“Every person wants to be happy, but in order to be so they need first to understand what happiness is.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
What is happiness? Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It is a sense of wellbeing: a feeling of truly enjoying your life.
My own experience has taught me that happiness is a quality that lies within me – it’s an innate value. Happiness is one of our spiritual qualities, which relates to living a life filled with meaning and purpose. Unhappiness seems to be linked to having a sense of an existential vacuum – a lack of true meaning and purpose. If there is a vacuum in our lives, we can try to fill it with materialism and mood changers such as drugs, alcohol and quick fix ‘kicks’, that give temporary respite from a feeling of emptiness and loneliness.
It is often said that happiness is a journey not a destination. Also that it is not to be confused with a fleeting, uplifting feeling but something that is more permanent, like contentment. When giving workshops I have sometimes asked the question, what gives you happiness? I am always amazed that the answers are always related to appreciation and meaningful relationships. Answers have included:
I felt overwhelmed with happiness, as I sensed the unity of life whilst holding my first grandchild; I didn’t realise how much I was loved until so many people contacted me on my 60th Birthday; My heart leaped with joy when I visited the rainforest; I felt sublime happiness, as I witnessed a turtle laying her eggs in the sand when I visited Borneo.
It seems a paradox that despite these answers we often drive ourselves to acquire material possessions. Possessions – the accumulation of stuff for its own sake – can give us a temporary sense of happiness but it is usually a short-lived feeling. The pre-Covid-19 economy was driven by the myth that things we buy will make us experience lasting happiness.
The love from others however can bring happiness. My wife Jane has been experiencing bad toothache and worried that her dentist would not be able to treat her because of Covid-19 restrictions. Luckily she was given an appointment. On returning home she said she felt so profoundly moved and happy because she had experienced such kindness, yes love, from the dentist and his assistants as they treated her. She is no longer in pain and once again feels happy.
During lockdown, I devoted more time to the cultivation and care of our garden. The reward has been a deep sense of connection, contentment and joy, as I have watched bees on the lavender, an assortment of birds feeding on our bird feeders, the delicious produce of cabbages, leeks, beans and courgettes from our allotment. A phrase I sometimes recite is, ‘be a human being, not a human doing’. I have discovered that ‘being’ is the key to happiness as it means living an authentic life based on what I really value. The happiest man in the world is reportedly Matthieu Richard, the author of Happiness. Matthieu suggests that happiness, a state of being, is not just an emotion but also a skill that each of us can nurture by paying attention to the quality of our inner world.
The reward of this attention, is feeling more relaxed, in the flow of life, gaining clarity over what is important and a renewed focus on building mutually fulfilling relationships. My hope this week is that you will be sanguine, experiencing happiness on your journey through life – able to share your happiness with family, friends and everyone you meet.