For the record, I am by any standard neither a jolly nor an optimistic person. I don’t go about life with rose-colored spectacles.I am,in fact, a realist bordering on pessism. At best, I try to see a situation for what it really is- the good and the bad, the pros and cons.At worst, when it rains it pours and floods the whole village (at least in my mind it does). If it can get worse, it will! But my only saving grace is that I am aware of my persona. ” Know thyself,” said the old philospoher,” improve thyself” saith the new (Edward Lytton). So, there’s still hope for people like me.. I still might get a touch of the fairy dust, think good thoughts and fly after all.
I am also not a psychologist, preacher, expert or life coach. I, just like everyone else, simply want to be happy… or happier!
”Am I happy?”
I bet you’ve asked that question yourself a thousand times before. I did. My answer would often be, ” kind of “, ” relatively ” or even ” no, not really”. Then I’d feel down all of a sudden.
Apparently, we were asking ourselves the wrong question.
I was waiting for my friend at the bookstore when I saw this book entitled “HAPPIER” by Tal Benshahar. According to the cover, the subject of happiness is a popular study at Harvard. Imagine, people are studying how to become happy people! Well, I thought to myself, “this should be interesting!”
So I skimmed through the first few pages. Almost immediately I realized that I could relate to the author on a personal level. Ben (as I would fondly and respectfully call him throughout this article because his surname is so long ), described a certain feeling of emptiness after reaching a supposedly big achievement. He became a squash champion after years of hard work and training and yet, after the initial high of winning the title, he felt a certain kind of void. It’s like when you think you know what your parents were going to give you for your birthday, you were building up the anticipation, counting the days to that special day then opening up the present and then thinking to yourself, ” What? Is this it? Is this what I was looking forward to for the past month and a half?” I felt that kind of void. Some of the significant milestones in my life felt that way, particularly the academic ones. Let’s just say, I wasn’t as happy as I would thought I would be… Maybe I felt like I was in a rat race for freedom when all I got was a bigger cage? Do you get what I mean? I ‘ll get back with you on this later.
Meanwhile, back to the question. Ben, proposes an alternative question to the dead-end “Am I happy ?” query. He says, the better and helpful question is “How can I be HAPPIER?”
Thus, the title, “Happier”. So, we all would like to be happier in this life, yes? Yes! But, first, we have to know what it means to be trully, really and genuinely happy.
What is happiness?
Happiness means different things to different people. Some people would associate happiness to feeling good or having fun. Happy people, they say, see their glass as being half full rather than half empty. Even the expression of happiness differs culturally. In Japan,(according to an article I read somewhere) a smiley looks like this (^_^) instead of the usual 🙂 because the people believe that a genuine smile is expressed through the eyes rather than the lips. They are after all the windows to our soul or so they say. I half agree but I was thinking that they probably use that expression because they have chinito eyes that swurve donwards on the side when they smile, right?! (^ ^)
HAPPINESS is the overall experience of pleasure and meaning. Being happy is like performing in a concert for a cause. You sing to make others listen. You dance to enliven others. You work to help your family.
Sages say that it is in our nature to be happy. The Dalai Lama says ” the very purpose of our life is happiness,the very motion of our life is towards happiness.” Come to think of it, why do we eat, sleep, play, work, etc? yeah, we do everything so we can live a long and HAPPY life!
So if we’re born to be happy, why isn’t everyone happy? Ben provides the Hamburger model as an answer.
The first model is the veggie burger ( although I beg to disagree). It’s healthy alright but the taste isn’t good… or maybe it’s just very dull.. This burger represents the state where we sacrifice taste (pleasurable experience) so we can have a healthy and fit body (future benefit). This is the “rat race” model (like the one I mentioned earlier). I now understand why I felt that void. It was because I felt like I was always rushing to the finish line that I somehow forgot to really live a typical college life. I did go out from time to time but my studies came first sometimes at the expense of what I really wanted to do. I remember auditioning for a dance presentation. I actually got in even if I didn’t really memorize the steps. I just danced my heart out and they probably saw that. But then I realize, “OMG there’s a long quiz tom!” So instead of practicing for the dance presentation as I would have loved to do, I went home to study for the test. I know! I just sabotaged my own happiness! I don’t know why but sometimes we can be our won worst enemy. Maybe I did that partly out of fear of failing the test, a quarter from expectations and maybe a pint from self-imposed pressure or maybe because I was a rat in a race! Thankfully, I’m not that person anymore. Yes, I’m still competitive but my goals have changed.
The next model represents the exact opposite, a junk burger. People in this state eat the best tasting burgers.. without any thought of their calories or cholesterol count.. They would say, “Who cares? We only live once right?” These, according to the author, are hedonists. They live for pleasure and don’t really think of the future.” I don’t care what’s in it as long as it tastes good”, a hedonist would say .
The third kind doesn’t really care about the taste nor the future. Nothing makes him happy. Nor does he care to add spice to his tasteless joyless existence. He’s the nihilist. He lives and then he dies.I would call it the “nil burger”. It doesn’t taste good nor does it have any nutritional value at all.
The final model is the HAPPINESS burger. The happy burger should sell like pancakes. It doesn’t only taste good(present pleasure) but is also healthy (future benefit) . Guaranteed satisfaction!!
What does the happiness burger mean? Let me illustrate. Well, I have an almost 9 month old daughter. I spend a lot of time playing with her because I want her to learn a lot and have a good relationship with me. So, spending time with her (present pleasant experience) hopefully encourages her learning and our bonding experience (future benefit).
I don’t know if he was over studying happiness- dissecting it like a frog into systems and organs. But I guess it makes perfect sense to study something elusive, right? We are always intrigued by the elusive.
How then can we be happier?
(A) Be thankful. Sure, everybody “counts their blessings” but Ben suggests a more concrete way of doing this.
A study was made on people who wrote 5 things that they were grateful for. Everyday, they wrote them on a notebook before going to bed. Just five things. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a big thing like getting a promotion or something ordinary like getting a bus ride home. What mattered was they were appreciative of those things. They found out that these people became happier.
When I started this post , I also started scribbling 5 things I was grateful for. Here’s my list:
(1) Had enough sleep last night — #moresleeptocome
(2) Was able to attend Oly’s lego birthday party with my family — #everythingisawesome
(3) Got yarns on sale and my family got me some skeins too— #yarnspamore!
(4) Ate a good bowl of mami with my husband — #firstdatekuno
(5) had a nice time chatting with my family online — #tyvideocalling
Btw, did I tell you that the saleslady from the bookstore got the ” Happier” book — she even removed the packaging for me! It was as if I bought the book. I actually just read it in the store. Shameful public reading!
|my gratitude journal
It’s been quite since I started writing on a gratitude journal and it has helped me through some tough times. ( I think I’ve filled in 3 notebooks!) When I have time, I try to sort through events of the day to look for something I’m appreciative of. It’s as if I replay them in my head and get into the details of everything. Playback now of one entry from a few years back! Well, I didn’t wait long for the jeep.Someone gave me a candy bar. Lunch treat in the office. Pizza Galore. Someone texted me an inspiring quote. Someone appreciated my work. Compliments on how I looked. Someone reminded me of my things to do. Someone erased the board for me or filled the whiteboard marker with ink. Interesting conversations with coworkers and students. Eating out with friends. Kikiam craving satisfied.Found very cheap vintage shoes ( galing UK if you catch my drift ) Students interacted during my lecture. Finished this paragraph.
I think highlighting good experiences lifts up my spirit and makes me feel as if I’m the most blessed person in the world. Life is good! I just realized that there’s always more than one thing to be thankful about and I’m very much thankful for that!
(B) Maintain happy habits. It could be a walk in the park, going out for coffee, or treating yourself to a half hour foot massage. The key thing is to do these things consistently like every day, once a week or even every other week.
I consider writing as one of my happy habits. I feel good when I write even if I’m writing about a painful past or an uncertain future. I just know it makes me happy! Even if no one reads this blog post, it doesn’t matter because this is me making my mark. This is me saying my piece. This is me bearing my soul. This is me being real. Even if no one comments on it ( although your comments would be highly appreciated (^_^) ), it doesn’t matter because I feel good about my writing. I felt alive writing this looooong article. It was quite a ride! No matter what happens, I’d still be writing my heart out! It’s part of me. I’m a writer. Always.
I also enjoy crocheting. I shared in a previous post why I love to crochet.
|crocheting in the round to make a beanie
” Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Harold Whitman)
(C) Get in the zone. The author also equates feeling happy as getting in the zone or having the flow. Right now, I’m in the zone! Words just pour out! Thoughts are making sense (hopefully)! I’m eloquently inspired by my muse. My chi is flowing beautifully to all meridians. My yin and yang are harmoniously united . Okay, I’ll stop now.
(D)Value your time and the time you have with people. “Cherish each hour for it can never return. Treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the car, kindness and understanding you could muster. Your life will never be the same again.” (Og Mandino)
As we get older, we realize how limited our time with people is. When we were younger, we thought somehow destiny will intervene for us and make us bump into familiar people. Well, reality bites, doesn’t it?! We realize that after 10 years, destiny didn’t bother to keep us in touch with these people. We realize that the past remained in our photo albums,slum books and Facebook friend lists. People have gone abroad and back and we still haven’t met up with them.
If we want to be happier, I guess we should not only value or time with people but also invest in them. We need to maintain these relationships or else you’ll just wake up one day and realize that you and your BFFS have drifted apart. That would be a shame, wouldn’t it? Relationships need love, time and effort.
As a mom, I treasure the time I spend with my little one. In a few months she’ll be one. Probably sooner than I relaize, she’ll be going off to college. I need to cherish each laugh, burp, and milestone.
|spenidng time with little Y
(E) Live a purpose-driven life. No, I haven’t read the book. But Ben mentioned that people who have a clear vision of their path in life experience more happiness. Let’s get back to the Hamburger model. Happiness is experiencing meaning (now) and purpose (future). We first have to know what we want out life before we can get it, right? What is a purpose driven life?
Mandino states it strongly when he writes:
” I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth, I will apply all my effort to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.” (Og Mandino)
Shaw, expresses it passionately when he says:
” I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for it’s own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. ” (George Bernard Shaw)
I guess the perfect ending to this post would be a quote on happiness from one of my favorite authors, Og Mandino:
“ Realize that true happiness lies within you. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside. There is no happiness in having or in getting but only in giving. Reach out. Share. Smile. Hug.”