What does happiness mean to you? Are you happy? Are you allowing yourself to be genuinely happy?
What is happiness?
I was watching the news the other day, and there was a short clip on a new art exhibition by British Grayson Perry. His art may not be directly down my alley, but what I fell in love with was his definition of happiness: “Happiness is not ecstasy, and a lot of people get them muddled up. Happiness is sort of bumping along ok, having a drink on a Friday night, walking a dog, watching the TV with your family. That’s happiness. It’s not swimming with dolphins. So I’m happy.” I think he makes a great point.
To be happy, your life doesn’t need to be overflowing with constant extreme experiences and excitement, it’s so much easier than that. Learning to appreciate and enjoy the small things, the regular things, the “boring” things. Life is also supposed to surprise you, to challenge you and give you reason for being.
The happiest country in the world
Finland was recently ranked as the happiest country in the world. Even I was confused until I did a bit of research and really stopped to think about it. There was a legendary CBS News “60 minutes” clip on Finland done in 1993 called Tango Finlandia. The video demonstrated the Finns roughly stated as pretty much near-suicidal, depressed drunks. The lack of small-talk and need for personal space were considered defining negative aspects for the population. Then again, when you think about the definition of happiness according to Perry, there’s no reason for why Finns wouldn’t be happy. Finns are not very social with strangers. They don’t walk around with a huge grin on their face. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not happy. Instead, I think what Finns have done, is they have learned to appreciate the regular things in life and that makes them feel happy and comfortable.
Social media and peer pressure
Social media is a massive culprit for confusing what genuine happiness really is. Peer pressure has always been around. I’ve somehow thought that it’s something that affects us the most when we’re young and still shaping our own self-image and opinions. A part of children’s development is going through a phase where the child seeks constant praise and acceptance from their actions. Be it a drawing or a story they tell, children need affirmation from the outside world to feel proud. As adults we should know better, that we don’t need constant acceptance from our surroundings to feel good about ourselves. And even less, we shouldn’t feel disappointed or envious of others’ success or praise.
An extended neighborhood
We should know that if our neighbor buys a new car, good for them, but it shouldn’t affect our own being. Jealous? Why? Why does it make a difference what your neighbor drives? You wish you could buy a new car too? Understandable, I mean who wouldn’t want a new car, but why should you allow someone else’s happiness to have a negative effect on your own life? How about instead trying to be happy for that person? To genuinely join in on their happiness, and leave it at that. Now this is where social media has upped the game. Your neighborhood is no longer the houses in your vicinity, it’s made up of your entire social media network.
Suddenly you’re following closely the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people, constantly receiving an overflow of images and statements on how incredible everyone’s life is. And where does that put you? You might be doing great, good for you. Alternatively, you could be struggling from pay check to pay check, house is a mess, your personal life is AWOL. The kids might be driving you insane and you hate your job – and yet you have a compulsive need to live up to the standards of social media, and join in to boast about how great everything is. You follow the ‘likes’ and praise that your picture or status update is getting – the more ‘likes’ you receive, the better you feel. That’s pressure, peer pressure to the max if I may say.
For more on my thoughts on social media and being constantly online, you can read my post here.
Social media has caused us to some extent relive that ‘childish’ development stage of need for outside acceptance. Some struggle more than others to get past that stage. I’m not saying this goes for everyone or that it’s wrong if you like to upload every image of your life. Just as we’re all different, we also have our own reasons for our actions. Personally I discourage sharing for example domestic disputes online (once its online, you can never take it back), but that’s just my own preference.
I honestly believe we should pay more attention to ourselves. Forget about what everyone else is doing and focus on the things that make you happy. And no, you don’t have to share. That doesn’t mean you can’t share, because just as everyone else, you too are entitled to boast about what makes you happy if you so feel. The point is, don’t buckle into the pressure, instead make your own choices, define your own happiness. Even more so, choose to be happy.
Embrace the moment
I have a lit up frame on top of my fireplace which states “Happiness is not a destination but a way of life”. A cliché perhaps, but regardless another good point; embrace the moment. Enjoy life as it happens! Look back on the memories fondly, but don’t sit around waiting for the day that happiness will come to you. We all go through rough patches and stages in life where feeling happy is a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to grasp happiness in the small things, and eventually, every storm will pass.
As a mother of young children, the past few years of my life have been exhausting at times. I have been forced to evaluate how I face everyday challenges and find ways to overcome those situations or negative feelings. It’s not always easy, but regardless, not a day has gone by, when I haven’t found some reason to smile, to laugh, to feel good or at least OK, for even a split second. If not otherwise, at least through self-irony or situation comedy. I look for a reason, even if it means having to dig deep, there is always something to grasp hold of.
The power of a positive attitude
I’ve stated on several occasions that I believe in the power of a positive attitude. I remember a time from high school, when we were discouraged from using the word “positive” when describing ourselves in a cover letter. The reasoning was based on the “negative” implementations related to the word positive. I don’t know if my teacher was conservative, but he felt that a positive person would automatically stir thoughts of being HIV positive. I might be wrong, but I think those days are thankfully behind us. To be fair, blood tests are still ranked as either positive or negative, and most cases you hope for a negative answer, which is then a positive thing.. Well forget about it, positive thinking and a positive attitude are good things, and if someone wants to see them as negative implications, that’s their loss, not yours.
Choose to be happy
Having a positive attitude and outlook on life in general, in my book, does not mean that you need to always be happy. Varying emotions and feelings are what life is all about. We learn from mistakes and setbacks. Life is simply not a constant ‘up’, ‘downs’ are just as much a part of it. It’s more about the big picture, and how you handle setbacks. When the going gets tough, what do you do? Face the challenge knowing you’ll get through it, or do you choose to run away, curl up in a ball and hide? I would be a hypocrite if I said that there haven’t been moments that have broken me down too, of course I’ve given up, failed, regretted. But not nearly as many times as I could have, and that’s a choice.
I choose to be happy whenever and as often as I can. I choose to look at the big picture, find the good. Being happy is a necessity for me alongside coffee and sleep. Happiness is my fuel, my burn.
Thinking positive for me means that I try to begin and end every day in a good mood. I try to see the good in things and I reflect on experiences and lessons learned from the past. When I’m faced with a difficult decision, I make a list of pros and cons – especially if I need affirmation for a gut feeling. I like to begin with the pros, as this tends to make the list of cons shorter. I subscribe to a positivity newsletter (positiivarit.fi in Finnish), i.e. breakfast for thought, that I begin my weekdays with (literally the first thing I do when I open my eyes is read the e-mail), because I believe how we begin our day can have a great impact on the entire day.
No matter how many arguments I might have had with the kids during the day, and spent hours full of frustration and anger getting them to bed, the last thing I say to them is in a gentle, happy voice, wishing them a good night and that tomorrow is going to be a great day that we should all wake up to with excitement. I don’t let my kids go to sleep without ensuring that we’ve all made truce. They need to know how much they mean to me even if our opinions differ. In my house we don’t go to sleep mad at each other.
Believe in people
I’m often told I’m naïve. And I am, I still hold a ‘childish’ naivety, which I refuse to give up on. No matter what life throws at me, I believe that people are good. It’s like Luke Bryan’s song, Most people are good. When I heard it the first time, I thought it was a commercial for something, maybe a health insurance or a private bank. In today’s world, the lyrics felt more like a sales pitch then an actual song.
I don’t take people for granted, nor do I rely on strangers to give me a hand. However, fact is, I have received so much help and unexpected support from people along the way. Be they family, friends or complete strangers, there is no way that I could justify that hope for humanity is lost. There’s a lot of bad in the world, no doubt. A great deal of societies suffer from moral degeneration, but still, most people are good, they’re actually great. And when you learn to embrace that, it’s pretty difficult not to be grateful, appreciative and ultimately happy.