01.03.2012 Relationships

The Happiness Principle

Happiness just happens when we live each day with a light heart, says relationships counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders

When things are easy, we take them for granted but is that necessarily a bad thing? The greatest gift sometimes is to be able to take the things we love for granted. Not to the extent where it can lead to contempt or abuse but so that we can be comfortable with our gifts and not doubt them. Above all, we should nurture our closest relationships and other precious life treasures, trusting that they are indeed ours and with a sensitive amount of care, can always be.

The type of 'taking for granted' that can be positive is where there is lack of struggle, insecurity and uncertainty. As long as we hold on too tightly to what we have, choosing fear over serenity, we can never really know peace and true prosperity.

It's okay to be a little 'hungry' in life because if we had everything we wanted all the time, there'd be nothing to strive for and no sense of achievement when we do succeed.

So, as with everything in life, balance is the key. Let us embrace our triumphs with enough humility to learn from both successes and so-called failures. Life is full of both. No one can ever exist without some strife, disappointment and conflict but these can only cripple us if we allow them to define us. We are more than our achievements or mistakes.

If we have set expectations and require perfect outcomes, we will never be free - we will be the victims of our own self image, slaves to ambition, vanity, ego and greed.

A good rule of thumb is to live without obsession and with moderation, boring as that notion often is. Anything we want too much, seek too much and give too much energy to, will turn around and bite us, sooner or later.

Live light
Are you happy? This question is likely to bring either a defensive response like "Of course I am!" or a bemused reply of, "No, should I be?"

Happiness is such a simple, natural concept and yet it seems so hard for the average person to attain. Most of us are really bad at being happy!

Why on earth should this be so? Firstly, let's explode some myths and then we can look at some strategies for allowing happiness into our lives.

Myths about happiness:

* Happiness is somewhere 'out there' and we have to find it
* It's associated with goals, places, people, events
* I can get happiness and (make) others happy too
* Happiness is basically unattainable and certainly fleeting
* It has to be earned.
* It's elusive and in the future somewhere
* You need a reason to be happy.

Sounds familiar?
Happiness lives within us, never outside of us. Therefore, it cannot come from external sources. The joy we get from things outside is the cream on the cake, an extra bonus but it can never be the whole story. Relying on people, places and events to make us happy is the ultimate fantasy. It can only bring transitory pleasure and disappointment in the end.

There is no need to try to get happiness because it is your natural birthright. It exists deep within you like a constant wellspring - infinite, always available, powerful. Imagine knowing that you can be happy at any time and forever, without having to do anything to earn it or make it happen.

As happiness is linked to the life source energy, like sexuality, creativity, spirituality and joy, it rests in the individual and therefore, cannot be bestowed by one person on another. This is one of our greatest myths - that we can make each other happy. At best, it is a romantic illusion created by songs, literature and popular culture. At worst, it causes a great deal of society's heartache as this mistaken idea is taken into marriage and other relationships where it can only be ground into dust by the heavy foot of disillusionment. The saddest part is that we don't need to suffer if only we are prepared to accept responsibility for our own happiness. It works both ways. If no one has to make you happy, neither do you have to do it for others. Think how liberating that is! It isn't selfish or uncaring because as you feel your own happiness, you'll have more to share with others, anyway.

Happiness is a choice. All you have to do is open yourself up to it and it'll be there continuously for you.

The type of happiness that is possible on a permanent level is the interior peace that means you feel good inside your own skin, that you have a positive relationship with yourself and you're enjoying the journey we call life. It means you can relax, be yourself, not have to try so hard to please and impress.

Most people feel happiness is a goal to be reached somewhere in the future. It's what I call 'deferred happiness'. You know the kind of thing - "I'll rest on the weekend", "I'll travel when I retire", "I haven't got time to play sport", "I'm too busy" - and so on.

Each day is a unique experience and cannot be retrieved if you waste it. Wasting time having fun is fabulous, wasting time in regret, guilt and anxiety is expended energy you could better utilise elsewhere.

Have you noticed that if you just feel happy for its own sake, people think you're strange? They say things like, "What do you have to be happy about?" or "What's brought on this cheerful mood?" The whole point of being happy on a continuous basis is that there is no particular reason - you feel the joy inside you and you naturally smile and shine, like walking near the ocean on a glorious summer's day and being grateful just to be alive. You can have that bliss all the time, in the sun, in the rain, on good days and difficult, when life is going your way and when it appears everything is against you. It's feeling "okay" inside all the time. That is true freedom. And as you shine, those around you bask in the warmth of your joy.

How do we positively work with the happiness principle?

* Look for signs everywhere
* Make positive thinking a choice
* Relax and stop worrying
* Remember life is a daily adventure
* Connect with your inner child every day
* Play every day, not just on weekends and holidays
* Love yourself enough to allow happiness in your life

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.