Finding happiness – They key might surprise you
By Savina Akoumianaki
People must find their own interpretation of what “happiness” means for them. There is nothing new about this idea. Many artists, authors, philosophers and ordinary people apply their own meaning to the word. We can say that they are as many different kinds of happiness as there are people trying to explain it. For others there is no such thing as happiness. So what is the truth? Putting aside the lengthy existential, philosophical conversation about this topic, we can simply say that as people we can be happy.
Happiness is something we expect in the future
Recent research has shown that people who often talk about having goals tend not to be very happy. Although generally most people believe that they need goals in order to live a happy life, the evidence is controversial. What we find is a combination of 1) people without the knowledge and capacity to set small, realistic goals and 2) a belief that “finding the meaning of life” is the same as finding happiness. But finding the meaning of life and being happy are two different things. Furthermore, setting the goal of finding the meaning of life leads them to concentrate on changing their lives for the better, rather than living in the present. It’s like happiness is something they expect to materialize only after they’ve changed various aspects of their life. It is as if they cannot be happy in their life as it is.
The feeling that we have to change our life in order to make it better means that if we leave it the way it is things are not OK. We are searching for what is wrong with our lives and focusing on the negative. In this way we have what are called dysfunctional or incorrect thoughts, believing them to be correct. We then base our happiness on these thoughts. The paradox is that this leads to unhappiness!
Of course changing for the better is not a problem. The problem comes when we don’t stop, look at the positive things in life and live in the moment. After making many changes we still feel depressed and disappointed. Why? Because after trying so hard we have experienced that there is no correlation between “finding the meaning of life” and feeling happy.
Happiness depends on us
The good thing is that researchers have also found that there are conditions for happiness which are more or less the same for most people. Data analysis reveals: the social values of freedom and autonomy are the best harbinger of wellness and happiness. Research shows that living an active life brings us closer to happiness. So in order to have a happy, full life we must be active. Being involved in something is more important than the question of “why we are here”. It was also found that long-term and closer relationships make people happier than having many friends that are not very close. Another important aspect is to be involved in politics. This makes us feel that we are an important part of society and that our decisions matter. A feeling of solidarity also makes us feel closer to others.
“There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”
―Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
Patience is a virtue
You may have read that happiness is associated with things like being outgoing and optimistic, having high self-esteem, experiencing freedom or, as mentioned above, being engaged in something political. While all this may be true, the most important thing is patience. The real key to happiness is to be patient about life and what it has to offer instead of running around desperately trying to find it. Be sure: we all experience what we are ready for – some earlier, some later. There are many different factors that make some more ready than others, but if we really desire and have the patience to experience, it will come. Patience means to be peaceful and have positive thoughts that everything will come when it’s time, and in the meantime staying active with other things. Finally, research says that even feelings of sadness are useful because they help us to identify our negative thoughts and behaviors so that we can then minimize them.
Savina is a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist and author of technical articles, theatrical plays and self help texts. She has served as a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist and Systemic Therapist at health centers, a Clinical Psychologist at hospitals and clinics and as a teacher at NGOs. She has also worked as a researcher for the European Social Fund. Her research projects have been featured at conferences and published in scientific journals.