Yesterday I watched the movie The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith. I know, I know, it’s not a new movie and I don’t even know how I haven’t seen it yet. But I finally did and despite I was expecting a happier, more cheerful tone, it made me think.
Everyone is different and we all want different things in life, but one thing’s sure: Everyone pursues happiness.
We spend most of our precious time trying to understand what makes us happy, and when we think we figured we chase the object of our happiness: relationship, job, status, money, hobbies… It seems like the quest of pursuing happiness is just never ending. We hope to fulfill some emptiness in our life that seems possible for a while, but to preserve the feel-good days is just nearly impossible so we look for the next thing.
Fact is, it is nearly impossible to reach a state of consistent happiness. Happiness is not a static state, but a constant fluctuation. You can’t avoid unpredictable things that happen in life and cause you to be sad or stressed, and just the way our modern life is built makes the whole thing challenging—juggling with so many things like work, home life, family and alone time, friends and hobbies, trying to find the golden middle way of it all.
Emmanuel Kant said: “Foresight, a daughter of affluence, is the source of unhappiness; enjoyment of the present, with attention to our morality, is happiness.”
Aristotle taught that happiness should be our primary goal in life and in order to be happy, one must attain moral virtue. In his seminal work, The Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 BCE, he presents a theory of happiness that is still relevant, more than two millennia later.
Aristotle asks, “What is the ultimate purpose of human existence?” His prime interest lies in life’s “purpose” rather than its “meaning.” What is the most important goal toward which we should direct all of our activities. Is it pleasure, wealth, status and reputation? While Aristotle does not deny the value of all these, he asserts that happiness is the chief good for which humanity should aim, as he puts “worth pursuing for its own sake and never for the sake of anything else that might be gained through it.” According to him, happiness is simultaneously both the path and the goal, the means and the end.
This happiness is very far from from the modern definition of a happiness that’s attained through acquisition and consumption. We cannot achieve happiness through the pursuit of superficial or momentarily-passing pleasures, as we often believe in our culture of instant gratification.
Here are 5 things, that never fail to make me happy, even in our superficial, pleasure seeking, internet dominated world:
Spend time in nature.
Being outdoors has always elevated my mood. I instantly feel better and more relaxed when I’m surrounded by trees, plants, and flowers. The sound of rivers and birds, or the wind blowing through the branches of trees also soothes my mind. Gazing at the sea and listening to the waves puts me in a calm, meditative state. Even going for a short walk around my neighborhood or just stepping out of the house to simply breathe the fresh air can be extremely soothing for the nervous system. Star gazing is something that always helped to reduce my anxiety and help me deal with my problems.
Play with animals.
Whenever I felt down or sad, I cuddled my dog or my kitten and spend some time with them. I left my pets home to be cared for by my parents but whenever I get the chance to play with someone’s pup in the park, I take it. Even if you don’t feel low, the interaction with them is so healing that you’ll feel the positive change in your mood immediately. There are even therapeutic pets that help people overcome trauma or depression. When I struggled with my own depression, adopting a kitten and taking care of her helped me to get out of that dark place and with time, I got back to taking care of myself and eventually others, too.
Do something you really enjoy.
Sometimes it still happens that I feel miserable in life. Then I stop and take a look on my days. I have a little list in my head for the things that make my days really meaningful and ideally I should do at least a few of these daily, otherwise if I feel my light slowly dimming. These are simple but important activities such as taking a hot shower/bubble bath, doing yoga or other exercises, listening to music, reading a nice book, meditation, journaling, creating a warming meal or gardening… There are times when we just get so caught up in life and helping others, work and what not that we forget that we need our own support too. The more I miss out on these simple things that make my heart beat faster, the more miserable I feel.
Spend time with those you love.
Before passing away in a bus in Alaska, Christopher McCandless wrote down his now-famous sentence: “Happiness is only real when shared.” When I was walking on the Camino alone for several days in the mountains, I understood what he meant. Humans are social creatures and sharing our stories, feelings, and dreams can make us happy and satisfied , especially if we found our tribe we really connect with. Even though I’m an introvert and I always seek alone time, spending time with those I love fills my heart.
Sounds cliché but the attitude of gratitude goes a long way. I always make sure that I give thanks for everything in my life and appreciate everything that comes my way. I try to make time to write a gratitude list in my journal as often I can but even if I’m busy, every night when I lay in bed, ready to sleep, I start to list the things I am grateful for—even the things that made me sad or dissatisfied.It’s not possible to live a beautiful life without experiencing the ugly side of it—sadness, loss, anger, frustration, you name it, but it’s important to see the the good and the opportunity in everything. If something negative happens, like an argument with someone I dislike, I still give thanks for it because that experience allows me to realize that i am in a situation that doesn’t feel good, therefor I become aware of what I would like to experience instead and I am able to make moves towards a happier present. Try to accept and appreciate whatever life throws your way and see how your mood might instantly change.
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Photo: Ha Nguyen via Unsplash