“Happiness is not something ready made.
It comes from your own actions.” ~The Dalai Lama
The word “happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, which means luck or chance. True to its origins, many people seem to go through life waiting to stumble onto happiness, for it to find them, or to catch their lucky break. But rather than happiness being some mysterious thing that we have no control over, the reality is that we are usually about as happy as we make up our minds to be.
In my reading, practicing and asking other people about happiness, the converse also interested me: what doesn’t make us happy? I’m not talking about the everyday frustrations of life, and certainly not the true, huge tragedies that greatly affect us and which we can’t help but be sad or angry about at the time. I was more interested in finding out what we learn about happiness as we go through life – what we thought would make us happy that didn’t, and how we cultivate happiness as we journey and grow.
With the people who responded to my “happiness interview,” and in virtually all the reading I’ve done on the subject, it seems that most everyone had a different idea of what would make them happy at a younger age. And most everyone found that those things did not make them happy, and through the experience of living began to learn how to cultivate true inner happiness.
Most of these “happiness let-downs” had to do with either money and material possessions, or other people. Many people shared that wanting someone else to make them happy, or being in an unhealthy relationship, brought misery instead. Others said that working at jobs that were completely wrong for them caused a happiness fail. Heather admits that in the past she denied herself happiness by staying in bad relationships or jobs – something we can probably all relate to. The problem, of course, is that if you’re looking to outside things or people to make you happy – it can be taken away just as easily.
“I thought having a well-paying job and living in a nice house would bring me happiness, yet when I had the good job and nice house, I was more miserable than I’ve ever been!” wrote Dawnene. “Now, I’ve lost everything but I’m actually a happier person.”
Jefre echoes this: “When I was in my 20’s I thought that outrageous wealth and possessions would make me happy. In my mid 30’s when I had that outrageous wealth, multiple houses, cars and boats I was the most unhappy.
For the first 44 years of my life I was always looking to my family, my lovers, my friends, my employer, my things, etc. to make me happy. Only once I realized that I am the only one that can make myself happy did I become truly happy, and able to sustain that happiness.”
Lori Deschene of Tiny Buddha says, “The world doesn’t change all that much if I have more money, a different space, a better job, or a nicer car. The wrapping paper is different, but the gift inside stays the same.”
Also, as Sandy points out, it’s really unfair to others to expect them to make you happy. “When I was younger, I believed that happiness came from others, material things, happy times. Although I definitely find happiness in those things, I have grown to realize that it is really my own reactions & feelings about those that bring about the happiness. It is also a great burden & responsibility you place on those in your life to expect them to define your happiness or lack thereof.”
Robert Holden, author of Happiness Now and creator of the Happiness Project, says that nothing and no one will ever be good enough if you decide that you are not good enough. We search for a partner who will love us more than we love ourselves – but how is this possible? And when we find someone, we demand that they love us, that they make us happy, even if we aren’t doing those things for ourselves. And as long as we aren’t, we will find it impossible to accept their love for us.
I subscribed to much of those same false beliefs about happiness when I was younger, too. It sometimes took a lot of painful experiences and disappointments to grow beyond it. I don’t know if it’s our modern Western culture that bombards us with messages about what we should want or don’t have, along with the unrealistic Hollywood romance movies that promise that happiness will magically come when you find that person who “completes” you – but I, too, have found that these are just ways of covering up our own internal journey. It’s not out there, it’s in here; and as someone much wiser than me once said – if you aren’t happy without it, you’re not going to be happy with it.
There are no shortcuts to happiness;
we have to choose it and make it ourselves.
Only a few more days left of this experiment; I’ll be recapping and announcing my new project this week. Until then….