Man running in search of something on the beach

The multiplicity of happiness

Happiness, like so many things in life, is subjective. No two people will give the same response to this question: “How do you define happiness?”

We are all unique, and you will create your own meaning of happiness and of bliss. You may even rediscover and recreate your definitions of both throughout your life, perhaps even as you read this.

The multiplicity of happiness lies in the subtle experience of the word itself. On the one hand, the word conjures feelings of joy, visual images of gleeful smiles, or contented moments of idyllic bliss on a tropical beach. Whatever happiness feels like for you, it fills you up inside. Everyone wants to be happy.

On the other hand, striving to be happy sees most people trying to change everything and everyone around them, dictated by some deep-seated belief that it is an external experience. The oversight of happiness seekers is not realising that it is a state of being rather than an external experience. When people realise that they need to look within, and connect to themselves, happiness becomes a much more challenging concept and an even more challenging experience to find.

My role here is not to tell you what happiness is. My role is to help you rediscover it for yourself. However, just as I’m sure you have, I have experienced it in so many forms. Yet no matter the variation, the result was always the same for me: fleeting.

» Storybook happiness

We frequently compare ourselves and our lives to others. We strive to have the storybook-perfect life we perceive some others as having. Because they appear happy, we believe they are happy and make all kinds of wild assumptions as to the reasons for their happiness. We believe they must have found the key, that they must have all the right happiness ingredients. We want their “happily ever after”, so we seek to emulate what they have. Sadly, we believe that whatever they have is better than our own lives.

This stems from not truly accepting who you are. When you don’t love and cherish yourself, it is easy to compare yourself, often less than kindly, with someone else’s life. You may perceive others to be more beautiful or successful than you, to have more thoughtful partners than you, or to have nicer homes than you. Sometimes you may go a step further, comparing yourself to people you don’t even know, like the airbrushed gorgeous celebrity on the front of your favourite magazine or even fictional characters in television shows.

We judge all these people based on what we see—without any true insight into their lives. If what we see mirrors our perception of happiness, often we will go to extreme lengths to create our storybook happiness.

» Surprise happiness

Happiness has been defined as an emotional state characterised by feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction. Enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction … In my view, these are all the result of doing something—cause and effect, if you like. Depending on who we are with, what we are doing, and how we are feeling [the cause], we can dip in and out of the effect of happiness on a daily or even an hourly basis. It’s almost as if happiness is a surprise we are looking for and even trying to make happen, but we never quite know when it will appear.

Wife surprised by receiving gift from her husband
The happiness associated with receiving a gift is short-lived, the feeling soon fades away

We can all think of moments or events that have made us happy and put smiles on our faces. Perhaps for you, it came from receiving unexpected flowers from your husband, hearing a sincere and heartfelt thank you from a colleague, or even enjoying the simple pleasure of a sunny day. It might even be the way you feel when you buy something new or receive a gift. Perhaps you even base how loved you feel in a relationship on the number and size of loving gestures and gifts. Or you try to create surprise happiness for others by lavishing them with gifts rather than seeing that the best gift is your time and unconditional love.

The feelings of happiness associated with these things may last a while, but eventually the feelings fade and we wait for the next moment to be happy because of something or someone. It is no wonder that although we strive for more and more, we’re constantly left feeling unfulfilled.

» Surrogate happiness

Surrogate happiness comes in three forms: when you base your happiness on someone else’s expectations of how your life should be lived, when you put all your energy into making someone else happy because you believe that will make you happy, and when you expect someone else to make you happy through his behaviour and actions.

Happiness by expectation: Too many people are living lives that are not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them. Foremost, our parents shape us. Sometimes we are so desperate for their approval and love that we live our lives the way we believe they think we should. What our friends, colleagues, and even the media think is best for us also influences us. Sometimes we are so busy pleasing people that we give away ownership of our lives. We ignore our inner voices and let others’ opinions divert us from our paths. Now is the time to give up living your life according to other people’s expectations.

Happiness by sacrifice: For many of us, it is easier to give love than to receive love. Some people ignore their own needs, preferring to focus all their energy on making someone else happy.

Sometimes this is shaped by our upbringing. In my own life, I have been used to putting others before myself since an early age. The eldest of four children, I was a second mum to my youngest sister before I had reached the age of 10. She would choose to come to me with her problems, climb into my bed for reassurance if she had a nightmare, and confide her fears and dreams to me. I love my two sisters and my brother dearly, but being the responsible-before-my-time older sister shaped my belief that my role in life was to nurture others and put their needs before my own. That continued well into adulthood. I believed my role and my happiness stemmed from making others happy.

The truth is that you can’t make anyone else happy. Others are in charge of choosing to be happy all by themselves. Of course, we are here to love, nurture, and care for and share our lives with other people, but not to the point of sacrificing our own needs to meet theirs.

There is a lot of literature around about the benefits of doing good for others… and how doing so makes you feel happy. Indeed, a compassionate and generous heart is a wonderful gift. But the happiness that comes from doing good for others will only be fleeting unless you first bestow yourself with gentle compassion.

Happiness by delegation: You can no more make another person happy than that person can make you happy. True happiness comes from within. When you delegate your responsibility for your own happiness to someone else, you unfairly tip the scales in your life. You unwittingly create a situation where neither of you will be happy because of the expectation of being made to feel happy. Often we look to our partners in our relationships to make us happy, as if it is their job. Yet we become more and more miserable when they don’t live up to our expectations of making us happy, particularly if we believe that we are experts at doing it for them. Other people enrich our lives, they support us, they treasure us, and they love us. But happiness is your choice. No one can create it for you.

If you are searching for happiness in an external source or from another person, you hide your true self. You forget what makes you happy, what you want, what you need. Eventually, you no longer remember who you are, and soul sadness is inevitable.

you can no more make another person happy than that person can make you happy. True happiness comes from within

» Someday happiness

Someday happiness is having a happiness plan. It’s when we plan to be happy . . . someday, when all the stars in our lives come into alignment and create a cosmic burst of happiness. A happiness plan is believing that happiness is all about having the right ingredients in one’s life. Much like following the recipe for your favourite cake, when you have all the right ingredients, the oven turned to just the right temperature, the perfect baking time, and a beautiful platter to serve it on to someone special in your life, that’s when happiness will be created. Of course, this is all at such a deep subconscious level that we don’t really ever realise we even have a happiness plan. But most of us are putting off happiness, telling ourselves we’ll be happy when we are mortgage-free, happy when we lose five kilos, or happy when we take a well-deserved holiday. We’re putting off happiness today, tomorrow, and even next week or next year, until our storybook lives are perfect, rather than focusing on being happy now.

» Soul happiness

Can you remember the last time you were deeply, blissfully happy, when you were so happy that you felt you were beaming with joy… so happy that you felt lovingly content with yourself… so happy that you wanted to break into song… so happy that everywhere you looked, everything and everyone had a golden glow… so happy that you felt indescribably beyond happy? For a moment, hold that feeling of deep, blissful happiness in your heart. Imagine if you could feel that way for more than just a day, a week, or even a month or a year. Imagine if you could feel deep, blissful happiness all the time. When you do, that is what I call enduring bliss.

For me, enduring bliss is feelings of pure, unburdened joy. It is when you connect so strongly to your light and your happiness within that it becomes an infinite source of joy in your life. In some ways, enduring bliss is impossible to truly define. It is beyond happiness.

Woman climbing the ladder and finding through binocular
When we focus on things outside of us to make us happy, we forget that happiness is within

Happiness transforms from fleeting to enduring the moment you really embrace and love the brilliance of you. I believe that happiness and a life with purpose are intrinsically linked. I also believe there is a difference between happiness and enduring bliss. We often settle for fleeting happiness without realising that we have the power to move beyond happiness to enduring bliss. Enduring bliss is part of who we are. Enduring bliss comes from happiness of the soul rather than happiness of the mind.

Soul happiness is a trinity within; I believe we can’t truly be happy in a lifelong way unless we love ourselves, honour ourselves, and authentically live our soul purpose.

We are limiting happiness because we are limiting love. By loving yourself unconditionally, you give your true self a stage. When you love yourself, your spirit shines. You have purpose. You have peace of heart. You move from doing things you think you have to do to be happy, to finding joy and abundance in doing what you love. You change your vibration from one of seeking, striving, and pursuing to one of peaceful contentment.

Happiness of the soul is when we become love and when we become happiness. That is enduring bliss. Soul happiness transforms our daily experience of fleeting happiness into lifelong enduring bliss.

The happiness plan

Let’s explore in more depth the concepts of storybook and someday happiness; both of which are the stuff our happiness plans are made of.

In developed countries around the world, we have never had more ability to make our own decisions and discoveries. Right now we can be, do, and have more than at any other time throughout history. Fuelled by society, consumerism, and lavish access to material things, we push ourselves harder and harder to achieve our visions of perfect happiness. We strive for our storybook dream lives where we get to have and do everything our hearts desire. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy, someday, when we “get there”.

Man and woman planning thier future
Most of things that we believe will bring us happiness won’t come to fruition today or tomorrow, or some even for years; and then we wonder why we are unhappy

But in the process of focusing on creating the wealth and success that we think will make us happy, we have lost sight of who we really are. The more we focus on creating happiness, the more we forget that happiness is already within us. The more disconnected we become from our true selves, the more unhappy and discontent we become. The search for happiness is causing us to feel empty, to feel as if there must be something more. We feel as though because we haven’t found it yet, we need to search higher and wider. The search becomes more intense as we focus on doing and having more and more. We begin questioning and searching for what we really want in life.

It’s curious how we can go from a time of knowing that we are perfect, whole, and complete to striving to create happiness—but only when we have all the right ingredients in our dream lives. Our subconscious beliefs, fleeting thoughts about things we want or need, and even our obsession with controlling every minute detail of our lives shape our happiness plans. Your beliefs behind storybook and someday happiness combine to create the ingredients in your happiness plan.

Your happiness plan may look a little like this:

  • I’ll be happy when I get a pay rise at work . . . maybe this year.
  • I’ll be happy when I finish my degree . . . three years.
  • I’ll be happy when my partner proposes to me . . . who knows.
  • I’ll be happy when I have a baby . . . in the five-year plan.
  • I’ll be happy when my friends are more thoughtful . . . who knows.
  • I’ll be happy when I live in my dream house . . . in the ten-year plan.
  • I’ll be happy when I go on holiday . . . six months.
  • I’ll be happy when the weather improves . . . who knows.
  • I’ll be happy when my kids do well in school . . . who knows.
  • I’ll be happy when . . .

We strive so hard to have all the right ingredients in our perfect, happy lives. Most of these ingredients won’t come to fruition today or tomorrow, some won’t for years, and many we have no control over. And we wonder why we can’t quite touch enduring bliss. We may create fleeting moments of feeling good, satisfied, or rewarded, even fleeting moments of happiness. But mostly these feelings always go away, leaving us feeling anxious about cramming as many things into our time as we can, focusing on the next thing we want to have or do or achieve. We feel confused, empty, and as if we’re still searching for something. What we are searching for is enduring bliss.

The guilt and fear of happiness

Some people choose to feel guilty about being happy! They are stifling their enduring bliss because they don’t want to appear too happy. I like to think that you can be so happy that when others look at you, they become happy too!

But it is difficult to be surrounded by people who may not be on quite the same vibe as us—people who may have an unhappiness habit and are constantly complaining about the many people, situations, and events that cause them to be unhappy, sad, and depressed. Happiness really is a choice. When they choose to see such things as triggers for unhappiness, they will be.

We stifle our happiness because we fear how it will make people feel. The best way you can show these people that no one can make you unhappy and nothing can make you miserable unless you let it, is to be the positive, happy you.

People have a fear of happiness. Consider how often we say or hear these types of things: “It’s too good to be true,” “It’ll never last,” and “I’m just waiting for something to go wrong.” We literally are creating a state of unhappiness for ourselves because we think we can’t possibly be that happy. It’s as if complete happiness has become so unattainable—in our own minds—that we are looking for reasons why we can’t have it or expecting it will be taken from us.

It’s as if happiness is a gift bestowed on us if we are really good . . . and which can be taken away just as quickly as it was given. Some people have an attitude of “If I expect the worst, then when it happens, I won’t be upset, because I knew it was going to happen anyway.” It’s no wonder we feel so miserable.

Then there are some who feel guilty about being happy because of larger global issues. There is so much poverty, suffering, and hurt in the world that it can affect us, if we let it. When there is world happiness, there will be a world full of peace, love, and abundance for all.

I believe that rediscovering your happiness within is vital for lifting the happiness vibration of the entire planet. I believe that world happiness starts with you. Feeling guilty about radiating your positive energy regardless of what is happening in your world serves no one, least of all you. The stronger and more radiant you are, and the more in tune you are with your true self, your true purpose, and happiness within, the more you can serve as a positive influence on the world.

Even happy people feel unhappy sometimes

The worst thing to be thinking right now is that unhappiness is a bad thing. Even happy people experience unhappiness sometimes, and it’s OK.

Just because you choose to make happiness your way of being doesn’t mean you won’t ever experience unhappiness. Everyone has low days, everyone faces challenges, and everyone experiences loss or trauma in some measure.

Unhappiness is sometimes an inevitable part of the school of life. When you connect to your light within and know that happiness dwells within you, you are better able to handle the times when your mind draws unhappiness to your attention. You are better able to see unhappiness for what it is, to understand where it has come from, and to move through it more easily.

It’s not about being happy all the time; it’s about being happy by choice.

Unhappiness causes the most discomfort when you try to resist it. If you take the role of observer and accept that everything that happens in your life happens to teach you, then you can transition more quickly back from your ego state of unhappiness to your soul state of happiness.

Rediscover you

The greatest lesson and purpose in your life is rediscovering you, recognising that you are the single defining factor in your own happiness, allowing yourself to give and receive love and to simply be.

Man with hands open
The greatest lesson and purpose in your life is rediscovering you, recognising that you are the single defining factor in your own happiness

If we are born pure, in touch with our true selves, our souls’ essences, and our happiness within, then it is the layers of life, wrapped around us over time, moulded by experiences, and shaped by beliefs, that create our feelings of emptiness, of searching, of feeling as if there must be something more. In essence, we are trying to remember what we already know, what is already a part of us. We are trying to remember where we put the key to the place where we have safely hidden our precious jewel of happiness. Really, we spend most of our lives trying to remember where we hid ourselves.

By now, you may be able to see some patterns or occasions where you are preventing your own happiness, usually not by choice but by virtue of years and years of conditioning about what you have to do to create a happy life. In effect, without realising it, you are sabotaging your own efforts at happiness.

If you feel as if your ego is ruling your life and choosing unhappiness over happiness with monotonous regularity, it’s time to start recognising when, why, and how this is happening.

It’s about now that you may be thinking, This sounds lovely, but it all seems too hard and unattainable, and I’ve got too much going on right now. I’ll come back to this when I have time.

So pause and consider that now is your time.

Give yourself permission to be completely open, uncensored, and deeply honest with yourself, for it will change your life. There are times to let things happen, and there are times to make things happen. Choose to make your life beautiful now.

A version of this was first published in the April 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.