Advertising signs often have an unintended impact on me. Instead of prompting me to buy the goods or services they are selling, slogans sometimes get me thinking about philosophical questions.
That happened the other day when I saw a billboard advertising a yoga studio that said:
Can you be happier?
Is being happy a yes or no proposition? Is it like being pregnant – you either are or you aren’t?
Or does happiness come in increasing intensity? Is happiness more like being wet – you can be anything from damp to soaked clear through.
It’s an intriguing question.
The science of happiness has produced a lot of research on what contributes to people’s feelings of satisfaction and contentment – everything from expressing gratitude to building relationships to creating meaningful goals. Not surprisingly happiness is not found in having possessions or in money, except if you give it away.
Dan Harris, in his book 10% Happier, suggests that mindfulness practice can make life at least ten percent better. By any other standard, that’s a good return on investment. Mindfulness helps us return to the present moment and as a result we are more likely to pay attention to the small joys in life.
In a workshop on happiness I recently facilitated, I asked participants to list 3 good things that had happened on the previous day. We defined “good” as things that made us happy or contented or appreciative. It was surprising how many people struggled to come up with 3 things. The biggest stumbling block was in how they were defining happy. They had set the benchmark pretty high and so they skipped over lots of things that upon reflection did actually make them happy.
Maybe most people do consider their happiness in percentages and that’s why they are not as happy as they would like to be. I’m not sure that putting happiness on a scale serves us very well. It tends to make us continually search for more rather than simply appreciate happiness in the moment. As soon as we start evaluating the intensity of our happiness, we devalue what we are experiencing because it’s not “as much” as some other imagined event.
Perhaps we just need to embrace being happy period rather than ranking our happiness along some scale. Something that makes you smile is just as valuable as something that makes you overjoyed. Whether there are little things or big things that contribute to our sense of joy and contentment, it doesn’t really matter. In the moment, you are either happy or you are not. Stop striving to be happier and simply be happy.
What makes you happy?
p.s. This article was first published in my community blog Life Goes On for the St. Albert Gazette.