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How do You Measure Your Happiness?

Published in the SIDS Horizons-June 1996
Written by Elsa L. Weber, M.S., CHES.

Happiness is something that most people are concerned about and want. But, it seems to me that many people are confused about it. Oh sure, most know that it is important, but it is surprising how many people are not happy and how many are looking for happiness in the wrong places.

Some of us think the more we have the happier we'll be. I sometimes fall into that category, I laugh at myself when I think of the many times in my life I have bought things because I thought they would make me happy. Others view happiness in a metaphysical sense and speak about obtaining it in mystical terms that to be quite honest I never quite understand. When I was younger I looked for happiness by reading hundreds of self improvement books and exploring a few of the many organizations that for a fee will teach you the secret to happiness. I found little that really helped me. Slowly, during my extensive search for information and guidance, it occurred to me that I am probably as much an expert as anyone else. I had read enough books, attended enough seminars and had lived long enough to have learned that happiness is an inside job.

The dictionary describes happiness as contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction, and an active or passive state of pleasure. From the time we are children, society, our parents, friends and the media try to tell us what will make us feel happy, most of what they say is not true. Here are some examples of that:

Things do not make you happy. There is so much pressure in our culture to buy and to have. But there is a rude awakening to actually attaining the things that you think will make you happy. It is often so disappointing. How many times have you wanted something, only to find once you had it, it didn't give you the joy and happiness that you expected? I decided long ago that happiness comes more from the process of obtaining something rather than from the thing itself.

Someone else cannot make you happy. One of the myths of our society is that finding the perfect mate will bring perfect happiness. However, people who depend on others for their personal happiness are often bitterly disappointed. I think this is demonstrated in our high divorce rate. True happiness comes from knowing yourself, your values, and what you like to do, not from someone else knowing these things about you.

Happiness is not guaranteed. In the last five years thousands of people have lost their jobs due to mergers, down sizing, and changing technology. When the jobs went so did the life style they were keeping. People are unpredictable, they can leave, get sick, and they can die. When they do, so do the plans, dreams and hopes that were connected with their role in your life. Internal reactions change, how many times have you suddenly found that the happy pleasurable feelings connected with a job, a hobby, a person are no longer there?

You cannot be happy all the time. Happiness is an experience. It is a feeling you have when you are doing something you enjoy, spending time with someone you love, or just remembering something from the past. It is a temporary state controlled by your attitude towards the events, the people and things in your life.

Happiness is never perfect. I use to believe in perfection, since I stopped worrying about it I am much happier.

Questions about human happiness are not new they have been ask throughout time. Over the years, the questions that I asked about it have helped me to learn what makes me feel happy. I know, for example, that what makes me happy changes with time. The things that make me feel good and happy today are very different than those that made me feel happy ten years ago or even last week. I can also tell you that no one else can really tell you how to find happiness. In reality happiness is a personal thing with as many varieties as there are individuals. The bottom line is that we are all experts on our own personal happiness, no one else holds the key or the answers to it. I would like to end this column by sharing a statement by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is the best advice on the subject that I have found.

" Make the best of your circumstances, No one has everything and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with the gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears. Don't take yourself too seriously. You can't please everybody; don't let your neighbors set your standards, do the things you enjoy doing, but stay out of debt. Don't borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than the actual ones. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish enmities, grudges. Don't hold post-mortems. Don't spend your life brooding over sorrow and mistakes. Don't be one who never gets over things. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself. Keep busy at something. A very busy person never has time to be unhappy."

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