In spite of all the tragedies and sadness in the world, happiness is possible. Regardless of our circumstances, we can find and keep happiness in our lives. But we must make pursuing happiness central to our lives.
About twenty years ago when I first started in private practice, I had a young man come to me who was so amazingly intelligent, bright, and alive with life. Although he was an incredible pleasure to work with, he came from a background where there was a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, and a lot of darkness.
As we worked together for roughly six months, he was on an uphill trajectory. However, circumstances changed, and he stopped coming to therapy. He got involved in other things, and he ceased working on himself and his pursuit of happiness.
About seven years later, I was leaving my office one evening, and he was there waiting for me. He just wanted to talk to me for a few minutes. Clearly, life hadn’t gone well for him, and although I could see hints of his former self, most of him wasn’t there anymore. Life had been hard on him, and he had transformed into a completely different person. After he left, I cried in my car. I truly felt sorry for the way his life had turned out because he was such a beautiful soul. Especially because he had come from such a challenging background, it didn’t take long for him to deteriorate to such an extent that he was barely recognizable.
Although we may not have a background as challenging as this young man’s, this anecdote does relate to us all. If we don’t pursue happiness, then we end up in other places that cause us misery and suffering. We must continue to put energy toward the pursuit of happiness.
We all understand this idea when we apply it to our health. If we always put forth energy to eat well, exercise, refrain from smoking, and limit alcohol, then we’ll age pretty well, as long as we don’t endure any major physical catastrophe. The same applies to happiness: if we make the effort to be happy, we will be happy—and more. Unlike health, happiness doesn’t have to decline as we get older. We can gradually grow in our state of happiness and become happier as we age.
We have two choices. We can take time to be happy and then have a happy life, or we can put our time elsewhere and then get out of “happiness shape.” Happiness takes effort, and if we don’t work at it, I can guarantee we are going to become unhappier as we age. We may mask this unhappiness with addictions, such as alcohol or prescriptions drugs, but we are going to become unhappier unless we work at it.
Why will we become unhappier unless we continue to pursue happiness? One reason may be our background. Unless we had the most loving, perfect parents in the world and grew up in a beautiful, perfect environment, chances are we have some healing to do. If we don’t take the time to heal and fix the conditioning of our past, then we will have a tendency toward unhappiness.
A second reason is perhaps more subtle, but it definitely exists. Our world really isn’t invested in us being happy; our world is far more invested in itself and its own gain, and that often involves pain and suffering.
I experienced this when I was part of a ten-part series with the Fox Reality Channel. My role in the series was to help the participants understand why they were acting as they were. As always, I explained each individual’s behavior in a kind and loving way because I believe there are always underlying reasons as to why we do things. The director was constantly trying to have me say things that I wasn’t comfortable with, and after six weeks, they fired me because I wasn’t sensational enough. Yes, I got fired from a show called Busted and Disgusted because I wouldn’t attack people and make fun of them! Unfortunately, happy stories with happy images throughout the entire program didn’t sell well. Most people who watch TV or movies want drama, excitement, and to see people get hurt, and this is what the media are pushing today.
These images shape us and affect the way we interact with the world. If we watch these types of images enough and take in the negative themes in news events, TV, radio, movies, music, and so on, they will wear us down. They make us become cynical and lose faith in humanity; we become far from happy.
Check this out for yourself. If anyone you know watches a lot of news, is he or she happy? I doubt it. And if you’re watching the news every single day, waking up daily to all the negative news events, you need to STOP! Instead, go for a walk, spend some time in nature, watch the sunrise, or listen to the birds and see if your day or even your week doesn’t go a little bit better. Take this challenge in order to determine if you don’t feel happier in life with fewer negative messages and more positive and beautiful surroundings.
This is the other path we can choose, a path where we’re surrounding ourselves with things that add to our happiness. Such things clearly make us more positive, more peaceful, and happier people. Meditation is one of the big ones that we can choose. You would be hard-pressed to meditate and not find that, with time, you become happier. A number of scientific studies support this fact.
My goal here isn’t to explore every aspect of happiness and unhappiness, but instead to look at the overall picture. If we actively pursue happiness, then we are going to become happier. When we work at something, we’re going to achieve positive results.
However, the reverse is also true, and it’s far more subtle. If we do not work toward achieving happiness, then we will inevitably become unhappy. For example, if we want financial security and we’re poor, then we have to work at it. The poorer we are, the more work it takes to become make money. But sooner or later, we will become wealthier, especially if we have someone knowledgeable helping us along the way. But if we don’t work at it, we’re going to lose out and not reach our goal. If we just sit around and do nothing, money is not going to come to us. The same is true for happiness. If we don’t do anything to become happy, then we are going to end up being unhappy because of the many things in life pushing against us negatively. If we want to be happy, we have to work at it.
Happiness is something we can all have, no matter what our backgrounds are or how old we may be. We can all work toward happiness. It takes work, but achieving happiness is so worth the effort.
Dr. Robert Puff, PhD is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and happiness expert who has been counseling individuals, families, non-profits, and businesses for over twenty-five years (www.DoctorPuff.com). A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books and creates a weekly podcast on happiness at www.HappinessPodcast.org. If you are interested in having Dr. Puff speak at your organization or company, you can learn more about his speaking services at www.SuccessBeyondYourImagination.com.