What is True Happiness and How to Experience True Happiness Now
Content Written/Updated on February 16, 2010
I am a happy person. When everything in life is going along as I've planned, I'm happy. When things fall apart, and I know that my life will never be the same, I'm still happy.
I wasn't always a happy person. I didn't always understand what happiness was, so instead of being happy, I tried to chase happiness. It wasn't until I learned about true happiness that I finally became happy.
What Happiness Isn't
Happiness, true happiness, is not a temporary indulgence of pleasure. It isn't an achievement or something you can buy. It isn't even the experience of falling in love or getting a second chance. The pleasure you get from such highs is wonderful and intense, but it's not true happiness because such pleasures are fleeting. Storybooks and movies have given us the lie that all you need to do is accomplish the goal (e.g. kill the enemy, marry the lover, win the Nobel Prize, etc.), and you'll live happily ever after. But "ever after" from such climatic endings isn't actually forever. The high of pleasure can't be sustained for long and eventually gives way to a painful low. It's like a hangover or withdrawal. It's like floating on waves.
Imagine that you are in the ocean floating along with the current. You bob up to the top of one wave and sink down into the wave's trough as it passes by. Bigger waves can take you higher, but they can also slam you down harder and may even cause you to drown. You may be able to surf those bigger waves, allowing you to stay higher for longer periods of time, but eventually they too eventually crest and break and crash down onto the beach, and you will be left again in a low. You can't surf a wave forever. Eventually you must go out to find another wave to achieve that pleasurable high again, so we continue a cycle of highs and lows, rising to the crest and sinking to the trough or being thrown off the wave completely and landing on the beach where we can't surf the wave at all. It may seem that the best way to avoid the sinking between waves is to simply avoid the waves at all, but that may not be the best idea either.
Happiness isn't absolute rest either. Instead of an ocean, now imagine yourself in a waveless pool without any current at all. It may be restful to float peacefully in such a pool of calm water, but without waves or current, the water will become stagnant, and sitting in a stagnant pool of water isn't something many of us would want to do for long. Eventually we would become bored. Our bodies are constantly going through cycles, ups and downs, as they attempt to achieve homeostasis, a state of balance. On a molecular level, these cycles are what drive the bodily functions that allow us to live. If our bodies ever achieved that perfect balance, they would become like the still pool of water, stagnant. They would cease functioning, and we would die.
So if happiness isn't the cycle of highs and lows of temporary pleasures, and it isn't the stagnation of absolute rest, what is it?
What Happiness Is
Happiness isn't just one thing. It's a combination of things. Happiness is a sense of contentment, a feeling of satisfaction, an appreciation for the blessings you have, a realization that you are valuable just as you are no more or less than any other being, a joy in feeling connected, a freedom in feeling unique, an excitement in knowing that there will always be something new and unknown to experience, and a confidence that everything will turn out just fine even when all seems to be falling apart.
In short, happiness the ability to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Like being in the ocean, sometimes the ride may be fun. Sometimes it may be scary. Some parts of the ride may repeat again and again, even though we wish they would stop, while other parts are over before we want them to be. Sometimes you have no control over where the ride takes you. Other times you can decide which direction to go. No matter what, though, you can't get off as long as you're alive, so you can either resist the experience and agonize over it or let go and enjoy it.
How to Experience True Happiness
True happiness only happens when we take a step back from the chaos and allow ourselves to fully experience the moment.
If we are looking to the past to remember experiences that were more pleasurable or restful than the ones we are having now, then we are forgetting the happiness we have right now in front of us. If we are looking to the future with hope that we'll someday be happier than we are right now, then we are missing the happiness we are already experiencing. Reminiscing can be pleasurable, but to have true happiness while reminiscing, we need to let ourselves feel blessed in the present for having had the opportunity to experience and remember such happy events. Daydreaming about the future can be pleasurable, but to have true happiness while looking forward, we must let ourselves feel blessed in the present for having the opportunity to dream, have hope, and try to make those dreams come true.
The best way to bring more happiness into your life right now, to be happier, is to focus on the blessings of this moment. Pleasurable blessings are easy to find. If we were asked to make a list of blessings in our lives, most of us would begin by listing the pleasurable experiences we've had, such as achievements, having loved ones we feel connected to, and owning possessions. Blessings may not always be pleasurable experiences, though. Sometimes, blessings may be painful learning experiences, like deaths, failures, and frustrations, but even these blessings can be appreciated in the moment. These experiences give us opportunities to grow and teach us to appreciate our pleasurable experiences.
When we choose to allow ourselves to observe this very moment as just another moment on a wave, realize the blessings in this moment, and remind ourselves that another wave will be by shortly, we suddenly find ourselves in state of happiness.
Being happy isn't going to stop you from experiencing pain or pleasure or even rest for that matter. There will always be waves to surf and still pools to relax in. There will always be highs and lows and times of stagnation. Happiness isn't about the things that happen to you or the things you do. Happiness is a state of mind in which you allow yourself to let it all go, embrace the moment, and enjoy the ride.
How to Experience True Happiness NOW
- At this very moment, decide that you are going to allow yourself to be happy.
- Give yourself permission to stop worrying about the future. It hasn't happened yet, so it doesn't really exist. Choose to let the future unfold as it will.
- Give yourself permission to let go of the things in the past. The are over with and gone. Choose to move forward.
- Now observe the moment. Maybe nothing seems to be happening. Maybe there is noise and chaos around you. Maybe there is a part of your body that is in pain, or perhaps you are feeling full of energy. Just be an observer. Don't judge it as good or bad, right or wrong. Just observe. This is your life at this moment. It is what it is.
- Notice how everything you are experiencing right now is a blessing. Some things right now are giving you a sense of pleasure. Other things may be painful or frustrating but are helping you grow and appreciate. Even the things that don't seem to affect you at all, the things you never noticed before because they didn't seem to matter, are allowing you to rest from the waves of pleasure and suffering. Everything is a blessing. Allow yourself to feel grateful for all of your blessings in this very moment.
- Allow yourself to become aware of your own awareness. You are not just a collection of atoms like a stone in the dirt or a star in the cosmos. You are not a mindless biological machine. You are not an emotionless computer. You are alive. You exist. And you are aware. Because of that, you are able to experience all of these wonderful blessings in your life, all of the pleasure and pain, all of the chaos and stillness, everything. It is so immensely amazing that you exist as you do. You are a miracle.
- Now, just allow yourself to be in this moment, to experience every sight, sound, texture, scent, flavor, sensation, and emotion, to be fully aware of your existence. This is where happiness exists.
At first, it may take awhile for you to get through these steps. In the beginning, you may not even get through them all. The more often you practice, though, the faster you can go from frustrated to blissful. You may eventually find that you can bring yourself to this state of full awareness, mindfulness, instantly. You will also find yourself able to stay in this state for longer and longer periods.
One of the excuses people often use to avoid practicing mindfulness is the lack of time to meditate in this way, but you don't need to let your practice of mindfulness overtake the rest of your life. You don't need to sit quietly like a Buddhist monk or a yogi for hours. If we all sat cross-legged and meditated for most of every day, very little of the required tasks of life would get accomplished. But you can practice mindfulness when doing your chores, when having a new experience, and even when facing a tragedy. Use such events as reminders to go through the experience in a state of full awareness, fully experiencing the blessings of pleasure, pain, and rest. After awhile, you may find yourself practicing automatically. With continued practice, eventually, you may find yourself in a state of constant happiness no matter what events happen, no matter what tasks you must complete, no matter what desires you plan to fulfill. Simply be aware of the miracle that is your life, your existence.
Why happiness motivates us.