Aristotle stated when he thought about happiness it was the one claim in life that didn’t need justification.
Usually when you ask people what will make them happy, they come up with a logical chain. They’ll give you a long bucket list of all the things that will make them happy in life; job, house, I want expensive things. I’ll ask why do you want all these things? The general answer is almost always, “because it will make me happy.” But what happens when you reach the end of your list. I find that many times people don’t know—the logical chain.
What about I’m happy just being—That’s happiness.
The problem is as human beings we’re not very good at predicting happiness. Cognitive psychologist in the 20th and 21st century have explored this. Martin Seligman wrote a book called ‘Authentic Happiness’ and his premise was that happiness is not due to ‘having the right genes’ or being lucky’. Rather, according to Seligman, true, enduring happiness is the result of paying attention to one’s strength rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses. We think things outside of us will make us happy. Like if I have a big house, I’ll be happy, but we forget that a big house creates new responsibilities that we have to take on: mortgage payments, property taxes, water bill and so forth. By the time we realize it, we’re miserable in our big house.
So we can’t wait to think about future predictiveness and say things like: I can’t wait for the winter to be over, I’ll be happy then, or I’ll be happy when this sore throat goes away, no we want to be happy now. And we want to do that through gratitude.
Shreyl Crow, in her song, Soaking up the Sun, has the line, it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you’ve got. And that’s gratitude.
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in the world. Sometimes it’s impossible not to be anxious or get angry when someone cuts you off while you’re driving, or you get fired from a job. But we have to keep that at bay while we’re cultivating gratitude. We need to be happy by realizing we have a lot and being optimistic about what we can accomplish.
Let’s use the example of a Car. Here are two possibilities. First is the Christmas possibility. I want to wake up on Christmas morning to a shiny new car. That’s one form of hopefulness. The other form is, I’m working this job and I hope I have enough money at the end of the year to get the car that I need. I could get help from my parents or take out a loan from the bank to help me reach my goal. So this is the kind of optimism that I’m encouraging. We’re grateful but we can still make things better.
So I want to wrap up by saying, I’ve heard stories of people on their death beds being asked what would you give if you had one day of health? Their response is almost always the same; I’d have a big dinner, go out with a few close friends and later go for a nice walk.
This kind of thinking shows that you can find pleasure in a lot of little things. It’s the little things that matter. People often come back from vacation saying, it was so relaxing, I watched the sun rise. Last time I checked the sun rises everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you are you can always find time to watch the sun rise. You don’t need a vacation to do that.
Cultivating gratitude is a daily thing and you can do it from anywhere. So when you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking, a car, house, relationship, more money—replace it with thoughts of gratitude. As for happiness it should be the purpose of life. Once a person’s basic needs are met, happiness is more the result of the mind rather than events, external conditions, and circumstances.