Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
Happiness is an emotion associated with contentment and intense joy which is why it is so elusive and short lived that most of us are constantly in search of it trying to harness and sustain it. It is no wonder then that the self help industry has flourished more than any other genre in the last decade alone.
I too am no exception. I, like so many others, have found myself seeking and finding ways to achieve this most elusive of states. I have read literature, watched shows, listened to podcasts and even had extensive discussions about just how best to make sure one can find and keep that state of being. But every time I think I have figured it out, I am jolted out of my happiness by the intrusion of daily cares and worries that are the embodiment of unhappiness.
This of course leads to questions such as why unhappiness is so accessible. Why is it that we can so easily think unhappy thoughts and feel unhappy? What’s more, because of the ease in which one can be unhappy, for some it is like a drug. They don’t know why but they are constantly feeling negative and can’t seem to quit the inclination to be unhappy. This is why I am convinced that unhappiness is like a drug that is so seductive because we are naturally prone to access it and become addicted to it.
A Havard study done in November 2010 identified daydreaming as one of the main culprits responsible for unhappiness. Daydreaming is the unique ability that humans have to think about anything other than the present and it may actually be the chief cause of our unhappiness. When our minds wonder we tend to think about the past and contemplate the future. When in this state of wondering, the study found, that most of the thoughts generated were unhappy. The wondering mind tends to reevaluate past events finding dissatisfaction with the events and it contemplates the future and finds itself unhappy with the unknown. The results of the study brought to mind the old adage, “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, a saying that has been used incessantly by my mother to prompt people out idleness for centuries. The Havard study found that the human mind is naturally inclined to think unhappy thoughts unless it is fully engaged in the activity it is doing in the present time. In other words when your mind is concentrating on whatever activity you are currently doing, you are more predisposed to happiness.
The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said that the advancement of societies has correlated with the increase in unhappiness of man. Perhaps it’s because the more developed we get, the more time we have to spend on thoughts and exploring ways to achieve that oh so elusive of all feelings, happiness. Unhappiness, the thoughts and feelings that embody it, are inherently a part of who we are.
Unhappiness I believe, serves the special purpose of propelling people to implement changes in our environment to improve our station. But just like anything else, too much of it, leads to a permanent state of dissatisfaction that can then result in lasting impressions of dissatisfaction.
If unhappiness is so easily accessible, how then does one find a way to access happiness and maintain it?
The answer thus far, I have found is to work at it. There is no other way. Since our minds are naturally inclined to seek out unhappiness, it is quite natural then that it takes some work to reprogram your mind to seek out happiness. To get you started, and the reason I say this is because, you have to sustain your efforts in order to make this a habit, you can try out any of the three strategies highlighted below that might help you banish the natural habit to think unhappy thoughts:
- Focus! Focus! Focus! on the task at hand.
The Havard Study on unhappiness found that most unhappiness was logged when the mind wondered. The longest periods of happiness were logged during instances of concentrated activity happening at the present time such as love making.
To create happiness, you need to be present in whatever activity you are involved in. You need to engage both mentally and physically. For example rather than think of lunch when your boss is talking, direct your mind to concentrate on the information being shared. Find ways to contribute to the discussion and you will distract your mind from its tendency to wonder to unrelated matters. It won’t happen overnight but with practice you will notice your mind wondering less and less to other thoughts and ultimately the hope is that you will find yourself attuned to the present rather than partially experiencing it.
2. Build Awareness.
After reading Eckart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth”, a fantastic book that I have read repeatedly and can’t seem to be able to put down, he talks about awareness being the ability to know and recognize the thoughts that are in your mind. As you acknowledge these thoughts, you become aware of them and eventually even find a way to counteract them. This does not mean you should try to banish them, it simply means that you are acknowledging they exist. As you become aware of these thoughts you will be less and less likely to act on them and the ultimate goal will be to find other thoughts to counteract those unhappy ones.
3. Choose your environment.
The environment you surround yourself with, will influence your thoughts. If you surround yourself around a constant stream of unhappiness, you are more than likely going to develop the natural habit of indulging in these thoughts. The saying, “misery loves company” comes to mind on this one. Ever noticed how unhappy people always surround themselves with other unhappy people? What you surround yourself with will leave an imprint on you and ultimately serve as an avenue for generating unhappy thoughts.
Make sure that as much as possible you infuse yourself with positive information. Information you have, will lead to the thoughts you will have and ultimately either happy or unhappy thoughts. Some religious material or meditation materials serve the purpose of providing positive literature that can influence your mind as do participating in group activities that will generate these feelings. A friend of mine shared with me that her husband had been participating in an optimism club where their main focus was to contemplate the positive implications of given situations. This same friend said that her husband seemed to be in a positive predisposition even in the direst of situations and he would constantly seek solutions to situations.
These three strategies tried in any order to fit any occasion serve as a gateway to kicking the most addictive habit of being unhappy which is the resultant of constantly engaging in unhappy thoughts. In time and with practice you will find your mind veering less and less to unhappy thoughts and focusing on present moments thereby generating more positive thoughts.
- Stop thinking about it – daydreaming makes you unhappy (durhamcoaches.wordpress.com)
- A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. (mindblog.dericbownds.net)
- Letting your mind wander is a major cause of unhappiness (io9.com)
- Assay: Why Does Happiness Have Such a Bad Reputation? (psychologytoday.com)
- Assay: Why Does Happiness Have Such a Bad Reputation? (happiness-project.com)
- Study Confirms the Buddhist Approach to Happiness: Mindfulness (grantlawrence.blogspot.com)
- A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy One (scientificamerican.com)
- Happiness–Part 2: Can We Make Ourselves Happy? (bigthink.com)
- How to raise an unhappy child (blogs.berkeley.edu)
- Deepak Chopra: Why You Don’t Want to Be Happy (huffingtonpost.com)