Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Source of Happiness

We all want to be happy. Few would disagree. However, the question is, what is the source of happiness? We've been socialized to believe it has to do with: money, possessions, status, power, talent, beauty, achievement, the "right" partner, 0ther people doing what we want, etc.

For example, we hold a belief that people who have more money are happier than those who have less. People who live in a big house, achieve more, or take more vacations are happier than those who do not. We are driven by an implicit belief, in our society today, that "more is better."

Even if we don't compare ourselves to others, we often times live from this belief within our own lives. I remember my last year of graduate school. I was earning no more than $500 per month and yearned to graduate so I could make decent money. Then I'd be happy. Before long it happened. We moved from Minnesota to Ft. Collins, Colorado and in a matter of a few weeks I was bringing in a couple thousand a month. Wow, that was cool. But I looked around and realized that my business partner and other professionals were doing much better. My goal became $3000. That's all I'd need. I'd never ask for anything more. That would enable us to get into a house and then I'd really be happy. It wasn't long. We got into a house. Soon my goal became $4000, then $5000, then six figures. Then we could get into a nicer house and really have it made. You get the point.

Same with a car. My first car was a 1967 Plymouth Fury that I bought from my grandfather for a few dollars. I thought I was hot stuff, until I saw a friend driving a Firebird. I needed a better car. Then it became an even better car, a Mercedes. Then a BMW... (which I never have owned). But you get the point. The excitement always lasted for a time and then would wear off and I'd be looking around for the next "thing" or experience to make me happy.

Of course, I need to say that there is nothing wrong with having aspirations and seeking success. As a matter of fact, it is how we learn and eventually achieve mastery in our lives. The problem occurs when we believe these symbols are synonymous with happiness. At some point, many people come to the realization that external success does not automatically lead to happiness, high self-esteem, and fulfillment (internal measures of success).

In fact, if we make externals our primary measures or source of happiness we find ourselves in a world in which we're never satisfied. No matter how much we have, achieve, or accomplish we sense that something is missing. We are living from a scarcity mentality, always comparing our lot in life to others and forever aware of what we lack rather than appreciating the blessings and goodness of life.

In order to be happy it is not necessary to give up wealth, status, recreation, etc. However, it is necessary to give up the belief that these are the primary source of satisfaction in life. As long as our lives are set up on the premise that these will bring happiness, we've given up responsibility for the quality of our lives to what is without rather than what is within. As Eric Hoffer said, "You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy."

So, what is the source of your happiness?

Author: Roger K Allen, PhD

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