Years ago, I read a book about how to be happy. The author, a psychologist, said that the way to achieve this highly sought-after state of mind was threefold: have someone to love, have something to do, and have something to look forward to.
That advice sounded good…until he made his big confession. He had stopped believing in God after his son died in an accident.
Or so he claimed. But one thing I’ve learned over my several decades of life is that most people who claim that they no longer believe in God because of an unexplained tragedy in their lives, are actually bitter toward Him. They still believe, but they’re angry and bitter about the bad thing He allowed to happen, either to themselves or their loved ones.
They hide that bitterness underneath the guise of unbelief. It’s easier to cope that way, to ignore the insidious emotion that eats away inside you until it – in many cases – literally turns into cancer.
Can we agree that it’s impossible to experience true happiness when you’re carrying around bitterness?
Or, wait. Maybe you can be happy, even if you’re hiding bitterness. Because…
The first truth about how to be happy.
Happiness is a temporary emotion. It’s based on circumstances. I’m happy when I make over $300 in book royalties in a month. He’s happy when he figures out how to succeed with a particularly tricky level of a video game. She’s happy when the man she’s fallen in love with calls her.
What happens when the next month, I make under $300? What happens when he can’t figure out how to succeed at the game? When her boyfriend breaks up with her?
Happiness comes from temporary events and circumstances that can change in a heartbeat.
This lead us to…
The second truth about how to be happy.
Trying to maintain a constant state of happiness is exhausting. Since reading the book I’ve mentioned above, I’ve come to realize that the three things the author insisted bring happiness, don’t always.
You can love and be loved, and still feel unhappy because other things in life are going wrong. You can have something to do, but if it’s not fulfilling it will not only not bring happiness, but also could bring on dread. The anticipation of looking forward to something can be pleasurable, but it is equally often frustrating because you wish you could be doing it now.
And so, if your goal in life is to be constantly happy, you keep having to search for things or contrive experiences that will bring you pleasure.
Which is a great segue into…
The third truth about how to be happy.
The search for happiness can be expensive. She isn’t happy unless she’s buying new clothes. He’s not happy unless he’s leasing the latest model of his favorite luxury car. They’re not happy unless they can take three week-long exclusive resort vacations every year.
How many times have you heard about some new gadget, got excited at the prospect of owning it, and then went out to buy it only to find that a few days after using it, you couldn’t care less about it? Or, maybe you were still grateful to have it, but your happiness over having brought the thing into your possession is gone forever? It just became another hum-drum, ordinary part of your boring life.
A similar thing can happen with finding out about a new restaurant, or making plans to travel to a new part of the world. You’re happy when you first go there, but once the initial excitement wears off you wonder why you were so gung-ho to go there in the first place.
And you’re off to spend money on the next thing that you’re sure will make you happy.
This closely relates to…
The fourth truth about how to be happy.
If you’re depending on a change of circumstances in order to be happy, you may be miserable for the rest of your life.
I have a large bunion on my right foot. It used to be a mild bunion. I think it fit into the “moderate” category when I had the bunion on my left foot surgically removed seven to eight years ago.
For an entire two years, I decided I couldn’t be happy unless the bunion miraculously disappeared – or at least shrunk. Or unless I could have some guarantee it would never get bigger.
Do I have to tell you I was miserable for those two years?
Here are other ways people hinge their happiness on circumstances that are out of their control:
- I’ll be happy when I no longer have these digestive issues (or autoimmune disease, or chronic pain, etc).
- I’ll be happy when my spouse stops [FILL IN ANNOYING HABIT OR CHARACTERISTIC HERE].
- I’ll be happy when I win the lottery.
- I’ll be happy when my business starts making five figures a month.
- I’ll be happy when I find my soulmate.
- I’ll be happy when I can afford a condo on the beach.
- I’ll be happy when a Libertarian candidate is elected President (U.S.).
I think you get my drift. Waiting for an ideal future before you find happiness is going to turn you into one sorry, depressed, bitter human being.
You might be starting to think that I am anti-happiness, that there’s no point in trying to be happy, even in the present.
I’m glad you brought that up, because it reminds me of…
The fifth truth about how to be happy.
Feeling happy is not a bad thing. It’s good for your intelligence, good for your physical health, good for your mental health, good for your creativity, good for your relationships.
Being happy is all-around good for you. And, it’s fun. So when you encounter it, enjoy it while it lasts. Experiencing the emotion isn’t the problem. The problem comes with…
The sixth truth about how to be happy.
That truth is, seeking happiness is bad for you. Experiencing it is good, but not seeking it. Why? When you’re looking for happiness, you’re focused on pleasure rather than fulfillment. You’re being selfish and self-centered.
And, as we saw with the other truths, you’re wearing yourself out and possibly setting yourself up for a life of disappointment and heartache.
Being attached to circumstances, happiness often pops up when you least expect it. It’s a natural result of finding yourself in situations that fit your personal needs and desires of the moment.
Of course, you can craft some circumstances in such a way that you can be close to certain that you’ll end up feeling happy. For example, if you’re in love, chances are high that going out with the person you’re in love with will make you happy. You know that, so you arrange a date with them.
Or maybe there’s a certain place that has just-right weather at a certain time of year that helps you feel happy. You can plan a trip at that time of year and be assured that you’ll probably feel happy while you’re there.
It’s not bad to exert some control over your life when the end result will help you feel happy. The problem comes in eternally seeking happiness. Once that one particular circumstance has ended, what do you do next to stay happy? It becomes a never-ending struggle.
Which brings us to…
The seventh truth about how to be happy.
Seek joy, not happiness.
Happiness is external, while joy is internal. Things that are outside you can be whisked away in a second, without warning. They are temporary. But what is inside you endures, even through the darkest periods of your life. Like happiness, joy can bring giddy feelings. It can bubble up and expand at times. But even when it’s just a steady sense of rightness, a peaceful inner glow, no one can take it away from you.
How do you find joy? It’s born inside you from a deep knowing that your existence has meaning, that you are here for a reason.
In other words, you have put your faith in a loving Creator, believing that He will lead you, knowing that when the going gets tough, He hasn’t left you, but is enabling you to grow stronger.
And the more inner strength you have, the more joy you have. You may not feel happy at those times, but the joy will continue, will help you keep your mind focused in the right direction.
You may say that you know you have a relationship with your Creator, but you still struggle with depression and/or anxiety, In that case, you might want to read my story about how I cured myself of depression.
If you don’t know your Creator, you may be asking, “How do I do that?”
Pray for faith to believe. Pray that God would touch your heart so that you know He’s real.
And be willing to let Him lead your life.
Learning how to be happy is easy: surround yourself, or do things, that bring you pleasure.
But I think what you really want is joy. The journey of seeking that might take a bit of work and time, but in the end it will transform your life in a much bigger and better way than seeking happiness ever will.