How often have you said or heard any of the following:
- If I only made more money, I would be happy.
- If I had a better job, I would be happy.
- If I had a boyfriend / girlfriend, I would be happy.
- If I had a new house, I would be happy.
- You make me happy.
- He makes me happy.
- My car makes me happy.
What is the common factor in all of the statements? The common factor isn't you. The common factor isn't me. The common factor is relying on something other than self to provide a feeling of happiness.
So - what is happiness? Happiness is commonly defined as experiencing something pleasurable.
Why are so many people unhappy? They are unhappy because they seek fulfillment outside of self. They find their pleasure in money, better jobs, significant others, a house, and other inanimate objects. Is this wrong behavior? Not necessarily; it is, however, overly relied upon as a source of happiness and pleasure.
Why do we seek happiness from things and others? Simply put, we do not see ourselves as enough. As an entire society, we rarely feel like we are accomplished enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or have enough money. Instead, we transfer our feelings of need on to things we want to acquire or on to other people. Without those things or people, we feel "unhappy" with our existence.
Often, you will hear people use the words happiness and contentment as if they are the same thing. They are not the same thing; they are close, though. Both bring what we would consider peaceful or serene feelings. So what's the difference?
Contentment requires something that happiness does not. If you look up the word content, you find that it means to limit desires and actions...and to appear desires. Contentment requires simply being at ease and peace with what we have or don't have at the moment. It's similar to being mindful. It is dealing with exactly what you DO have at the moment and being in that moment. It isn't thinking, "Well, I have hamburger for dinner...but I'd be happy if I could have steak." It's being in the moment and realizing you have a meal - and that's something so many people don't have.
If you're Christian, consider the apostle Paul. He stated in Philipians 4 that he learned to be happy no matter how much (abound) or how little (abase) that he had.
If you're Buddhist, then you can remember that Buddha left his palace and riches and he became enlightened while he had nothing.
Happiness and contentment aren't found in things. It's found in you. It's found in me. When you learn to find contentment...and it does take time to learn...you will find happiness.
How can you learn to be content?
- Be mindful of your current situation. Literally - think about what is going on right now. Are you physically safe this very minute? Are you relatively comfortable? Do you have the bare necessities? So what if you had a fight earlier today with your best friend? What's going on right now? Stop dwelling on it.
- Realize that tomorrow NEVER comes. It really doesn't. What do we say every single day? We refer to tomorrow. It's always tomorrow. When will tomorrow become your today? Think about what you have today. Today is what counts. We aren't promised tomorrow.
- Stop putting the heavy weight of your happiness on other people or things. Own your feelings. You are responsible for your own self worth. Having a baby or a significant other won't make you happy. In fact, those things often bring problems of their own. Then, because you entered into that relationship for the wrong reasons, you might become resentful and then blame them for your unhappiness.
- Enjoy the little things in life. I know it's harder than it sounds. I've been there. I have to practice mindfulness every chance I get.
- Count your blessings. You have so many more things than most of the people in the world. Have you ever considered that while you are eating dinner someone else in your neighborhood doesn't have groceries?
- Volunteer your time. You don't need to devote a lot of time. You don't have to join an organization. You can work one on one with someone that needs help. You can help at a food pantry. You can become trained as a domestic violence advocate. You can mentor. It will make you feel good. You will realize you are valuable without having things or more money.
There isn't a single person who exists on earth that is always happy or always content. We aren't perfect. Neither are you. Don't get too wrapped up if you have a bad day. Cut yourself a break. As you become more content, happiness will come to you. You will place it where it belongs. It will become a precious treasure that so many seek and you found. It is a work in progress.