What Does Being Happy Mean?

happy plastic dollSo, what does being happy mean? How would you define it?

I thought about this over the weekend and realized that there’s a difference between “being HAPPY,” emphasis on happy and “BEING happy,” emphasis on being.

And just what is that difference? I’m so glad that you asked!

Being HAPPY (emphasis on HAPPY)

When I think about being HAPPY I think about putting on a happy face no matter what you’re actually feeling. There are some benefits to this, by smiling you actually can start to feel better and happier. What I really mean by “putting on a happy face” is when you’re using a happy mask to hide whatever it is you’re really feeling – and you’re not just masking it for others, you’re masking it for yourself too – you’re not allowing yourself to feel the emotions – any emotions.

Another indicator of focusing on being HAPPY is mostly doing things that have the immediate result of happiness, otherwise known as instant gratification. Instant gratification isn’t always bad, but if you’re doing it at the expense of your long term happiness you’re probably more focused on being HAPPY.

So, if the above are what being HAPPY is, what is BEING happy?

BEING happy (emphasis on BEING)

When you’re BEING happy you realize that you won’t be HAPPY all the time. You’re human, you have emotions and it’s normal to be upset, angry, or frustrated sometimes. When you’re BEING happy you allow yourself to feel those emotions. It doesn’t mean that you sit and wallow in them, but you remember that they’re normal and you don’t beat yourself up for having those emotions. One other thing to remember, it’s difficult to fully appreciate happiness if you’re not allowing yourself to feel other emotions too.

BEING happy means that you’re not focused on instant gratification. You recognize that for some things there’s more happiness in waiting then in enjoying it right now. You know what instant gratification is. It’s when you buy that item you want even though you don’t quite have the money for it (but you get paid at the end of the week!) or you have a problem and you spend the time looking for a magic pill, but not the time to slowly tackle it bit by bit (think get rich schemes or quickly lose 10 pounds in a week promises).

BEING happy is about recognizing what you’re feeling and deciding how you’ll respond, instead of reacting. This brings me back to my definition of happiness:

Happiness is a state of mind that you choose to be in regardless of your circumstances or situation.

Happiness is a choice. You choose your own definitions and rules for your life – so which ones do you choose?

What does being happy mean to you? How would you define it?

Photo credit: Happy Man by Neal. via Flickr

It Seemed That Life Was About To Begin

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
– Father Alfred D’Souza

That quote really resonates with me. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but this quote describes a period of my life. I was waiting, because there was so much to finish before my life could begin.

“When does my life get to be about ME?” If I didn’t have this exact thought I had one very similar. When I think about how I would have said that it’s usually as someone who’d been running around for everyone else and is exhausted and wants some time to herself. Occasionally, it’s with the voice of an annoyed teenager who’s been asked to do something for someone else that they don’t want to do.

I bet I said it as the tired adult, but my inner critic (that voice that says you’re not good enough, or some version of that) told me it actually sounded like that annoyed and whiney teenager. So, the thought would be quickly dismissed as selfish and life would continue without change.

There were lots of reasons to wait (I am always armed with many reasons, coughexcusescough). I had obligations to fill, expectations to meet and other people’s goals to achieve. So, my own needs, expectations and goals fell into the categories of “if I have time” or the never arriving “later.”

So, when did my life get to be about me? Well, the answer is simple and complicated and can be summed up in one sentence: When I decided it did. Simple to say, more complicated to accomplish.

Why was it complicated? Well, I believed it was important to be nice.  More specifically it was important that other people thought that I was a nice person. And to me that meant saying yes to things without really thinking about it, because if I said no (or even I need to think about it) they might get upset with me, and if they’re upset with me then I’m not nice or they won’t like me! This of course led to me wanting and needing to fill everyone else’s needs and expectations before my own. No wonder I was so tired!

I started making changes when I decided it was time to be nice to me. I didn’t know this quote at the time, but it sums up what I told myself as I started saying no more and stepping away from additional responsibility:

Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter. – Bernard Baruch

Heck, I still tell myself that on occasion when I realize I’ve taken on too much or that it’s time to reevaluate how I spend my time.

It feels weird to say my life is all about me – it feels selfish and unkind. But it’s not – you can’t take care of someone else unless you’re taking care of yourself. It’s like they tell you when you fly – if something happens put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help the people around you.

So, since your life has already begun – what obstacles do you want to remove to enjoy it more?

Who Are You Exercise

Question mark in blue circleWhen you to tell someone about yourself, what do you say?

Take a minute and make a list. What do you want someone who just met you to know about you?

Do you have your list?

Great!

Now, cross off your work. Sure, you spend a lot of time there, but you are not your work – if you left your job tomorrow you would still be the same person, but in a different set of circumstances.

Now, cross of anything on your list that you own. You are not your house/apartment/condo, car or any other possession. You may really enjoy those things, but if they were gone tomorrow, you’d still be the same person you are today.

Ok, so what’s left on your list?

Some people have nothing left on the list (that was me!). Others have their family roles, their hobbies or brief, vague descriptions of themselves.

Add to your list: Who are you outside of work and your possessions? What do you enjoy doing (at work or home)? What are your hobbies?

Also, how would your family or friends describe you?

Write all that down.

Was this exercise difficult for you? It was for me! I often identify myself with my job or, when I was unemployed, my lack of a job. Often we don’t take the time to think about who we are beneath the surface, but it’s extremely useful to have this information.

Review your list for items that you haven’t done this week. Are you still someone that enjoys doing that? If so, why haven’t you spent time doing it? Too busy? I wrote down avid reader, but I realized I don’t read enough to fit my definition of “avid.” So, I have a choice – decide I’m not an avid reader any more or decide to read more (I’m choosing to read more). Do you have any items like that on your list?

Sometimes we all get busy (full of distracting detail), running around trying to get things done. That’s perfectly normal. However, it’s important to review every once in a while and make room for the things we want to define our lives.

What’s one item on your list that you haven’t done or experienced for a week or two (or more)? Can you make time for it in the next few days? Tell me in the comments!

Are You Too Busy?

I used to consider myself really busy. I always had a ton of things to do at work and my nights and weekends were filled with activities, meetings and family obligations. When someone would ask how I was I’d answer “Ohh, I’m busy… but good.”

I was constantly running around trying to get one more thing done. The downtime I did have I spent watching TV or movies.

Imagine my surprise when I unexpectedly had quiet time and realized that despite all the busyness and running around – I wasn’t happy! Sure I smiled and laughed and appeared to be having a great time, but that didn’t change the truth.

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Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions for busy:

  1. a : engaged in action : occupied
    b : being in use <found the telephone busy>
  2. : full of activity : bustling <a busy seaport>
  3. : foolishly or intrusively active : meddling
  4. : full of distracting detail <a busy design>

When someone says “I’m busy” they generally are referring to definition 2, “full of activity.” However, when I look back at the times I consider myself really busy I think a better fit is definition 4, “full of distracting detail.”

I always had something to do or somewhere to be, but it was all really a way to distract myself from the dissatisfaction I had with my life. It was easier to distract myself with busyness, TV, movies and the occasional good book then to figure out what to do about my dissatisfaction and personal unhappiness.

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It takes a lot of work to stay busy, but it’s a different kind of work to determine what happiness looks like for you. A common message in our society is “You’ll be happy after you [fill in the blank].” The problem is happiness isn’t a destination.

If you tie your happiness to a specific goal – you’ll never be happy. This doesn’t mean you won’t meet your goals. Our natural tendency is to reach a goal and then set a new one. So, if you decide you’ll be happy after x, when you reach x you don’t say “Yay! I’m happy now” you say “Great! Now I want y!” And you never actually get to be happy, which really sucks.

Instead, find out what being happy each day looks like for you and know that it will change with time. My suggestions are:

  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Make time for yourself – do one thing a day for just you that makes you happy
  • Reevaluate your current activities and if they no longer bring you joy or make sense for your life right now – stop doing it
  • Find out your Happiness Factor (really – it will give you a new perspective!)

The list could go on and on, but these four can make a huge difference.

What are things you do that contribute to your happiness? Share in the comments!

Is Happiness a Butterfly Just Beyond Your Grasp?

You’re busy right? You run all day. At work you’re getting as much done as you can in as little time as you can, then you rush home and do the same thing, just different tasks.

I completely get that – I’ve been there and lived that life. And at some point you accidently get a moment to yourself and you wonder if this is really what your life is supposed to look like or maybe it just hits you one day.

So, what’s the first thing you do? Try to figure out how to get more time! If I get my all my tasks done faster, then I’ll have more time to do other things, right? So, you get a book about organizing (I have Getting Things Done on my bookshelf) and maybe find a blog or two on the subject and start implementing. Then one of two things probably happens:

  1. You get organized and start getting more done faster, but spend the extra time you gained cranking through more to-do’s
  2. Getting organized the way the books or blogs tell you to is a huge time investment in itself that you don’t have to spend and you feel a bit like you let yourself down.

Notice that in both scenarios you didn’t create time for you.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Happiness doesn’t need you to make elaborate plans to find it. Often when you create a little space in your day it will find you. Take 10 minutes today to be alone and do nothing. One of my mentors once said that she spent 10 minutes each day being bored. At first she had to force herself. She’d set a timer for 10 minutes and throw herself on her couch and do nothing until the timer went off.

Was she happier during those 10 minutes then during the rest of the day? I’d wager a no on that one, but it did allow her to feel what it was like to slow down and not be running on adrenaline. Sure you get an endorphin rush when you’re running on adrenaline, but it tires you out! You’ll actually be more productive when you’re working from a place of calm then from constant adrenaline.

Happiness is where we find it, but rarely where we seek it. – J. Petit Senn

When you slow down you start to notice more things around you (less tunnel vision). And then, happiness might just find you where you are and you won’t need to look for it.

What is one thing you can do in the next week to allow yourself to slow down?

Photo credit: 318/365 – drafting drafting drafting. by b rosen via flickr