Many of us hold the belief that the main source of happiness stems from external things. For example, we might believe happiness comes from our relationships with others, our job, money, the number of friends we have, our ability to walk, or in materialistic things… But happiness that is found outside is temporary and often unstable.
Inner happiness does not require money, good health, or other things to enable you to be happy. In fact, whether you are feeling happy or unhappy at any given moment often has very little to do with our external conditions, but rather, it is about how we perceive our situation and how satisfied we are with what we have. People who practise happiness from within themselves can find joy in the smallest things, such as a good book or watching the sunset, and value their happiness very highly, meaning they do not want to waste time over negative emotions such as anger, frustration, or sadness. We all go through moments of sadness and difficult times, but those with inner happiness are much more likely to stay calm and deal with the tough times, and avoid overwhelming periods of negative emotions. Just like a tree in a storm, although the leaves may be blown off and it may bend with the wind, it’s roots keep it grounded and it does not break. Starting from the inside is where you can create true lasting happiness.
Below I have listed five ways to help you cultivate this true lasting inner happiness into your life:
Stay in the present moment – This is by far the most important factor for achieving happiness. If your mind is off worrying about the future, or ruminating about the past, you will miss all the amazing things happening to you right here right now! True happiness can only be found in the present moment.
Your state of mind is key – If you have a negative state of mind, it doesn’t matter if you have good health, material comforts, a good job or steady income, because they become irrelevant to you as you are not able to fully appreciate what you have. It is possible for these things to contribute to your happiness, but for them to be effective your state of mind is crucial. For example, if you are feeling stressed or angry, physical comfort from a close friend is not much help! Or if you have considerable wealth but you are sad or depressed, it doesn’t matter how much money you have as it will mean nothing to you. On the other hand, if you can maintain a calm peaceful state of mind, then even if you lack various external factors that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, such as good health, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life. Furthermore, if you have this mind set and do have more things than others, such as more wealth, you are more likely to appreciate this and use your advantage in a positive manner, such as donating the money to charity or helping people in need.
Stop comparing – The famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy”, perfectly sums up how comparing our life, work, or whatever else, will only serve to make us unhappy. Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare. So many of us continuously compare ourselves to others, wishing our life was more like theirs, but by comparing yourself to others you are only depriving yourself of your own joy and happiness. It is important to recognise that even if you did have their life, their body, their job, it wouldn’t necessarily make you happier. Not only do we compare ourselves to others, we also compare ourselves to our past selves. For example, if we compare our current situation to our past and find we’re better off, we feel happy. But if we find we’re worse off, this will make us feel sad and may bring around an array of negative thoughts about “where have I gone wrong”, or “I want things to go back to how they used to be”. We nearly always compare ourselves to our happiest self, or to those who are smarter, more beautiful, or more successful than ourselves, which makes us feel envious, frustrated, and unhappy. By knowing this, we can use this principle in a positive way by comparing ourselves to those who are less fortunate than us and by reflecting on all the things we do have.
Inner contentment – The best and most simple way to achieve inner contentment is to want and appreciate what you already have. Using myself as an example, when I first fell ill with M.E. I certainly felt a huge want and desire to do everything I used to do and all the things my friends were currently doing. But after I was introduced to mindfulness I became more accepting of my situation and my desire to do activities which I was no longer able to do diminished. I started to see myself as extremely lucky as I still have a loving family who look after me, I don’t have to rely on a wheelchair to get around the house, and most importantly to me, I feel extremely fortunate that I have no neurological problems. It made me realise that the only way to go through life is to look at your assets; to stay focused on what you can still do. For me, this meant staying focused on the fact I can still read and write, thereby enabling me to write this blog about mindfulness and chronic illness which has become my passion, and hoping it can help others as well as myself. As discussed in the “stop comparing” paragraph above, when you compare yourself with those less fortunate than you, or appreciate that you could be in a worse situation than you are currently in, it is more likely to make you feel more grateful for what you do still have and become accepting of your situation.
Understand the difference between happiness and pleasure – Some people often confuse happiness with pleasure. The main difference is that pleasure is a form of happiness, but one that is short lived and over quickly, such as the feeling you get when you buy a new car you’ve wanted, going on holiday, winning the lottery, getting a promotion… The problem with pleasure is it is unstable; one day it might be there, the next day it might be gone. There are also other ways some people experience pleasure, such as using the influence of drugs and alcohol, which again is unstable to depend on it for your happiness. It is important to recognise the importance of a calm, content happiness. An interesting way to distinguish one from another, is to simply ask yourself, “Will this bring me lasting happiness or temporary pleasure?” This simple question can shift your focus to seeking optimum happiness, one which is stable and persistent.
I hope by now you can see that our happiness is determined more by our state of mind than by external events or factors, and you will start to practice feeling satisfied with what you have and let go of your need to compare.
Metta, E xx