We’ve always been told that our basic rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That part about the pursuit of happiness is a great idea, but there’s one thing missing—how do you recognize it when you think you’ve found it?
Happiness seems to mean different things for everyone. Those who are materialistically motivated are only happy when they have all the toys in their playpen. The more expensive the toy, the happier they are. Some people get that glow if they’re the center of social or political attention. An offshoot of this same personality type only seems to find joy when they can demean or bully others. Then there are those who think happiness and true love are joined at the hip.
A friend once asked what makes me happy. I had to think about that one, because I didn’t have a ready-made response. While I find comfort in financial security, or career success, or the joys of a great relationship, I can’t really tag one as the standard. There are times when I’m happy after enjoying a night out with friends. A vacation at my favorite getaway spot makes me happy, until I get home and realize it’s over. A terrific book review makes me feel like doing cartwheels in front of my house. Fortunately, I’ve never done that, which probably makes my neighbors happy.
I’ve come to believe that happiness is relative to where you are in your life. When I was a child, doing fun family things made me happy, especially around holidays. As I got older and discovered the joy of girls, dating one who caught my eye was my idea of happiness. Getting a raise or good performance evaluation when I was on the job always brought out the happy hormones, too.
I came across a list of 7 common myths about happiness. I won’t include all of them, but a few struck a chord with me, and they might with you. I think these hit me between the eyes because I’ve been guilty of this kind of thinking.
“If I have lots of money, I will be happy.” An infusion of greenbacks can get you a lot of things, but beyond your basic needs and financial security, the upgrades really don’t make that much difference. There have been times in my life when I didn’t have two quarters to rub together, but I still found something to be happy about.
“I have to be better than just OK to be happy.” This sounds like the credo of Overachievers Anonymous. Is the follow-up line “And as long as I’m better than you, I’m even happier”? I’ve known people with this Type A personality trait and I always avoided them, lest I get run over in their race to the happiness finish line. The problem is that the finish line is a moving target, and people with this mindset never seem to get there.
“When I find true love, then I will be happy.” This is probably the most erroneous myth ever. While it may help some of us tell compelling romance stories, it’s also a painful thing if it doesn’t work out. Love can be the greatest feeling in the world, but keep your eyes open, and be careful what you wish for. I have a woman friend who has been searching for what she considers true love for twenty-plus years. She hasn’t found it yet because she set some very high standards for a potential mate. Suffice to say, she never seems to be very happy, either.
“When life is normal again, then I can be happy again.” For this one to come to fruition, you first need to define “normal.” With what we’ve been through the past couple of years, it has changed on a weekly basis. What was once considered normal has taken on a different meaning. Why not adapt to what is now the norm in your own life and make the best of it?
There’s no hard-and-fast qualifier for happiness. It’s really what you choose to make it. Many people are happy when they’ve finished their day’s labors and can relax at home with their favorite TV show. Others find joy in hitting the winning home run for their softball team. Outdoorsy-type folks derive great pleasure from fishing or camping. Other adventurous souls become overjoyed when they stumble across a sale at their favorite store, and their credit card isn’t maxed out.
What lights up your happy button?