‘Happiness’ is kind of a bullshit word because, not unlike the word ‘love,’ it can hold different meaning for different people.
But I don’t know a better word for conveying what it means to feel good, healthy, peaceful, hopeful (perhaps like you might remember feeling as a child when homework was your biggest problem, and life mostly consisted of pursuing the next good time, and dreaming about how amazing adulthood would be).
When I say ‘happy,’ what I really mean is “Life isn’t shitty. It’s kind of awesome. If every day could be like this, I would feel totally content for the rest of my life.”
It’s hard to be happy when you’re sad or angry.
It’s hard to be happy when you’re stressed or anxious.
It’s hard to be happy when you’re hurt or sick.…
I contend that happiness is what everyone wants in life—whether or not they’re aware of it—and even if they disagree with it. (Because it’s all semantics.)
No matter what that looks like, because while many people share common goals, everyone’s version of happy has its own unique spin.
Happy for some people is career success and financial freedom.
Happy for some people is travel and adventure.
Happy for some people is serving God or other people and living a spiritual life.
Happy for some people is orgasms and alcohol.
Happy for some people is fame and recognition.
Happy for some people is animals and nature.
Everyone has a different list of things, that when you add them to their lives while eliminating the bad things, it results in them feeling ‘happy.’
We are all pursuing, desiring, experiencing different things, for different reasons, but the hard truth is that we do what we do because we feel good about it during and/or afterward. Chemicals fire in our brains, and then we like it, and generally we want to feel more of that, thus our individual pursuits of happiness.
But Happiness is Often a Fleeting and Elusive Thing
Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s kind of a letdown.
Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s awesome at first, but then it stops being awesome once we get used to.
Sometimes the things we want change, and then we have to abandon course to pursue the new thing we want.
Always chasing. We idealize an end goal only to realize the end goal was kind of a stupid goal, or not nearly as great as we’d hoped, or that we’re inevitably dissatisfied once we’ve achieved it and start running toward something new.
We have a tendency to think: Once I get this thing, or once this happens for me, then I will feel good. THEN, I will finally be happy.
Repeatedly—sometimes painfully—Life teaches us that it doesn’t work that way.
No Matter What You Think You Want, Ask Yourself: Isn’t Happiness All I Really Want?
If you’re someone who likes really nice cars, and you really want a Ferrari, isn’t what you really want the first-person experience of owning and driving a Ferrari? The feeling that comes along with that?
It begs the question: Wouldn’t you be equally satisfied by achieving that same experience, that same FEELING, even if it came without the actual Italian super car?
‘Eff you, Matt. What do you know about being happy?’
But I seem to know something that not everyone does, and achieving happiness is impossible without knowing it.
YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF.
Not like some self-important asshole who compliments his or herself in the mirror all day.
But whoever you love the most in your life—the concern, affection, compassion, protectiveness, etc. that you feel for THAT person (a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a best friend, a pet, whatever), you 100-percent cannot and will not EVER achieve that elusive feeling of ‘happiness,’ without also demonstrating that same level of love and care for yourself.
When you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with yourself, and then you spend every waking and unconscious second INSIDE of the vessel you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with, then there is no healthy path to feeling good.
Without self-love, there can be no healthy path to not having shitty days full of self-loathing and regret and all kinds of other crap things no one wants.
The math is simple enough for me.
We only get a finite amount of time on this planet. It’s a blink, really. I turn 40 in a couple of months. I’ll be LUCKY if that’s the halfway point.
Truth is, there’s no guarantee I wake up tomorrow. That’s true every day.
And the fewer days I spend feeling shitty, and the more days I spend feeling glad to be alive seems like a worthwhile thing to consider.
I was accidentally happy every day until my marriage turned into a dumpster fire, and then every day smelled like hot garbage for a long time. So, that was the first time I ever encountered the question: How do I feel happy again?
Here’s what I learned:
1. If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to feel happy. That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves. But sometimes you don’t feel like taking care of yourself, because it takes more effort and energy. So, how? Easy answer.
2. Love yourself. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you don’t care about yourself. It’s not motivating at all. I don’t bend over backward for every fifth-grader in my city, but I do for my own because I love him intensely. The motivation to practice self-care is the natural result of loving myself.
3. Gratitude. Feel it, or your life will suck. Period.
I want to be damn careful about insensitivities surrounding depression and mental illness which are not conditions I know much about, but this is the part where I like to point out all of the people we’ve admired through the years that have taken their own lives one way or another. Chris Cornell. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin Williams. Kate Spade. Junior Seau. Don Cornelius. Hunter S. Thompson. Anthony Bourdain. Chester Bennington.
These are people most of us know from their accomplishments. They were among the best at what they do, were adored by millions of fans, and had the kind of financial security most of us dream about.
On paper, most of us think: Those people have a good life. I think if I was elite at my craft, praised and cheered for by millions for my talents, and had a fat bank account, I would be really happy.
A list of celebrity suicides/overdoses does not a scientific fact, make. But I think it lends credence to the idea that happiness doesn’t live with our end goals. It doesn’t arrive through what other people or the world gives us.
Happiness manifests when:
We are healthy.
We love ourselves, and treat ourselves with the same care that we treat others that we love.
And, when we are GRATEFUL—intentionally, humbly, mindfully grateful—for the gift of life, for the people in it, for what others do for us, etc.
If every day is: I wish I had this thing that I don’t currently have, then happiness—the thing we want and crave because it makes life a positive experience—will forever stay an illusion just out of reach.
And if every day is: I’m so blessed to have the use of my eyes. Ears. Arms. Legs. I’m so blessed that my children are healthy. I’m so blessed that mosquito bites don’t kill us because of modern medicine and our financial resources. I’m so blessed that I don’t have to walk three miles to find safe drinking water. I’m so blessed that people prepare food and then truck it to a store so that I can buy it instead of running after it in the forest, or growing it in fields, then good things start to happen.
It’s never-ending. Our healthy gratitude list. It can literally go forever, because there are INFINITE things to feel legitimately grateful for.
It takes practice to remember to feel it. It’s not the kind of thing someone can mention, and then you spend the rest of your life feeling grateful for everything, and then happy as a result.
It’s work. Mindful, deliberate work.
But, once it is a habit? Once it does take root?
The world changes around us because, as Anaïs Nin famously said: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
We don’t have to chase anything. We don’t have to search for it.
Like everything important and sacred and precious in life, it tends to be hiding in plain sight.