more. its not our “fault” that we are that way. But, like many things that we are born with, it is something we need to control in ourselves. If your definition of happiness involves always wanting more of everything, you will have a problem with developing happiness.
Marcus Aurelius, one of my favorite people to read on the subject of happiness, says in his Meditations that “Very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life.” Henry David Thoreau put it in even more basic terms, by saying “Simplify!”
“Sustainability” is a popular word for our age, as we are finally thinking about our physical and mental health in the long-term. This is a very nice contrast to the sense of immediacy given by the digital world.
For happiness, sustainability is achieved through first establishing a foundation of peace of mind. You can’t be happy without having an inner feeling of composure, of equanimity, of serenity. This is the cushion that allows you to accept the harsh aspects of life that cannot be changed. To try to attain happiness, without having this foundation, is like building levels on a building that has a weak foundation — they will all come crumbling down.
With your peace of mind, combine a positive perspective. The path to positivity is pursued through acquiring more wisdom, through maintaining physical health, through being thankful for all the good things in your life, and through other ways. And in addition to all that, it is pursued through recognizing that being positive is a choice. It is your decision whether you want to be positive or negative in your perspective. And a negative perspective sets you up for a very unhappy life. I know, because that’s the person that I was for over 30 years!
Thankfully I realized that the only way to live a happy life was to choose to be positive, and then to support it by the means I advised above. With a sense of equanimity, and a positive perspective, happiness is sustainable, and while there is no perfect happiness, the tough days get fewer and fewer.
Many thanks to my friend for her great question!