What Does it Mean to be “Happy”?

In my estimation, there are few people who may be able to give you a good answer to what happiness is or how to attain it. By no means is that person me. There’s a reason this blog poses a question as opposed to making an assertion. Happiness is equivocal.

I wrote this blog because I love to explore and contemplate happiness. It’s such an interesting subject to me because of its mystery and because, paradoxically, it is never talked about and constantly talked about.

What do I mean?

It never ceases to amaze me. In a given day I’m told endless times that something will make me happier. Not by other human beings, but by advertisements, businesses, brands, etc. Take notice next time you’re out and about or simply watching tv to how often you’re told that a product or service will make you happier or how many commercials sell on happiness. It’s truly astounding.

Yet in the same world, we probably have few if any people in our lives that we would feel comfortable assessing our overall happiness with. We can all picture the awkwardness of analyzing our happiness with someone we just don’t have an intimate relationship with.

I can’t tell you exactly how to be happy, as a 23-year-old trying to find his way in this weird world I have a lot to figure out. I can tell you that I’ve taken myself from a place of unhappiness to a place of peaceful content in which I live currently. The key here I’m harping on is the individuality of happiness. It’s so different for each person.

Overcoming personal unhappiness is not easy. The best comparison I’ve heard to being in a cycle of unhappiness is that it’s like being stuck in mud. As bad as you want to get out, it’s difficult. It takes focused effort. You can’t bash away at your unhappiness like a hammer on a nail. You have to approach it strategically.

The first thing I learned is that it’s more about subtraction than addition. If you have negative behaviors and cycles of thought in your life, you can’t just add to it without addressing the things that are pulling away at your happiness. Do a short audit. Figure out what’s causing you stress and unrest. Eliminate it. As Gary Vee puts it “Just stop doing shit you hate!” If there are things you do that make you feel bad then recognize it and stop. The same goes for people you hang around out of obligation, with few exceptions this is totally unnecessary as well as unhealthy.

I’m purposely framing many of my assertions in an intuitive light. Following your intuition is a good way to set about changing your state for the better. Specifically, living in line with your morals and values is important here. We all know what our main values are and what morals are important to us. If you haven’t been completely honest with yourself lately it may be harder and you may have to dig to find them but they are there. 

A philosophy of mine that I adopted a while back is that “What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad.” Another place for confusion, especially among people my age who are constantly becoming more self-aware, is ridding yourself of preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong. For example- domineering sources in your life, whatever form they take (individuals, society, groups, ideals) may tell you that using a certain substance or simply talking a certain way is inappropriate or wrong but in the same breath may judge or talk poorly of other people. I’ve never understood this dichotomy, this black and white view of right and wrong. I go to church almost every Sunday. One of my values is to praise and honor God. That being said, in the same weekend I may also throw back a few beers and swap crude/racy jokes with my friends. Does this make me a hypocrite or a bad person? Quite the contrary, this isn’t me being two different people. I’m human and as a human, I have many different traits, qualities, and characteristics, all which make me uniquely me.

I heard an interesting Bible verse recently that resonated with my thoughts here.

Luke 10:25-37 says- (Key points italicized)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance, a priestwas going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

The Bible has many interpretations, my simple interpretation of this passage is that- status does not define one’s goodness or worthiness. The priest passed the man in need, the Levite (Hebrew religious servant/assistant) passed the man in need, it was the lone Samaritan who helped him.

In addition to following your intuition, focusing on habits is another way to begin to change your state. Replacing old habits with new ones was vital to my journey. Take time with this and be kind to yourself when it doesn’t always go perfectly. Examples of this are starting to read rather than endlessly browsing social media, beginning each day by meditating or journaling rather than rushing out the door, replacing unhealthy meals with healthier options, etc.

What this habit formation and elimination of unhelpful actions and interactions in your life will eventually do is begin to build up your self-esteem. Self-esteem is an underemphasized part of our make up in today’s society for multiple reasons. One being that it can be confused with a false sense of self-confidence that is largely the result of insecurity and ego. Another being that it is intangible and can’t be directly quantified in a world where everything comes down to metrics, measurements, etc. Building up your self-esteem will make you more confident and empower you to continue to make positive life choices like almost nothing else can and the great thing about it is that it’s all yours. Cultivated and owned by you.

One of my favorite books is “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss. In this book, Tim releases dialogue he has with many successful individuals in different fields. Happiness is a recurring theme discussed in the book and these passages stuck out to me.

“Happiness is a choice you make and a skill you develop. The mind is just as malleable as the body.” -Naval (Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss)

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” -Eric Ripert (Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss)

How else is happiness cultivated? For me, a huge part of it is gratitude and living for others. These two things I mention together because they’re aligned in the sense that the more grateful you become the more you desire to give to others. Especially with happiness, the happiest people want to give to others, they want others to feel the way they feel. This is not altruism for the sake of polishing one’s image but for the true belief that it is our duty as humans to give. A memorable book passage from “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki: “God does not need to receive, but humans need to give.”

My happiness is additionally built on curiosity. You may be thinking, okay all this work hard and be deliberate stuff sounds good but where will I find the energy? The commitment? The answer lies in your curiosity. Explore new things- hobbies, activities, and find what you like. I am convinced that like our morals and values, we all have interests and passions that are just waiting to be sought out and if you look hard enough you will discover the things that give you new life. Simply follow your natural curiosity.

If you were paying close attention, 5 words were highlighted throughout this article- subtractionintuitionhabitsgratitude, and curiosity. These 5 things encompass a huge part of allowing yourself to be happy, not forgetting that as I mentioned, happiness is an individual pursuit first and foremost.

Three final thoughts-

1. We all deserve happiness. 

We’ve all made mistakes and done things we wish we wouldn’t have but at the end of the day we have to accept that we deserve happiness or all other efforts are a waste.

2. Cheesy shit works

If you follow what I post online you know I’m big into quotes. Yes, most are cheesy but you have to accept that cheesy shit works! Sometimes you just need the reassurance that you’re on the right path and whatever does that for you has validity no matter what it is.

3. Embrace your weird self.

We’re all weird to some extent. I can be the goofiest person around at times but I also have a serious side which enjoys talking about intellectual and philosophical issues. It goes back to the fact that we’re all humans and we’re all infinitely complex. It takes becoming comfortable with every side of yourself to find the morals, values, interests, and passions that make you who you are.

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