Two Ways To Be Happier Without Really Trying

Monday, October 12, 2015

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
— Guillaume Apollinaire

I often find myself grappling with this piece of well-intended advice.

It might have something to do with my innate perfectionism, and the driving desire to do things correctly.  I am a list-er, an instruction follower, a cross-er off-er.  Just be happy?  How exactly am I supposed to do that?  I want actionable steps, things I can tick off one by one as proof that I’m reaching that elusive goal: happiness.

There are certainly a good number of books written by positive psychologists that would satiate my hunger for happiness if foolproof methods were the only things I needed to attain it.  More likely, I think the reason I still often find myself coming up short on this quest is that I, like so many others, have an idea of how my life is supposed to look, and it is one that has been informed by both my own hopes and dreams for my life, and by carefully curated Facebook posts and illusory Instagram photos of things that make others happy.  

I look to social media and see what others are so wildly happy to be doing, and I think I must be missing something because I’m not doing those things.  So sometimes striving to reach their standards of happiness, or variants of them, becomes my pursuit of happiness.  

And sometimes the pursuit of happiness takes the form of believing that I can’t be happy until I live in this place or have that job or can travel to London anytime I want.  But as Joshua Glenn Clark has been quoted as saying, “We waste so many days waiting for the weekend.  So many nights wanting morning.  Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.”  

We tend to think of the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form it comes, as a good thing, and complacency as negative.  There’s some truth to this.  Stagnation is hardly the means of a fruitful life’s journey of growth and discovery.  But if we depend too much on what the future might offer us, or on what we currently don’t have, we’re robbing ourselves of the beauty and joy that’s already present exactly where we are.  

Sometimes it’s infinitely better to stay put and just be.    

So, because I’m a list-er, and also because maybe you, too, might be confused on where to start with this whole “being happy right now” thing, here are two ways you can stop in the pursuit of happiness wherever you are at this moment and just allow yourself to be happy instead.

Find at least one thing where you are right now to be happy about.

Stop.  Breathe.  Look around.  What can you be happy about right now?

This might feel impossible ("I'm so angry/upset/anxious/annoyed right now -- what is there to be happy about?") or even frivolous ("Why should I allow myself to feel happy about trivial things, like the tree across the street with red-orange leaves, or the cappuccino I'm sipping, or the baby giggling in his stroller?  This moment will pass too quickly, and all of those things will soon vanish."). 

Fair enough... but just as surely as these happy moments will pass, the future happiness you seek might never arrive, either.  I don't say that to be cynical, I just say it because it's true.  Really, this moment is all we have.  Don't let it escape unnoticed or unappreciated.  And there is always, always, always something to be happy about.   

As I write this, I’m sitting cross-legged on the couch in the basement studio apartment my sister and I are currently sharing, and I am happy we will be moving into a much bigger place in about two and a half weeks, with our own bedrooms and bathrooms.

I am happy because I can’t think of a better writing/blogging partner than the hot cup of Earl Grey tea I was holding just seconds ago in a cheery Winnie the Pooh mug.  

And I am happy because I can hear my sister’s toy poodle puppy, Winnie, snoring softly where she’s curled up at the other end of the couch.  In a human I would find this annoying, but for an adorable dog, it’s nothing short of precious.

Simple things?  Sure.  But happiness begins with the little things.

Practice gratitude.

This is very closely linked to the above exercise, and it involves choosing just three things to be grateful for right now, too.  This is definitely not a groundbreaking idea, and most positive psychologists who study ways to fill our lives with more joy can agree that this is the best place to start, because it helps us to realize we already have so much to be happy about.

The three things you pick can be the ones you just noticed, or they can be different.  They can be things surrounding you right now, experiences you had, tangible or intangible possessions, or relationships.  Your family, your friends, your health.  Good food, a cozy bed (especially as the nights get colder), clean water.  A toothbrush, a good book, a television.  The sky’s the limit here.  

Once you have your three things in mind, just take a minute to let gratitude fill you up.  Feel it in your heart.  If you’re religious like me, maybe take this time to say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings you picked.  Whatever you do, let this be a time to cherish what you already have, rather than anxiously look toward the future, or focus on what you might someday achieve or obtain.      


So there you go.  Two things you can do right now, wherever you are, with hardly any effort, to “pause in the pursuit of happiness of just be happy.”  To not be a bystander to, or worse, completely unaware of, the beautiful moments that flicker past while you’re chasing down ambition.

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