This article by Amy White originally appeared on Mindvalley.
You can’t deny it. You seek it as much as the next person. Like hungry animals, we roam the Earth in search of it. For hours, for days, for decades, we dream of it. And we do so in the knowledge that if we fail to find it, our lives will never truly be worth living.
Seek And You Shan’t Find Happiness?
Humanity has one desire in common: to be happy.
Every parent wants it for their darling children and every lover wants it for their partner. Behind every aspiration and goal lies the true craving for happiness. But no matter how much we want it for ourselves, wish it for others, and incessantly look for it, it’s often just out of reach.
The philosophers of old claimed that we miss out on happiness because we search for it. But happiness researcher Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani would disagree.
What if the reason we miss out on happiness wasn’t that we were looking for it, but because most of us don’t actually know what happiness is?
Grab a notepad. We’re about to explore what it isn’t, so you can come up with your own definition of what happiness is for you.
#1: Happiness Is NOT An Emotion
If you bought into the idea that happiness was an emotion, you’re in for a very rough ride.
By their nature, emotions are ever-changing. Like waves of the ocean or cloud formations in the sky, emotions are transient phenomena. Therefore, it goes without saying that you can’t live a happy life if you equate being happy to the emotion of joy or elation, because your happiness will inevitably fluctuate depending on your circumstances.
Rather, Kristina recommends seeing happiness as a state of mind or a way of living. This brings us onto the next ‘NOT’…
#2: Happiness Is NOT Perfection
So if you’re a recovering perfectionist, we’ve got some news for you.
If you’ve been waiting for everything to be perfect before you allow yourself to be happy, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
According to world-renowned philosopher-turned-business guru Srikumar Rao, you’re not happy because everything is perfect, everything is perfect because you are happy.
If you’re a human living in the 21st century, you’ll have most likely already been taught that life will not always give you what you want. The path can get rocky. But true happiness still survives even if you’ve been sent on a detour. Ask yourself, while on that inevitable detour, can you still enjoy the scenery?
#3: Happiness Is NOT The Absence Of Hardship
As we discovered in part #2, happiness does not equate to our subjective ideas about external perfection. But taking that a step further, Kristina claims that neither is it the absence of hardship.
Although we’ll resist this idea to the bitter end.
When you were a child, odds are the adults around you attempted to shelter you from the hardships of the world. If you’re a parent, maybe you make an effort to dodge the subject of death or pain around your little ones, and at the very least you attempt to make their lives as pleasant as possible.
But this behavior, although born from good intentions, will paradoxically bring us more unhappiness in the long run. Why? Because a key personal trait we need to be happy is resilience. And when you create an artificial environment without pain or struggle, you’ll go through life without the necessary skills to survive and thrive when something really challenging comes along.
Facing the ugliest human experiences with openness, understanding, and acceptance will not be to your detriment. It’ll be your training ground for a contented state of being no matter what life throws at you.
#4: Happiness Is NOT A Symptom Of Doing The Right Thing
“Doing the right thing is not going to make you happy,” says Kristina. “If that were true, we wouldn’t have the world’s most successful people burnt out, wondering how the hell they ended up where they are…unhappy.”
Kristina has the first-hand experience of doing all the right things that land you in the wrong place. She was a good girl who followed all the rules, getting straight A’s at school and university, marrying Mr. Right, having a couple of angelic children, and founding her dream business.
But she ended up being pretty miserable.
Kristina learned very quickly that your level of success doesn’t correlate with your level of happiness. And the data shows it. In fact, the research shows that the correlation actually goes in the other direction; it’s happiness that’ll dictate your level of success.
So happiness isn’t a pleasant symptom of success or doing the right thing. It’s a prerequisite.
#5 Happiness Is NOT A Given
So now we’ve established that happiness is in fact NOT an emotion, nor does it come along when the conditions are perfect, it’s safe to say that it’s not a given.
In other words, happiness is never guaranteed. Don’t be tricked into thinking that you’re meant to be naturally happy, and if you aren’t, deem yourself as lesser-than.
Just like an incredible relationship needs to be nurtured, and a dream business needs to be built from the ground up, happiness is something that requires effort and commitment.
No matter what brings you into a happy state of being, whether it’s positive affirmations, spending time with loved ones, meditating, practicing self-care, traveling the world, or expressing gratitude for what you already have, you’re in the driver’s seat to practice and facilitate it.
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