My Happiness Formula

 

‘Happiness’ is a tricky word.  This famous Nathaniel Hawthorne quote sums up the attitude of many to that ever-elusive monarch butterfly, happiness:

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

This makes happiness seem like a special grace, or a fairy, who descends or alights on your shoulder capriciously, and exactly at the moment you stop trying.  In some ways, I agree with this.  But I believe there is also more to it.  Let me explain.

Happiness Hack #1:  Get Your Eudaimonia in Order

I often use the Greek word Eudaimonia with clients, instead of “happiness”.  It is a word commonly associated with human happiness or welfare, although flourishing, prosperity, and even blessedness have been suggested as more accurate translations.  It is a broader and deeper concept, one that arcs over an entire life, rather than an elusive state that occurs once in a while, largely beyond our control.  A Eudaimonic life is a life of overall flourishing, overall deep satisfaction (earned through a life of meaning and purpose), and overall movement towards self-actualization.  Eudaimonia allows for shitty days.  You can have a shitty day, even a shitty year, and still feel yourself to be gripped, overall, by the broader and deeper grace of Eudaimonia.  A Eudaimonic thought would be something like, This has been a no good, terrible, awful day that can go and fart into a shoebox.  But overall, I know I am constructing a narrative of continual growth and overcoming along my journey, I know I am on my path, and I am proud of the person I am, and the person I will continue to be.  In other words, you’re pretty confident that if you’re blessed to live a long life, you will look back on your life with a smile, and with gladness in your heart, if only because the way you lived was really and truly in alignment with your own authentic values (not anyone else’s).  This is Happiness Hack #1 because if your Eudaimonia is not in order, none of the other hacks will be as powerful.  And this brings us to . . .

Happiness Hack #2: Figure Out What Your Values Are

Not all people value the same things.  One person might really value free expression, while another person really values service, another one really values laughter, and another one really values humility.  Figure out what YOU truly value.  Not someone else.  You.  Be honest with yourself.  Figure out your top 5 authentic values, and find a way to ensure that your overarching life vision is very much in alignment with those values, especially your #1.  If you are in a station in life currently that feels far removed from your overarching life vision, you can still find ways to make your current daily job or tasks align more with your authentic values.  If you value laughter, crack jokes with your coworkers more.  If you value family but live far away from family, make a weekly tradition of Sunday night phone calls, or whatever works.  It sounds so simple. but I promise you that if you really figure out what those values are and integrate them not only into your current daily/weekly life, but also into your overall life vision, that sparkling happiness butterfly will begin to alight on your shoulder more frequently.  And you may also achieve some Eudaimonia on the side.

Here are some examples of values: Laughter, family, service, compassion, humility, art, achievement, connection, solitude, free expression, conscientiousness, learning, excellence, connection to nature, spirituality, gratitude, soulfulness, kindness, novelty, change, stability, commitment, security, freedom, learning.  The list goes on and on.  I’m sure you get the gist.  My top five (okay, six) are kindness, compassion, laughter, art, soulfulness, and learning.

Happiness Hack #3: Practice Self-Love

Love.  Once again, a word laden with many potential meanings and understandings.  In this context, I am thinking of “love” as a verb, like the loving that a wonderful parent does on behalf of their child.  So, yes, self-compassion is wrapped into this.  When I write or say “self-love,” I am referring to a fundamental attitude held by the individual toward the self.  Self-talk and behavior both spiral out of this fundamental attitude toward the self, this fundamental relationship.  So how do you get some of that for yourself?  There is a very simple practice that can help you to ground self-love into your body and daily life.  For one year (starting today, if you’d like!), commit to asking yourself, What would someone who loved herself do?  when it comes to every single decision throughout each day, large or seemingly insignificant and small.

What this does is it tends to get people onto a slightly better feeling path, then slightly better feeling, then even better feeling.  After a few weeks, you will suddenly feel confident that you are in good company with yourself!  And you will already be feeling, overall, much better.  At a certain point, you won’t ever want to go back to your non-self-loving ways.  I love sharing this tool with clients and watching them glow more and more in the weeks that follow!

(Please understand that self-love is not in conflict with values like duty, kind consideration or responsibility to others.  A loving parent would nudge their child toward making decisions of which they could continue to feel proud in the long-run, right?)

Happiness Hack #4: Just a Perfect Day . . .

Even if you’re not where you’d like to be in your life, fill one journal page with every single detail of what a perfect day would look like within this particular chapter of your life.  Be as detailed as you can, all the way down to the kind of PJs you wake up in, the kind of alarm that goes off, what kind of morning beverage you prepare, what time, what mode of transportation you use, etc., etc. . . .  What do you definitely do?  What do you definitely not do?  What do you wear?  What kind of music do you listen to?  When?  How do you celebrate the completion of another day in the evening?  Be creative, be indulgent, be honest!

Then . . . put it into practice!!  Do a little experiment where you try to be true to every single detail on that journal page.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if anything gets in the way . . . There’s always tomorrow!

Happiness Hack #5: Breathe Life into that She-Devil, Desire

Yes, I said it.  Desire.  I want you to keep it alive.  Alright, screw it.  This is the Mama Gena section.  I must give credit to the Pleasure Queen where credit is due, because this is her practice, and I find it so powerful that I try to do it quarterly, at least.  (And that allows me to connect your desire practice to your pleasure practice.  Just sit tight.)  Again, it seems simple, but trust me.  (In case you’re wondering, Mama Gena is Regena Thomashauer, pleasure teacher and best-selling author.)

I want you to fill three full journal pages (front, back, front) with a radical, daring, rebellious essay about what your life would look like if you abandoned yourself to every single last one of your desires!  They can be obscenely huge desires, or tiny desires (like a nail polish color you think you might want to try), or anything in between.  Don’t worry!  No one will read this (unless . . . you desire for them to)!  So it doesn’t matter if some desire seems “weird,” or out of alignment with the character you present to the world.  And I am going to get a little bit in your face here and tell you that if your desires are out of alignment with the character you present to the world, then that character is not very authentic.  It’s okay.  We’re all on the journey towards authenticity, and you came by your authenticity-smashing messages innocently in early life, as we all do.

Often, people write rapidly for the first page and 1/2 and then they sort of reach an impasse.  It’s okay.  There’s a reason for the three pages rule.  It forces you to really dig deep.  And whatever little pleasures from this writing practice can be integrated into your ‘perfect day’ . . . do it!  According to Mama Gena, people (especially women) are not taught to honor their pleasure.  Add one pleasure to each and every day!  Think of it as a vital nutrient!  Mama Gena once got out of a crappy, mean-spirited meeting in the office, and then took a “pleasure break” to go try on diamond necklaces at Macy’s with her sister-in-law (I think?).  You can be extravagant and absurdist with this!  Sometimes, honestly, it’s even a way to channel rage.  You f*cking deserve it!  Argh!

There is so much more I could write on this topic.  Suffice it to say that even Slavoj Zizek (the James Dean of modern thought) has stated that the death of all desire is the ultimate melancholic position.  More on this in section 7.

Happiness Hack #6: You Might as Well Feel Good Today, If You Can

British writer and lecturer, Alan Watts (most well-known for interpreting Eastern philosophy for Western audiences), gave a famous lecture in the 1960s (I’m fairly certain– he passed away in 1973).  In it, he stated that the whole American game, or the whole Western game, is about climbing ladders, always striving to attain to the next station, the next rung.  First it’s graduating high school and getting into a good college, then graduating from college and on to graduate school, then getting into a profession, then climbing the ranks of your profession or within your place of employment, perhaps while starting a family.  On and on it goes until retirement.  The whole game is geared towards arriving, but when do you really arrive?  If you have to wait until retirement to have a feeling of arrival, you may never have it.  Your entire life was spent on striving, reaching, pushing– never on just being fully present to the here and now.

This idea serves as a great counterbalance to desire.  Keep desire alive.  Stay excited about what’s coming and about what you are creating.  But arrive today.  Whatever feeling you think the attainment of your goal will give you, find ways to feel that today.  This is actually radical.  It feels like finding your way out of the game, if you will.  Remember, the only reason why anyone ever does anything is because they believe that the doing of it will make them feel a bit better.  All of your goals are hypothesized “how”s on the way to happiness.  Are you right?  Will you ever get there?  See how you can feel better today.

Happiness Hack #7: Embrace Pessimism

Modern Swiss-born British writer and thinker Alain de Botton has written that pessimism is actually the secret key to serenity.  Why?  Many of the hacks listed above could easily be placed within a “power of positive thinking framework.”  But there is a danger in leaning too far in that direction.  If we expect that all roads will somehow always be mysteriously freed from traffic for us, or we expect that it will certainly all go according to our sunny vision, we open the door wide for being let down and for being majorly pissed off.  To take things philosophically is to take unexpected (seeming) turns for the worse with an attitude of, This is the kind of thing that happens in life.  Hasn’t human life been fraught, in all eras of human history, with all manner of social ills, tragedies, moral bankruptcies, and deep compromises of all kinds?  I knew a day like this was coming.  Here it is. 

The wheel of fortune takes us up and it takes us down.  Pessimism is a way of making peace with this.  You can make your peace with ‘the way things are’ into a beautiful garden that you tend daily.  And part of the ‘way things are’ is that it’s impossible to ever really say what way things are!  So much is a matter of perspective.  How does this interact with desiring, etc.?

Happiness expert, Jonathan Haidt, wrote in The Happiness Hypothesis, that many Eastern and Western philosophies that emphasize the extirpation of desire may have made more sense as life philosophies within the time and place of their birth.  Life would have been terrible for most people.  Unexpected plagues, disasters and wars could come to claim your life or the life of everyone you love at any time.  Fortunes could change very quickly.  One can imagine how the extinction of desire might make life in such times much less turbulent.  I do not mean to trivialize the profound wisdom and spiritual beauty of these traditions.  I only mean to suggest that perhaps we now live in times within which we can find a balance in our relationship to desire.

Happiness Hack #8: USE Hard Moments to Your Advantage

Big upsets are indications of things that really matter to you.  You can begin to look at upsets, triggers, emotional flashbacks, or whatever you want to call them, as meditation bells.  They are opportunities to get to know your wounded inner child more deeply, and to get to know how you might meet the unmet needs of the inner child now.  And they are opportunities for you to define, with even more precision, what exactly it is that you want, what you want to think, and how you want to feel.  Check in about the upsetting situation, the feelings that went with it, and the thoughts that went with those feelings.  What did this cause you to know you would prefer?  To think?  To feel?  Focus on ways that you can create that.

Happiness Hack #9: Get Connected

Some people value solitude more than others.  But we are all members of a highly social species, and we are lonely now in ways we never have been before in our history.  Your isolated and highly mobile modern lifestyle may be taking a much larger toll on your happiness and overall life satisfaction than you realize.  As the late, great psychedelic bard, Terence McKenna said, Find the others.

Happiness Hack #10: You Don’t Have to Go There

Once again, everything is a matter of perspective.  From one perspective, the statement, Life is terrible, is absolutely true.  To quote the crucified man in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian,

Life’s a piece o’ shit, when you look at it!  It’s a funny line, because a part of you perks up and goes, Hmm, yeah, actually, that IS true, when you hear this.  And in a way, it is true.  But it is also true that life is an absolute adventure, a sacred mystery, an exciting ride liberally sprinkled with magic, and that the essence of life is joy.  You can focus on either one of these poles and it seems to open up before you with its own gravitational pull.  If you want to go there with life’s a piece o’ shit, you can absolutely go there, you will see the truth of this perspective, and it will seem truer and truer, and it opens up like a dark hole that goes on forever.  And every part of that hole is “true”.  You can go there.  But you don’t have to go there.  Because every part of the other paradoxical side of that truth is true, too.

Someone very beloved to me once quipped that she would like to have her headstone play on the famous phrase, Into each life some rain must fall.  Note: it’s famous because it’s true.  She is an artist, through and through, and she declared that the lines on her headstone ought to read, Into each life some glitter must fall.

 

Need more one-on-one support putting this kind of stuff into practice?  That’s what therapy is for.  It’s good to shop around and I’m here to help!  Click the link here to schedule a free, 20-minute phone consultation if you’d like to know more.

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annalise@deeperwelltherapy.com
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