The Pursuit of Happiness

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The unending and commonly unrequieted quest that directs our lives might just be fruitless because you can’t see or “find” happiness – you simply decide to feel it.

BY KELLI FUQUA HART

As part of a last ditch effort to hold myself together during perhaps my most trying time, I picked up and began a journey through what author Gretchen Rubin titled The Happiness Project. See, like myself and so many other Americans, Rubin had this problem – this grey cloud that seemed to hover overtop of her and prevent her from being her happiest.

On a dreary, rainy day, taking a mundane ride on a city bus, Rubin had an epiphany. She realized, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Too short, in fact, to allow anything or anyone to steal her happiness. Rubin sometimes couldn’t even put her finger on what it was that was keeping her from ultimate, genuine joy, but she knew she wasn’t focusing on the things that really matter in life. It was at this moment, she decided to dedicate one year to her happiness project.

Being in the midst of a divorce, I was on my own mission to find my center – to make happiness the bullseye in the midst of stress, sadness, anxiety and quarrel. I felt I was thrown to the wolves of life unarmed, untrained and unmanned. I was watching my family crumble right in front of my eyes, while still trying to remain hopeful that somewhere underneath the anger I felt towards my spouse, the resentment I felt for the fourteen years I wasted, the fear of starting over and raising a child alone and the sickening feeling of pure failure, there was still some hope for happiness. After all, there are nearly seven thousand divorces happening each day in America and they all somehow seem to survive it, right?

People are diagnosed with illness every day. People lose loved ones. They get fired or lose their home to a freak accident or failed accounting. Some people feel defeated over their weight or their height or their inherent hairline. From incompetent bosses to uncompromising spouses, backstabbing friends to impatient drivers, each and every day we are all given more than our fair share of opportunity to lose all control, any hope and our happiness. So, how do we get our “happy” back?

Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams suggests “clap along,” which seems to spread happiness “like a room without a roof” – at least during the 99 times his song is played on any given day. But, I’m convinced there’s more to being happy than knowing the words to a trendy tune.

If depression, which some will argue is the opposite of happiness, is defined as, “the act of lowering something or pressing something down,” it may make sense to say happiness is the act then, of raising something or lifting something up.  We often consider the feeling of happiness to be a temporary result of a situational experience, such as finding a twenty dollar bill in your coat pocket or having a friend surprise you with a cupcake. But, does that feeling have to wear off? Or can we stretch it so that it literally becomes a way of life?

We all know that person who is always smiling, seemingly happy 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. In fact, some would say those types of people are so grossly happy, that it makes others go mad. But, is it these happy folks, bubbling with smiles, that have the problem or are they on to something? And what qualities do these individuals possess that facilitate such a positive, happy frame of mind?

Studies conducted by positivity psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky reveal twelve things genuinely happy people do differently, on a consistent basis, than do the majority of their peers. Luckily, these revelations can be adopted at any stage of life, making finding true happiness possible for anyone, at any age.

Lyubomirsky’s list spotlights 12 identifying factors, characteristics of the happiest people on Earth, to include expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, avoiding over-thinking and social comparisons, committing to goals, increasing flow experiences, practicing spirituality and taking care of their body, amongst others.

Based on Lyubomirsky’s list, close your eyes and think about the happiest person you know. Got the visual? Now, ask yourself how their behavior and lifestyle practices compare to what Lyubomirsky says is familiar amongst the happy. Is this person overweight? Chances are, they aren’t. Is this person known to give up or fall short on obligations? Doubt it. Does the person in your head seem to have a firm grasp on faith of some sorts? That’s usually the case.

Genuinely happy people seem to have a great deal of commonalities. And it’s been my experience that the happier people truly are, the less they have to convince others. Much like being rich, if you’ve got it, people know it without any broadcast or advertising. And some people make these practices, the art of happiness, their career.

 

Imagine your livelihood depended on your happiness – if smiling and being positive influenced the outcome of your success. For Keiko Osumi, Miss Gainesville 2014, this idea is her reality. Gracing the stage with a smile on her face, grinning from ear-to-ear during appearances and showing her pearly whites for photo after photo is part of her job description. Coming into the “office,” having woken up on the wrong side of the bed is not an option for Osumi. Much like a professional athlete, who has to find his or her game face, pageant contestants have to walk into every public situation radiating happiness, without exception. How are they able to slap on a smile amidst personal struggles, school stress, bad days and the likes?

“It’s simply about knowing the power of a smile,” explains Osumi. “Knowing that with just a smile, you change someone’s day, ultimately changes your own – in the best way possible.” Her theory supports author Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, which is based on the law of attraction and claims that positive thinking can create life-changing results.

Under a microscope, Osumi is required to present the happiest version of herself to the public. Ironically, by doing so, she starts to create an automatic habit of being happy. Like taking the same road home or making your favorite recipe, when you decide there will be no other options, you’re left behaving in a way that doesn’t require a second thought.

As odd a character as Michael Jackson was, he did make a great deal of sense when he said, “The greatest gift you can give someone is yourself… to give someone a piece of your heart is worth more than all the wealth in the world.” If giving is receiving, imagine the reward of giving the gift of happiness to the world, knowing it will circle around, as karma always does, and shower you with your own happiness.

 

So, how do you gift happiness into the universe? And I’m not talking about surface happiness – a smiling selfie you plaster on Facebook. No! I’m talking about genuine, authentic happiness. Something infectious that comes from the soul and was conjured up from a deeply rooted place of contentment, peace and pleasure. Blogger Pernilla Hjort offers some suggestions for making happiness so contagious that you catch it yourself.

First, live now. It’s really just that simple. Stop dwelling on the past. Wake up each day and be determined to let go of yesterday, to forgive those who have done you wrong and to stop stressing about what could or should have been, because it’s not and it didn’t so move on.

Give. It goes back to what the one-gloved wonder said about giving to others – it’s the best gift you can give yourself. Making others happy will make you happy. It will satisfy in you an urge or itch you may not have even realized you had. The more you start to make others happy, the more it will tickle your soul and awaken your senses to how wonderful being happy is for your well being.

Take charge. When you are behind the steering wheel, you feel empowered to adjust the seat to your level of comfort, play the music that you enjoy listening to, taking the roads with your favorite scenery and call all of the shots. You are in total control of your vessel and rarely concerned how your choice of seat covers or what you chose to hang from your rear-view will affect those zipping by. Why should other aspects of life be any different from that driving experience?

We see it all of the time, especially with the rise of social media, where people hide behind a mask of emotion. Constant posts about how wonderful life is, how happy they are about everything, just how perfect their job is, their love life and their confidence. But are these frequent posters truly happy? Or are they simply convincing the masses that life adds up in an effort to be accepted, envied or trusted?

How often do you see a profile picture of a young lady crying or a guy in the midst of a nervous breakdown? Never. It’s all smiles and grins and chances are, it took over a dozen attempts at the perfect angle and lighting to score that one socially acceptable, convincing shot. We want the world to believe we are happy. We need the world to believe we are happy. Countless hours are spent trying to fool the world, so why not take that time and effort and apply it so that we actually are happy?

I saw a meme on a friend’s Instagram that read, “You asked me what was wrong and I smiled and said ‘nothing.’ Then I turned around and whispered ‘everything’.” Depressing! But, a prime example of my above point. We are willing to fake happiness in an effort to fool those around us, rather than get to the root of what could actually bring us true happiness.

I’ve come to the realization that practicing happiness and adopting it as a lifestyle actually requires some work. Sadly, often times, that work isn’t as big a priority as guilty pleasures or hosting pity parties. In fact, making time to read a few pages of “The Happiness Project” started out as a hassle. Sometimes, I wasn’t in a good enough mood to be smothered in all of that happy-talk. Eventually, as my mood shifted and happiness became routine, I became excited to dive into each inspiring word.

I am not the only person who has struggled with adopting a regular happiness routine. One recent project circulating the World Wide Web, “100 Happy Days,” was created for this very reason – to challenge people to recognize one thing that makes them happy each day for 100 days in a row. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, according to the creators of this project, who do require a simple registration to help track success and data, 71% of people who commit to this challenge fail. You read that right – seventy one percent! So, what lends to such a massive amount of failed attempts? Is it really that difficult to find the time each day to spotlight just one small thing that makes us happy? Apparently.

Lack of time is the number one excuse for failing this project. But, is it really lack of time or is it lack of desire, commitment and appreciation for one’s own happiness? Remember earlier, Lyubomirsky identified happy people as those who follow through on commitments. Seems anyone who can’t find at least three minutes in a day to appreciate something that brings them happiness, either doesn’t want to be happy or doesn’t have anything worth sharing. The flip side to sticking to this project is the reward of being in a better mood every day, receiving more compliments from others, feeling luckier or more blessed, becoming genuinely more optimistic and some have even reported falling in love or getting that long awaited promotion. The truth is, happier people yield happier, more rewarding lives.

Now, the challenge is yours. Are you Facebook-happy or does happiness actually live in you? Do you smile simply for selfie-sake or do you carry your smile with you everywhere you go? Do you share the same qualities as the happiest of campers or are you still on your quest to turn that frown upside down?

Whether you’re in the business of being happy like Miss America hopeful, Keiko Osumi, or an ordinary person who needs permission to get out there and be that overly-happy, smiling bundle of bubbling joy, happiness is yours – true happiness.