There was a period of time in my life when I felt incredibly compelled to investigate what would make me happy. I’ll be honest with you. That time was about 10 minutes ago, and I determined a snack would make me happy. Update: I settled on popcorn and orange juice, and they did indeed make me really happy. I share that with you not to brag but to discuss a concept that has always been fascinating to me: the pursuit of happiness.
Many books have been written about this topic. A glorious movie was given its namesake as a result of the film’s depiction of one man’s journey through the theme, and a nation’s founders determined this concept to be an inherent, permanent entitlement of all men (Candace translation: humans). The pursuit of happiness has us all wrapped around its existential finger. It has clearly been a marker of shared experiences for many, if not all, the human beings I’ve encountered.
Happiness is defined as the state of being happy aka feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Happiness ranges from satisfaction to well-being to elation to immense joy to flourishing and beyond. In all contexts of happiness, the emotional and mental manifestations of the state are subjective to the human experiencing them.
This leads me to what I find most interesting about the pursuit of happiness, but first, I have to ask you a few questions.
1. What makes you happy?
2. When was the last time you intentionally tried to connect yourself with the things that make you happy?
3. What leads you to deny yourself happiness? Why?
4. How do you know when you are happy?
On a scale from 1-5, how easy was it for you to answer those questions (1 = I couldn’t | 5 = very).
Why do you think it was so easy for you?
Why do you think it was so challenging?
What I love about these questions is that they shine a (very bright) light on the integrity of our pursuit of happiness. There have been many challengers of the viability of pursuing happiness. Some say pursuing happiness can make a person miserable. A general caution from these challengers is that in many instances, humans focus on the pursuit and the experience of the pursuit more than they focus on the state of happiness. The means receives a greater prioritization of time, effort, resources, attention (and much more) than the end.
The more difficult these 4 questions are for you, the more likely the pursuit of happiness is consuming you than you are consuming (experiencing) the happiness itself. You may find that you ask yourself forms of the following questions:
“Am I happying right?”
“Does my happiness look (feel) like happiness is supposed to look (feel)?
Or even “Why can’t I just be happy?”
In order to actually be happy, you have to know subjectively what happiness is supposed to be like — that means in your opinion and dependent on your mind. If you struggle to answer these questions or find that you are unhappy with your answers, you may be out of touch with or repressing your personal needs. Your pursuit for happiness will be a windy and uncomfortable one because a victorious conquest of happiness has to be self, intrinsically, derived. No one has the answer but you. If you aren’t giving yourself an answer to what happiness ought to be, you won’t feel it.
Let’s take this convo back to the popcorn and juice. We’ve, and by we’ve I mean I’ve, already determined that this moment, these things, made me happy. Was this a prolific life experience? No. Did this moment of my life carry a lot of meaning? Well no and also yes. This moment helped me to identify one of my pursuit of happiness superpowers. I had a thought that I was aware of and listened to that helped me to see that I wasn’t in a state of happiness. Ya girl was hungry and teetering on the ropes of hangriness. With that awareness, I asked myself what would make me happy. Sugar and Salt. And thus, I arrived at a quick solution to my state of discontentment. OJ & Air-Popped Kernels. The nostalgia of the snack took me even beyond contentment to elation and joy #teamextra.
Let me outline that Pursuit of Happiness Commute for you:
1. I listened to my body and being, and recognized when they weren’t pleased.
Our bodies and beings communicate with us nonstop. We are innately designed to be resilient. One definition of the word resilient is being “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.” When we leave our state of contentment after our needs and desires are bent, stretched or compressed, our brain and body chime in with a built in resilience mechanism called pain, including physical, mental and emotional signals. When your body and your being start to communicate with you through pain, listen, as quickly as you can.
2. I asked my body and being what they wanted and listened again when they responded.
If you hold space for yourself to provide care, you will. Just ask and listen.
3. I used my personal agency to get myself the thing(s) I needed.
You have free will. It’s a beautiful gift. Use it as often as you can. If your free will can’t get you what you want or need, ask for help (and keep asking). That usually will do the trick.
4. I leveled up my happy factor by integrating other things I know about myself that could amplify my sense of happiness. Anything that makes me feel like a 6 year old tugs on my heart strings (read: happy strings) everytime.
Think of the moments in your past that you’ve experienced happiness. When you come up with your happiness solution in the present moment, see if you can infuse it with another thing you know makes you happy to take it to the next level. This helps you scale the happiness mountain by utilizing a nostalgia pulley. You can take an experience from contentment to elation by tapping into the things you’ve learned about yourself in the past.
Check out some important notes about what I didn’t do (in this instance):
1. Ignore the need or desire. (Which I sometimes do.)
This not only leaves you in the state of unhappiness even longer (that blows!), it also diminishes your brain’s capacity to teach you how to nourish and protect and heal yourself. It’s like your best friend telling you they don’t trust you. Are you able to have a healthy, intimate relationship with someone who tells you they don’t trust you? I don’t think so!
2. Call my mom, cousin, best friend, God dog’s breeder to ask their opinion.
You are the most important person in the equation when optimizing your pursuit of happiness. Remember happiness is subjective. The minute you throw someone else in the mix, you disrupt the equilibrium of your personal capacity to acquire happiness.
3. Run a marathon when the finish line was just 1 meter ahead of me.
One of the things I’ve inherited as a member of #teamextra is an uncanny ability to make something far more complicated than it needs to be. I was really proud of myself that my Pursuit of Happiness Commute lined up with the necessary amount of effort and time this scenario required.
If you’ve read this far down the page, I commend you and I thank you. I assure you that this is not (all) science or hard-fast rules. So much of this can be discussed with far more nuance than I gave myself space to outline here. That’s where you come in though! I want to hear your thoughts and reflections in the comments. What resonated with you? In what ways do you think I am completely full of sh*t? Sound off! Our community is better because you contribute to it. Thanks as always for reading!
Love + Light,
P.S. I am looking for peeps who are looking to explore a deeper sense of self-trust to join my January 2021 group coaching course! If that's you, email me! Let's chat!