Happiness has been a hot topic for several years. Pharrell Williams wants us to clap when we find it. There are apps for smart phones to track our happiness. Almost 80,000 books on Amazon can help us understand the science behind it, offer strategies for having more of it and even figure out what we should be happy about. In 2011 the United Nations declared that happiness should be a fundamental human goal and two years ago began celebrating the International Day of Happiness every March 20th.
With all this talk about happiness, it seems like sometimes it’s in short supply. I think that has a lot to do with how we define happiness. It’s easy to look to some point in the future that, when circumstances are right, we will be happy. It’s an “if and when” proposition. I’ll be happy if this happens or I’ll be happy when that happens.
It’s pretty hard to be happy right now if you are always looking down the road somewhere waiting for the stars to align correctly. Add to that our typically narrow definition of what happiness looks like and it’s no wonder that we sometimes feel like it’s a scarce commodity.
I think there are 3 kinds of happiness.
The first I call blissful joy. That’s the kind of happiness that fills your heart to overflowing. It’s a take your breath away kind of experience. It usually catches us off guard when we least expect it. You might find it in a spectacular sunset, or a baby’s smile or an act of generosity. Blissful joy connects us to the things that deeply matter. It doesn’t happen every day. That’s what makes it so moving. But often that’s what we think happiness is supposed be all the time. Maybe I’m not happy because I’m not bubbling over with joy on a daily basis. It’s a critical part of our happiness experience but it’s not the only one.
The second kind of happiness I call peaceful contentment. It’s that feeling that life is good, not perfect but good. It brings a sense of calm and satisfaction. We often miss this kind of happiness because we are so focused on what is not working in our lives. The push for continuous improvement and striving for the next goal doesn’t leave a lot of room for enjoying what is already present. This kind of happiness is actually available for most people every day. It requires a shift in focus to what is working well. Of course for some people life isn’t going well at all. They do need to make some major changes that would allow peaceful contentment to return.
That’s why we also need to also tap into the third kind of happiness which I call grateful appreciation. Whether life is cooking on all burners or is completely burned out, our happiness is dependent on our awareness and acknowledgement of the blessings in our lives. When you are peacefully contented, gratitude is often easily present. We just forget to notice it. And when it feels like life is conspiring against us or takes a sudden and nasty turn, that is the critical time we need to stop and remember that no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse. Grateful appreciation requires an intentional practice which allows us to pause and take notice of the things we can easily take for granted. When we are connected to all of our many blessings, large and small, we can’t help but have a feeling of happiness.
If we put our time, attention and energy into peaceful contentment and grateful appreciation, we just might find that we encounter blissful joy a lot more often. When we pay attention to the happiness that is all around us, we realize that we don’t have to go looking for it. Now that’s something to clap about.
What are your thoughts on happiness?
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