This Article is About
The Habit Of Happiness
Join 1000's of Authors at StreetArticles Today!

The Habit Of Happiness

Sam was an international antique dealer with a holiday house in the South of France, a yacht, a beautiful wife and two children. He’d worked his way up from very poor beginnings in the Western suburbs of Melbourne to build a successful business out of a natural passion for antiques and it was now turning over millions a year. Yet for all this, Sam was sitting in my small two bedroom apartment telling me how dreadfully unhappy he was.

He said, ‘I’m rich, successful and I love my work so I should be happy …’

I asked him what he imagined this happiness would feel like if he had it. He described it as a powerful satisfaction, a euphoria, an ‘elation of the spirit’, then posed the rueful observation, ‘… but I’m no happier now than when I was a depressed little kid living in the poor part of town.’

There is a basic psychological theory which says that each individual is born with a ‘set point’ for their capacity for happiness; a conditioned predisposition determined by genetics and personality. And while this set point of happiness can certainly be raised by life events, such as a growth of income, falling in love, or material acquisition, the elation will only ever be temporary. In time their ‘set point’ of happiness will return to the original level because, influenced by adaptation and social comparison, our expectations always increase in line with our life gains.

So it seemed as if Sam’s expectation of ‘happiness’ had formed itself into an impossible pot of gold at the end of a rainbow he would always be chasing, unless he let go of his expectations.

As a counsellor and meditation trainer, most of my work is to do with happiness. The getting of happiness, how to keep it and, more importantly, why happiness was lost in the first place.

Everybody wants it, and most feel they don’t have enough.

And at the base of each problem with happiness is the expectation that we should be happier than we are, together with an assumption that if we are not happy then something must be wrong: we don’t have enough money, or the right car, the right lover, the right job, and so on. We figure that if only we could buy that brand name dress, or that sound system, we’d be happy. And this keeps us running, trying to find the right combination of things that will break the ‘happiness bank’.

But in this idiotic yearning, we forget that we are a part of nature, and nature doesn’t respond to our human values of ‘happiness’ and ‘unhappiness’. Beneath the surface patina of civilised rationality, our human mind behaves no differently to the rest of Nature. Sometimes sun, sometimes rain, sometimes calm, sometimes storm. In nature the dark side of life is as inevitable as the light.

The irony is that it is largely our attempts to create more happiness than we deserve that causes most of our suffering.

We have been taught this terrible expectation by our parents and our culture, which requires that we consume continuously to keep the whole circus going. Every advertising campaign tweaks our ‘happiness expectations’, coercing us into consuming more products – to make us happy. Propagated by the mass media, we are bombarded with examples of how we should be ‘beautiful, successful people’ laughing and smiling, always having fun.

And here we find an important distinction that is all too rarely made.

If we examine the qualities of the happiness we have been taught to expect, all too often it is not happiness at all, but ‘fun’ – an adrenalised and euphoric state.

Remember how Sam described his expected happiness?

‘A powerful satisfaction, a euphoria, an ‘elation of the spirit’.

This is a description of the intense feelings of fun – not the calm well-being of enduring happiness. Fun occurs when we are at a party, or in passionate love, or driving our new car. It is an intoxicated state, impossible to maintain as a constant feeling, yet all too often the question of whether we are ‘having fun’ or not is what we reach for as a register of whether we are happy or unhappy. Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused the two states, and in the process, lost touch with the more subtle feelings of true happiness.

So this begs the question, ‘If happiness is not fun, what is it?’

In responding to my own questions about happiness a Theravada Buddhist monk I knew once said: ‘Happiness is a habit, not a gift. As such, it must be practiced.’

When he said this to me, it burst an assumption I’d never questioned before. Like Sam, I’d grown up with the belief that’ things’ create happiness. We ‘get’ happiness because of luck, money, good fortune or opportunity. And this notion of happiness had created a very anxious state, in which the quality of my temperament was constantly at the mercy of providence. Not a very happy way to live.

But here was a whole new view; a habit of happiness can be built. Inspired, I began to look at happiness as a practical component of my health, rather than as some cosmic jackpot which I either hit or missed.

I began experimenting, figuring out how to build a habit of happiness. In this I was encouraged by something Richard Heinburg wrote in his book, ‘Memories and Visions of Paradise’ : ‘Medical experiments have consistently shown that mental attitudes and emotional states have a significant influence on health. Emotional states associated with egoic separateness - anger, blame, and feelings of isolation - tend to reduce the levels of body chemicals that serve to raise the pain threshold (endorphins) and that maintain immunity to infection (immunoglobulins). Emotions associated with transcendence of ego - for example, empathy, forgiveness, and nurturing - produce higher levels of these critical body chemicals.’

I figured that if happiness arose out of well being; the right balance of hormones in my body, and the right habits – then the only way to build it was to make the right actions – actions that would create the conditions for feelings of happiness to occur. So my first task was to practice letting go of my expectations – to try to focus on acceptance of life as it came – however it came.

Next, I stopped panicking when feelings of unhappiness, or sadness arose in me, and I stopped looking for fun to pep me up. I began practising walking more slowly, looking around me: encouraging myself to expand beyond the little cocoon of my personal concerns. As a result, I increasingly found myself taking pleasure in little things – a bird pecking at a crust of bread, a cat lying asleep n its back in the sun. Also, I began to notice that the small things that people did for me every so often could have a profound effect. A genuine smile from a stranger could transform my whole day.

I began to notice the small acts of kindness that people do, which rarely get noticed or acknowledged. Inspired, I too began to practice these things: leading with kindness instead of self interest. And I noticed the transformative effect went both ways - as I treated people so they began to treat me.

Instead of pushing to be first in the queue I began to allow others before me. Instead of arguing with people, I began listening - allowing different opinions to coexist alongside my own, which created a mutual sense of inquiry instead of the usual argument.

As the happiness habit built itself within me, I found my thoughts more infused with qualities of well-being: peace and tranquillity, friendliness, kindness, generosity and affection. I began to enjoy life in a way I had not in the past.

And am I happy now?

Well, no ... maybe ... I don’t really know, because I don’t think about it anymore. So I guess the end result is not happiness per se, so much as a disappearance of unhappiness – and that’ll do me.

Quote from Richard Heinburg, Memories and Visions of Paradise, The Aquarian Press, England 1990, p. 212.

Street Talk

No comments present
You May Also Like
Kicking the Soda Habit, Once And For All
People who are trying to change their dietary habits may balk when it comes to learning that they have to let the soda go. And, don't think that just because it is "diet" soda that you are in the clear. Letting go of soda means all soda, from the sugar…
By: amie nogrady in  Health and Fitness  >  Obesity   Sep 15, 2012  
  Likes: 3

Reading : A Declining Habit
I recently came across a series of articles which became a point of concern for me. Therefore I would like to share it with all of you. There has been a drastic decline in the reading habit of the general population in the last two decades. Very few people now…
By: solitaryreflections in  Reference and Education   Oct 01, 2012  
  Likes: 8

Get the Internet Marketing Work Habit And Make Money On-line
Did you know that if you get the Internet Marketing work habit you will make money on-line? One of the things that is difficult for the first time marketer is knowing how much to do and what, when and why. The only method that actually works is to find a…
  Likes: 3

Curing My Addiction And Keeping The Habit
They say that people who have addictions live in denial. Consciously they don’t even know, or admit, that they have one. I made light of mine. It wasn’t illegal, or immoral, and even my friends laughed along with me as I made such expansive fun about my ‘habit’. They bought…
By: Heather Bradford in  Self Improvement  >  Addictions   Mar 19, 2012  
  Likes: 5

Forming A New Habit? Pick the Right Strategy
Have you ever tried forming a new habit and then failed? Most of us have. Many people make resolutions or set goals on the 31st December each year with the intention of making a positive change in their lives only to have given up in the first or second week…
By: BIS_Coach in  Self Improvement  >  Positive Attitude   Oct 21, 2011  
  Likes: 2

The Databank Times Keep Fit Centre - Make it A Habit
I often pondered on a question put forward by the illustrious and legendary Bruce Lee and that question was,'Which muscle in your body is common to all your activities?'. In other words which muscle group in your body you would use at all times to do work. Firstly let us…
By: Anthony A Universal Friend in  Self Improvement   Dec 09, 2011  
  Likes: 0

A Habit That Is Hard to Kick
I love music. It cheers me up, helps me work faster, and makes my running and pilates sessions more fun. I listen to music most of the day, every day. Sometimes I even get songs stuck in my head. The song that gets in my head is often the last…
By: Hollie E. Townsend in  Health and Fitness  >  Sleep Snoring   Jun 17, 2013  
  Likes: 0

Does Ignoring Your Ex Boyfriend Really Work?
When you break up with your boyfriend, several things flash across your mind. You want to actually explore every means that will bring your ex back in your arms. This may leave you with several options one of which is ignoring your ex. This method has worked in some cases,…
By: A. B. Sahu in  Relationships  >  Conflict   Sep 16, 2012  
  Likes: 1

Life Too Short to Hate Me
What some people need to understand is life too short to hate me or anyone at all! You know how a person can just look at you and say things in their mind that are not positive at all. They are really put downs words that they are thinking. Why…
By: kendrick in  Relationships  >  Love   Sep 23, 2013  
  Likes: 0

How Can I Get Customers For My Online Business?
How to attract customers for your online business is straight forward. In fact, it's simply a matter of timing. Timing (1) You’ve got to be ready to help customers. (2) You’ve got to take action that attracts people you can help. Equally important! So you can help people transform their…
  Likes: 6

Ability is That What Ability Does
Self-improvement is sure to come of the great ability that a man shows and proves through the activities he does usually. Ability is the best asset of man. The true acquaintance of a man brightens and glitters on what ability he has in him. The great ability he possesses usually…
By: saidul islam sarker in  Self Improvement   Jan 09, 2012  
  Likes: 1

Living A Successful Life - 5 Ways to Have A Successful Life
We all desire to have a successful life but not all of us are willing to make the neccessary adjustments in our life to make it a successful life. I have compiled a list 5 tips needed for a successful living and anyone that desires a successful life should follow…
By: OLADAYO AWE1 in  Self Improvement  >  Success   Sep 27, 2011  
  Likes: 1

How to Teach Your Dog to Say Please
I bet you didn’t realize you could teach your dog to say please. Not actually verbally say please but the doggy equivalent. Dogs like children need to be taught good manners to be well socialized. Failure to socialize your dog is unfair to your pet as well as yourself. So…
By: Bren Pappillion in  Pets   Mar 05, 2011  
  Likes: 0

Being Spontaneity
If you’ve ever read a book The Yes Man (seen the film which isn’t nearly as good) you’ll know a thing or two about being spontaneous. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it is the story of a man who decides to say “yes” more often and…
By: Gemma Bailey in  Self Improvement  >  Happiness   Mar 24, 2016  
  Likes: 0

Happiness Means Live In The Now. Do Not Be Limited By Your Past!
What is happiness? We all think we know but when you try and define happiness it is very difficult as it means something different to each person. As a life coach I find consistently though that to be happy you have to accept the past, learn what you can from…
By: Tonette Kelly in  Self Improvement  >  Happiness   May 04, 2011  
  Likes: 2

Article Views: 1404    Report this Article