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The Happiness Combination: Two Keys To Open The Door

Mar 10, 2008
It is in our nature as humans to want to be happy. We strive for many things such as success, wealth, love, and peace because we believe they will make us happy. Sometimes though, no matter what we do or how hard we try, happiness eludes us. There is, however, a path to happiness for each of us and an internal GPS to find and navigate that path.

It Is Our Nature

Aristotle said, "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

The Dalai Lama says, "The very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. . . .the very motion of our life is towards happiness."

More than 2000 years apart these wise men speak the same message: it is in our nature to pursue happiness. And it is a life-long pursuit. We don't just get happy and that's that. We want to sustain happiness and get even happier.

Luckily there is no limit to happiness. No matter how happy you are, you can always become happier.

But how? How can you become happier?

Start by understanding happiness.

It Takes Both

In his book "Happier," author Tal Ben-Shahar defines happiness as "the overall experience of pleasure and meaning." He says a happy person "enjoys positive emotions while perceiving her life as purposeful." A person can experience difficult and painful emotions at times (this is part of being human too) and overall still be happy.

The key is that you need BOTH meaning and pleasure to be happy; one without the other is insufficient. When activities that bring you enjoyment in the present ALSO lead to a fulfilling future you have the combination for happiness.

Imagine a life in which you're focused only on some goal, some future destination. This is quite common in our culture. It's the "I'll be happy when. . . "

"I'll be happy when I get a promotion." "I'll be happy when I retire." "I'll be happy when my kids are safely through their teenage years."

But if you're not enjoying yourself along the way, you won't be happy. A meaningful destination is not enough.

On the other hand, imagine a life filled only with pleasures, spending your days eating, drinking, reading romance novels, lying on the beach, or whatever else brings you pleasure in the present moment.

At first this might be quite appealing. But eventually you'd become dissatisfied. You'd begin to feel your life was meaningless. Without challenging or stretching yourself, without moving toward something worthwhile, you wouldn't be happy. Pleasure is not enough.

To Get Happier

So how can you be happier? Spend as much time as possible engaged in activities that bring you enjoyment in the present AND also lead to a future that is meaningful to you.

If, for example, obtaining your master's degree was a worthwhile goal to you AND you enjoyed studying and going to classes, you would have a combination for happiness.

Or if you enjoyed cooking and did that to serve a purpose that mattered to you, such as teaching kids to cook healthy foods, you would have a combination for happiness.

Yes, you can still spend time pursuing purely pleasure in the moment. There are benefits to relaxing, nurturing yourself, and having fun.

And, even when you're heading toward a meaningful destination, there will be times when you'll have to do things that are mundane or not enjoyable.

The overall aim though -- and the path to being happier -- is to enjoy your journey on the way to a destination that you consider worthwhile.

Meaning and Pleasure for You

What is meaningful and pleasurable is individual to each person.

You might find it worthwhile to be kind to all people, find a cure for cancer, raise your children to be good citizens of the world, start a business that helps women be more successful in the work world, run a marathon, or countless other things. These might or might not matter to someone else.

When it comes to pleasure, you might enjoy spending time with children, doing online research, planning a vacation, cooking healthy food for your family, mentoring young people, teaching principles for living well, or any number of other things. Others might derive no pleasure from these activities.

To be happier, you need to do what is truly meaningful and pleasurable for YOU, not what you or other people THINK should be meaningful and pleasurable.

How Do You Know?

How can you identify what is meaningful and pleasurable to you? Listen to and follow your internal GPS: what lights you up.

What lights you up (what energizes and enlivens you) shows you what you love, what you're passionate about, what your heart is connected to. Your lights point the way to future destinations and goals that will be fulfilling as well as pleasures in the moment.

When you do more of what lights you up, you'll have more pleasure and meaning in your life and be on your path to becoming happier.

In Your Life

If you want to be happier (and even happy people could be happier), here are a few suggestions.

1) Ask yourself on a regular basis, "How could I be happier?" You may be surprised to discover that when you take time to ask yourself, you have answers you didn't realize you had.

2) Make a list of what is most meaningful and pleasurable to you. Do you want to spend more time on these items? What could you do to make that happen?

3) Choose destinations and goals for yourself that are fulfilling, not just "shoulds." It may take some practice and experimentation to do this and noticing what lights you up will provide very useful clues about what truly matters to you.

4) As you journey to your fulfilling destinations and goals, notice your lights. Are you enlivened and energized by your activities? How could you be even more lights on each day? Again, it may take practice and experimentation and your lights can show you what is pleasurable for you.

Happiness isn't limited or scarce. Nor does it simply arrive at your door. Becoming happier is a lifelong pursuit made easier when you realize you need both pleasure and meaning in your life. Use what lights you up to guide you to the pleasure and meaning that will bring you more happiness.

About the Author
Bonnie McFarland works with women at midlife who are bored, stuck, or restless and wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Visit www.labellavia.com for her free e-book and ezine to create more pleasure, passion, and purpose in your life.
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