The real secret to happiness and why it seems harder to find these days

Is happiness an illusion? Or have we just been so bogged down with life that we've forgotten YOLO, wonders Amanda Cassidy.


Life is tragic, says provocative Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. According to him "the pursuit of happiness is a pointless goal." And he is right, to a point. Being happy, while also being very self-focused, has become about having everything awesome all of the time.

Ingrid Fetell Lee is the author of “The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.” She believes that the definition is harder than people think to pin down. "Many people do not know what happiness is. Indeed, happiness does have a certain subjectivity to it. It is a positive state of overall well-being combined with a sense that one’s life has meaning".

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Here in Ireland, we rank 16th in the World Happiness Index 2019. Top of the list of 156 countries is Finland and Denmark. Trailing the bunch is Afghanistan Central African Republic and South Sudan.

But it is unsurprising that the world's collective sense of contentment is declining. All we hear is the unrelenting chaos in today’s politically divisive world; Climate change, Brexit, Trump, terrorism...

The shallow world of social media hasn't exactly helped either. It's managed to glorify instant gratification to the point that when we don't get something we want immediately, we feel let down. Permanently unsatisfied.

Fear

The proliferation of 24-hour news makes us feel as if our world is less safe than ever before. We cling to our children in fear, delaying skills that help towards things like independence, resilience and grit. We take from them the tools they need to grow and flourish and then they can't cope with the regular ups and downs of life as they get older.

But the aim of living isn't, of course, to just be happy. While skipping neatly around the 'what's the point of it all' question, biologically, we are designed to procreate.

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And, as social creatures, being part of a tribe means having good communication skills. It is a long life without belly-laughs, rollercoasters, great dates and giddy sunsets.

Colourful

"I'm painfully, endlessly aware that this all ends someday. This life of ours, the short chink between two long dark eternities has an end date".

Of course, chasing contentment came late to Ireland, which was perviously stuck in an era of perpetual rain and ridged religious fear. Our parents and grandparents were raised on stories of sacrifices made and walking to school barefoot for kicks.

My father left lovely Leitrim aged ten to live on the East Coast of the US.  He returned to Ireland as a flashy 19-year-old, his head full of convertible mustangs, loud shirts and with swinging sixties tunes filling his mind. The locals back in Dromaleer were horrified.

His joi de vivre was infectious, hereditary, pretty hard to escape. And so I caught it.

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Finding joy

I'm a glass half full person, I seize the day, I live in the moment, I chase the laughs. I'm painfully, endlessly aware that this all ends someday. This life of ours, the short chink between two long dark eternities has a sell-by date.

"Joy is a quieter beast, a tiny collection of moments that you almost miss, fragments of your life that, cemented together, form one large happiness crystal". 

So I grab life with all I've got. I'm mostly joyful - but like anyone riding the choppy unpredictable waves of this sea of life, I bob and rise or wipeout with the situation.

 

But I've started to wonder if we've all forgotten how to chase that aspect of fun. We are so consumed with work and mortgages and life and pensions and Brexit, that the jump in those experiencing anxiety is no longer surprising.

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But I think inherently many of us have forgotten how to be happy.

"It sits there, we think... just out of reach, along with all the other expensive things".

We think that normal negative emotions are bad and that heightened levels of bombastic kinds of joy are where happiness is found. But joy is a quieter beast, a tiny collection of moments that you almost miss, fragments of your life that, cemented together, form one large happiness crystal.

Distorted

Marketers are sick telling us that buying things will make us happy (even though the opposite is true) and so that perverse version of happiness has filtered down, distorting the message, making us believe that our path to happiness is lined with a certain car, the right house, a red-soled shoe, an insurance plan called Connect Premium.

And if we can't afford those things, we feel like we can't obtain that elusive happiness. It sits there, we think... just out of reach, along with all the other expensive things.

How completely messed up.

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How to be happy

 

"Marie Kondo tells us that happiness is sorting our underwear drawer. Instagram thinks the answer is good eyebrows"

A lack of togetherness is making happiness harder to attain. No more church communities, village get-togethers, and when we are together, we are mentally absent in the parallel universe of the mobile smart phone.

Marie Kondo tells us that happiness is sorting our underwear drawer. The path to bliss, according to many parts of our world, is finding your soul mate. My Instagram thinks the answer is good eyebrows.

"Happiness is a curiosity, a sense of purpose, a naked awe of the amazingness of life".

Happiness seems like it is outside of us, in some perfect moment but I think that's a learned misconception. I know where it is; It is on my children's faces as they bounce on their trampoline or hand me the perfect (in their eyes) weedy flower - a curiosity, a sense of purpose, a naked awe of the amazingness of life among the bland realities of daily life.

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It's about winnowing the wheat from the chaft, paring it all back, and remembering not only what is really important but how lucky we are to have the opportunity to find it.

Go rediscover that amazingness today!

Image via Unsplash.com 

Read more: Just be happy

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Read more: Ways to find joy in everyday life

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