The daily hustle sometimes makes us forget what’s truly important. This piece sheds more light on the concept of happiness and how you can live happily.
– By Dr. Anne Mbonu
Does true happiness really exist? Can you honestly say that you are happy, I mean truly happy? If you are, then you are blissfully blessed. Happiness can be described as a subjective feeling of well-being, joy, contentment and satisfaction. Other commonly used monikers for happiness include pleasure, cheerfulness, bliss, gaiety and merriment.
All 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority, and the 20th of March has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Happiness. I wondered about the necessity of setting aside a particular day to reflect on our state of happiness, nevertheless it is quite apt considering that most of us consciously or subconsciously spend a huge amount of our time chasing aftermoney, which after all is said and done, is a cloak for our true search: happiness.
We are all familiar with the popular aphorisms that money can’t buy you love and that you can’t buy happiness with money, and yet we persistently seek ways to increase our personal wealth because we think it will bring us happiness. The anecdotal evidence is that some of the happiest people have little in the way of worldly goods while some of the most miserable people on earth are those with profound material wealth. There have been several tragic examples over the years of people who committed suicide after having scaled the lofty ladders of success only to realize that it did not bring them the happiness they thought it would.
Some people have a natural joie de vivre; a carefree ability to cheerfully take life in its stride and enjoy every moment of it.For other people, life is a never ending search for happiness – that feeling of joyful satisfaction that can be as fleeting as the rainbow that briefly appears as translucent droplets of rain cease to fall on a sunny day. Such a marvelous and awe-inspiring sight may warm the heart and evoke pleasant feelings– can we call this feeling happiness? Or is it the feeling we get when we buy something really nice and expensive for ourselves or our loved ones?
Certain people only find happiness in the sorrow of others, whilst others feel the most happy when they are serving others and helping to improve the lot of humanity in some way, however small. For some, it is the simple things in life like a hearty meal or the loving embrace of a cherished one. We seem to be constantly striving and struggling to accomplish our ideals and it seems that we think we will find a pot of golden happiness when we finally make it to the magical end of the rainbow.
Are we right to spend every waking minute of every day searching for happiness? Is happiness a mirage in the desert sands or does it really exist? Is there really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or is it all a pipe dream? Oh Happiness! Where art thou?
Somebody asked, “Does true happiness really exist?” This question usually surfaces when people are having an internal existential debate. On the face of it, the question appears simple and straight forward and deserving of a logical and clear answer. However we know that things are never that clear cut, and the answer to seemingly simple questions cannot be stated in stark black and white terms. The reason for this is that what holds true for one person may not apply to other people; in short, what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. This presents a challenging dilemma.
It is normal to have a range of emotions, and being in a state of constant bliss is not a realistic expectation. All feelings have their proper place and time, for example, no one should feel happy at the death of a loved one, or after a significant financial loss. Conversely, one should feel ecstatic on a joyful occasion such as the birth of a child, the acquisition of a new house or car, and hopefully, on your wedding day. People commonly feel jitters of anxiety before a big meeting or an important job interview, and myriad other situations and contexts, induced feelings abound. Nevertheless, we should not expect to feel extreme emotions all the time. Rather we should aim to attain a state of well-being and stable satisfaction as we navigate the waters of life.
So, how do we achieve baseline happiness regardless of the curve balls life throws at all of us? How do we find a middle ground between the peaks and troughs of emotions that flow through us, sometimes unbidden? Let us attempt to tackle this dilemma together by setting aside some time to reflect on our own lives. Let us remove our focus from our subjective feelings and instead direct our attention to our motivations, priorities and actions because I believe these hold the key to unlocking the vault that holds our happiness, or lack thereof.
What drives you? What gets you up and out of bed in the mornings? What do you spend the majority of your time thinking about or doing? It’s important to answer these questions truthfully to yourself because a wise book tells us that a person’s heart resides where the things they most value are, and I think that the key to true and enduring happiness lie within your own heart.
According to the World Happiness Report 2018, which relies on overall rankings of country happiness based on the pooled results from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2015-2017, the top ranking country this year is Finland, although the top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years with some changing places. The four different countries that have held top spot in the four most recent reports are Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Finland, which is this year’s “winner”. So what makes these countries so happy?
The report finds that the happiest countries rank most highly for the six key variables that effectively indicate personal well-being. These variables are income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Since 2011, the UN has been urging countries to broaden their focus and implement policies that not only increase economic output measures like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but rather to recognize that happiness is a “fundamental human goal” and therefore adopt policies that balance economic growth with promoting the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.
This shows us that our happiness, though intrinsically under our control should we choose to exercise that control, is also affected by our external circumstances, such as where we live. So even as we make the choice to be happy, we hope that those in control of the external factors that impact upon our daily lives will begin to make choices that promote individual wellbeing.
Picking up from an earlier theme, we all have the ability to control our feelings. Learning to take charge of our motivations and actions will help us achieve a steady state in which our emotions do not rule over us.
The Serenity Prayer authored by the now deceased American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
My advice to those in pursuit of happiness is this: take some time to think about the things that are most important to you, and make them a priority in your life. Daily do something related to that which you most treasure. Whenever you find yourself in a difficult spot, do what you can, when you can and if there’s nothing you can do, don’t worry about it.
I propose that true happiness really does exist, and can be achieved when we combine honesty about our true motivations and diligence in our daily actions with thankfulness and contentment, knowing that emotions change with life’s ebbs and flows.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.
Dr Anne Mbonu MBBS, MSc International Health Management (distinction) is an accomplished health care professional with almost 20 years of clinical and management experience within the health sector. She honed her skills in the medical specialty of Psychiatry, and completed her Master's degree in International Health Management with distinction at the Imperial College Business School, London. She is very passionate about improving health and well being in the community, and is registered with the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council as well as the U.K General Medical Council.