Happiness seems to be everywhere these days. Or, at least, the term happiness seems to be high on our cultures radar right now. I have just finished reading two books on the subject. The Happiness Project and The Happiness Advantage both clearly lay out paths to happiness and the benefits of happiness and I would recommend either as a good read. As a culture we are learning more about the health benefits and the social benefits of being happy and we are exposed to practical techniques for increasing our happiness, so why is it that so many people report being unhappy? Isn't it as simple as the memes littering my Facebook page say? "Chose Happiness" a manically grinning cat commands me as I sleepily sip my delicious hot beverage. But as I step into the public domain intentionally trying to catch a strangers eye to share a smile (because sharing increases happiness)I am met with a frosty wall of frowning smart phone watchers. For all of our privileges and freedoms in this country I see a relatively very low happiness level in the people of daily life. Sighing store clerks ennui drips down their elbows as they offer a lethargic hand full of change. Fellow drivers brows knit tightly to match their pressed lips is what I spy on the highway. Even the lady in the VW Bug with the fake flower has a grimace! When we know the importance of happiness in all areas of health and we have been given tools to grow happier, why all the cranky?
Maybe the focus on joy is diminishing our joy. Is developing a sunny persona just another item on your endless to do list? Does it make you stressed that you are now supposed to be happy? Do you feel like someone telling you to chose joy is a little insulting? Well, it is insultingly simplified to say "chose joy"! We cannot just chose joy as if our emotions hung in our closet ready to be slipped over our heads. Telling a really sad person to just be happy is as effective as using a hair spray on a bald man. Like the stairway to heaven, the path to happiness is steep and winding and we just don't jump from now to happy in the space of one decision. What we can do, however, is take the first step towards happiness, becoming acquainted with our minds. The state of happiness, or any emotion really, is preceded by a thought that creates a chemical to manifest an emotion. So we don't work with our emotions but rather their building blocks, our thoughts. A good place to start with our thoughts is found in Philippians 4:8 which begins by telling us to think about what is true. Much of our unhappiness stems from anticipating unpleasant activities (ugh gotta go back to work on Monday morning). But if you are thinking about the future you are not thinking true thoughts but rather predicting. Truth is only found in this moment. Sometimes our unhappiness stems from memories of perceived injustice. Like elaborate tales woven by gifted story tellers, memories are neither true or not true, they are just memories. Instead of fishing for unhappiness in the past or future notice this moment what you are thinking and question if it is true. Are you thinking you will be happier when you lose 10 pounds, meet a mate, win the lottery...are these thoughts true? Are you thinking you would be happier if you didn't work so much or drink so much, is this true?
By letting our thoughts go unchallenged we become victims of our own stories. But by recognizing that our thoughts are opinions we can begin to chose opinions that lead us closer to the quality of happiness. Like a butterfly happiness is hard to catch, but if we sit still enough for long enough maybe happiness will land on our shoulder. Your thoughts are not the boss of you, they are not the totality of you, they are merely stepping stones we lay to take us to our destination. Lay your stones mindfully and you may end up with a genuine smile that we can share.