Thursday, March 26, 2009

Observations & Essays: Happiness

I was thinking of happiness tonight as I drove home. I was thinking about how elusive some people find it. I am essentially a happy person. I tend to think that the natural human state, all things considered, is happiness. I think that sometimes in the hurly-burly of life we can forget that.

I have a simple formula for finding happiness, for dwelling in happiness. Simply choose those things that make you happy. It is simple, but not simplistic. When you find yourself in circumstances that make you unhappy, simply take a moment, stop, and see if you can determine what it is that is making you unhappy. You can use the "five why's" trick which is a pretty good exploratory tool for many things. You simply ask the question "why" five times. It pretty quickly strips away the superficial and gets to the heart of the matter.

I always recommend writing down the question and the subsequent answers. The psyche can be a slippery place. Once you've laid down the five answers to the five why's, take some time off and then come back to it. Then, as you look at each of you answers, ask yourself one simple question - is it a truthful answer? Often times we will find that rather than truthfully answering the questions we will be trying to shape and craft the answers to fit our preconceived notions, so expect to go through the process several times.

Additionally, as you use the technique to find the root causes of your unhappiness (or anything for that matter) you'll find you become better at it. You will learn to almost instantly recognize when you are trying to give yourself a convenient answer. It is also not unusual to be unable to reach the fourth or fifth why, by you have to keep driving. I think there is a human tendency to try and jump right to the answer.

Now, I think there are two types of unhappiness (just as there are two types of happiness). There is general (our overall condition which tends to remain fairly constant) and specific (the immediate condition which tends to rise and fall based on immediate circumstances and environment). It is obviously much easier to find happiness if your general condition is already there and it is just specific incidents and accidents that make you unhappy. Use the technique on specific moments of unhappiness and gradually expand it to the general condition as you become more comfortable with it.

It's pretty easy to understand and apply the process. The second trick, equally simple, but far more of a challenge, is to simply "do it differently". We humans are creatures of habit for better and for worse. We are creatures of patterns, patterns honed by repetition, patterns shaped by the uneven positive and negative reinforcements of life. Life itself rarely draws in bright lines. In life, most of the time, the lines are blurred and smudged together as we assign value to events and outcomes based on arbitrary standards that may vary. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but in terms of changing our behavior, it is something to be aware of.

We invest a lot in our patterns, so we are often very reluctant to change them. We are far more likely to keep repeating them and hoping for a different result, largely because we are unaware of the specifics of the patterns that determine the results. By carefully examining our patterns, by increasing our awareness of ourselves, we can find some pretty elusive things - including that elusive state of happiness, be it general or specific. If you are decidedly unhappy, give it a try. If you are not quite happy, give it a try. It you are mostly happy, give it a try.

Our natural state is the state of happiness. Returning to that natural state is simple. Challenging, but simple.

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