How can we be happy in a world of suffering?

The cultivation of happiness is a topic I discuss frequently with clients. To many, it seems as though there is immeasurable suffering and pain in their world as well as the world at large. Certainly, if we access any news media, the stories are filled with violence, tragedy, sadness and suffering. Individuals are dealing with marital distress, family illness, career dissatisfaction, parenting challenges, discrimination, financial insecurity, etc., all the way down to the day-to-day stressors that arise such as a water leak in the kitchen ceiling.

How can we be happy in the midst of all the pain and suffering?  

I frame happiness as a sense of inner peace, contentment, and living a meaningful life. We cannot eliminate negative events, negative thoughts, or negative emotions. We cannot control other people or events. However, don’t want a view of “I can’t control anything” to make us feel like helpless victims of circumstance in life. We have to focus on what we can control which is ourselves – our thoughts, our mindset, our behaviors, and our outlook on life. Only 10% of our happiness is due to external circumstances and 90% is based on our inner environment. Hopefully this is encouraging because we can change our inner environment!

Happiness is an emotion just like sadness, anger, nervousness, etc. Emotions are not good or bad, right or wrong, they are tools and give us information about ourselves and the world. All emotions are temporary and therefore we can feel happy temporarily, but it not a state that we stay in. Therefore, we have to intentionally practice skills that will lead to greater inner peace and contentment. 

 The research in the field of Positive Psychology has identified seven habits – that if practiced intentionally and consistently– will change the neural pathways of our brain to become happier.  These are: 

·     Mindfulness

·     Gratitude

·     Wellness

·     Acts of kindness

·     Authenticity and vulnerability

·     Relationships and connection

·     Spiritual engagement, purpose, and meaning

Over the next week, I will break down each of these seven habits and provide examples for how to start practicing them. The key to any habit? Practice and consistency. As adults, we expect ourselves to learn and master new things quickly. This, combined with a society programmed to expect immediate gratification, leads us to quit working on change before we even give it a chance to make a difference. Our current habits are etched into our neural pathways - we have many automatic behaviors and thoughts because we have practiced them for a long time.  You didn’t always know how to drive a car and it took many hours of practice to master that skills. 

If you want to go on a journey to start practicing happiness habits, do some reflection and ask yourself why? What will the motivation for this change be? How might life be different or better?

Are you prepared to change the focus from the external to the internal? Are you prepared to give up on trying to alleviate suffering and maybe even embrace suffering? If so, be prepared for work, to have patience with yourself, to face challenges, and to have an open mind. If we focus on the outcome (i.e., “I don’t know if I will be happier at the end of 90 days of practicing these habits.”) vs the process (i.e., “I am going to focus on daily habits and see what happens.”) then we will be less likely to stick with it when the going gets tough. 

If you feel you’d benefit from some counseling or coaching on happiness habits and mindset change, email me  to schedule an appointment.