[By: Martin Grunburg]
As brilliant as The Declaration of Independence is and our founding fathers were, the statement about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is likely to be confusing to an awful lot of people.
Viktor Frankl put it best when he said, “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
Happiness is paradoxical — its direct pursuit only confounds the pursuer, pushing the desired outcome further and further away.
Having said that, the following is not just a formula (“happiness math,” if you will), but more like five rules or “laws” that govern our happiness.
Spoiler alert…there’s a significant screwball at the very end. ; )
Why Be Happy?
Before we go any further, let’s quickly reaffirm why we should be happy (happy, happy, happy!) — most of the time (most is a key word here).
First, to put it simply, being happy is fun. What most people may not realize is that several studies about happiness have revealed:
Happier people are healthier; thus, they live longer, they have better relationships, are more productive, and via simple math, spend less time experiencing destructive, negative emotions such as frustration, jealousy, anger, hate, etc.
Some negative emotions, such as frustration, when properly directed, may yield great fruit — frustration can be the spark for creative problem solving, for example. But make no mistake, the objective is to be happy MOST of the time.
So, our goal is to be happy (most of the time). And with that goal in mind, here are a few basic tenets to hold close!
Happiness Law #1: Own It
Rather than pursuing happiness (as though it’s out there somewhere), SIMPLY DECIDE TO BE HAPPY. Aristotle apparently put it this way: “Happiness depends on ourselves.”
Depends on who? Ourselves!
That would rule out your teacher, mom or dad, child, and yes, even cousin Eddie. Think about it this way: If YOU aren’t responsible for your happiness, WHO IS?
Taken a step further: Happiness is a HABIT — cultivate it!
Happiness is something that can and ought to be cultivated (and here’s the kicker) by choice.
Do not wait for it. Don’t look elsewhere for it. Don’t expect it to be delivered via FedEx for overnight delivery in the form of perfect circumstances coming your way.
Happiness Law #2: Be of Service and Seek Creative Ways to Connect the Dots
Be of service and connect the dots. Look at the image below. People enjoy doing things they are good at. That’s obvious, right? What may not be so obvious is finding a way to use your natural gifts AND use them to provide a service/support a cause larger than yourself.
Finding a creative way to support a cause larger than yourself drives happiness, along with a level of satisfaction and contribution.
As a child, chances are good that you loved to do something. In that pursuit, time fell away. You were naturally drawn to this thing: painting, drawing, reading, chess, running, teaching, writing. Where might that intersect with a cause/purpose larger than yourself?
(BTW: This doesn’t mean it has to be your primary source of income. This could be a part-time gig. For instance, you might enjoy working with kids, so you volunteer to become a Big Brother or Big Sister!
Happiness Law #3: Personal Development!
You didn’t think this “law” was going to be left off the list, did you?
Happiness is often a result of feeling IN CONTROL. While there may be a lot of things we do not control, one thing we can control is ourselves (in theory), and therefore our personal development.
When you go to work on yourself and your own personal development, you take back control. In doing so, you enact something called self-efficacy. That’s just a fancy way of saying you are able to produce a desired result.
The crazy thing is that even setting the smallest goals and tracking the smallest new habits (using the free habit and goal tracking sheet or app: iOS or Android) develops your self-efficacy. You begin to feel terrific about yourself because you are producing a desired result — jogging, doing pushups, drinking water, etc.
Enter Einstein: “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
Happiness Law #4: Relationships
After nearly 80 years, Harvard’s long-term study on happiness has revealed the most important factor to be healthy relationships.
To quote the article:
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants.”
Slow is fast: Relationships are built upon trust, and trust is built over time. True friendship is a lifetime endeavor. (Feel free to tweet that ; )
Money cannot repair, fix or buy trust; trust takes time. The good and bad news is that time moves quickly. Invest time in your most important relationships.
Happiness Law #5: Integrity
Integrity is foundational to our self-image, self-respect and, ultimately, our ability to BE happy. Integrity refers to living in harmony — coherence and alignment — with your personal values.
The challenge for many people is they haven’t taken the time to identify their own personal values.
If you were to perform all the other “laws” above but NOT be in alignment with your own values, it would be rather hard, if not impossible, to respect yourself — most of the time. With low self-respect and integrity, any relationships would be built upon unstable ground, making the quest for happiness even more futile.
Happiness Law #6: Acceptance
Simply consider the opposite of acceptance: Resistance.
Carl Jung put it this way, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Simply put, resistance equals frustration. To be to be frustrated is, well, frustrating! Therefore, it’s tough to be happy (most of the time) when “things” frustrate you.”
The key to acceptance, though, is being able to distinguish between those things we can influence and control and those over which we have little or NO influence or control. For instance it’s a waste of your much-needed time and energy to get caught up in political debates, try to change people’s opinions on social media, debate fiscal policies you have no control over, etc. You need your energy to get your own “house” in order.
It’s hard to be productive and have high-quality energy when it is wasted on “things” over which you have little or no control.
The Serenity prayer sums this up beautifully:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
Plato put it this way: “There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.”
Ready for the Screwball?
In the next post we’re going to review WHY happiness isn’t really what you’re seeking after all. There is something (much literally) deeper and more satisfying — and much more gratifying — than just happiness.