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A No BS Objective Guide to Happiness

Updated: Mar 13




Most people would agree that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy. But, what does it actually mean to be happy and how do we attain happiness?


When I am breaking down complicated concepts such as happiness, I like to take a scientific and objective approach. I ask myself, what are the universal core elements that are required in order to be happy?


Let's start with Webster's definition of happiness: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.


This is a very vague and subjective definition and does not shed any light on what it really means or what it takes to be happy so, I broke down the concept to better define what it objectively means to be happy and that is: to be fully present in the moment, WITHOUT any "negative" or unpleasant thoughts or feelings about the past, present or future.


This can manifest in two different ways...situational happiness and fundamental happiness.


Situational happiness is just that, happiness that is elicited by a specific situation and/or circumstance, it is focused outwardly where fundamental happiness is a general state of being that is focused inwardly. In essence, to be happy with yourself regardless of situations or circumstances.


Like most emotions, happiness (both situational and fundamental) can vary in intensity, ranging from a general feeling of contentment to feeling completely overjoyed.

 

SITUATIONAL HAPPINESS

 

You go to a party where you are surrounded by friends and you are having a great time, talking, laughing and connecting. You aren't having any "negative" feelings about the past, present or future...you are fully present and really happy in this situation. When you get home after the party or a few days later, those negative thoughts and feelings about your past, present or future start to creep up on you and the happiness you were feeling at the party is gone.


During the party, you were experiencing situational happiness and while it feels great and there is nothing wrong with feeling happy with situations or circumstances, the problems in our lives arise when we are dependent on external situations or circumstances to make us happy. When the party's over and you are back home by yourself, you fall back into a general state of fundamental UNhappiness which is internally focused.


Situational happiness is unpredictable because it is always dependent on circumstances outside of our control and it is temporary because circumstances are always changing.


Most people spend their lives chasing situational happiness.


I'll be happy when {BLANK}!


If I could just {BLANK} then I'd be happy!


Chasing situational happiness is also at the core of all "coping mechanisms" both negative and positive.


Meditation is an example of a positive coping mechanism to create situational happiness. When you are meditating, the goal is to try to be fully present in the moment without any unpleasant thoughts or feelings about the past, present or future. More accurately, the goal of meditating is to try and be fully present in the moment without any thoughts or feelings at all. In essence, to turn off your brain, if only for a short period of time.


Meditation and other positive practices can be very healthy and enrich our lives, the problem is when we use them as "coping mechanisms" instead of viewing and using them for what they really are, which are tools for awareness, growth and change.


This is why so many people get frustrated when they first start meditating. They aren't immediately able to turn off their brains and not have any unpleasant feelings so they think it isn't working. They don't get the immediate quick fix of situational happiness so they give up.


Another example of a positive practice that can become a "coping mechanism" is positive thinking or the law of attraction. If I just "force" myself to focus on the positive, then I can temporarily create a state of situational happiness where I don't have any unpleasant thoughts or feelings about the past, present or future.


The biggest problem with using positive practices as coping mechanisms is that we expect them to create a state of fundamental happiness and when they don't, we become frustrated and discouraged.


All of these self-help gurus are promising me that if I just think positive or do A,B,C and D, I can create this amazing life and I will be happy all of the time. BUT...it's not working so there must be something wrong with me!


There are, of course, also lots of negative coping mechanisms that create a state of situational happiness. Substance abuse is one prime example. You can absolutely create a state of situational happiness with drugs or alcohol where you don't have any negative thoughts or feelings about the past, present or future. You don't have ANY thoughts or feelings because you have completely numbed your brain!


Shopping, eating, gambling and sex are also great examples of coping mechanisms that create a state of temporary or situational happiness.


The consequences of using these "negative" coping mechanisms are that when the situation ends (which it always does) it has a drastic effect on your fundamental happiness.


I wasn't happy before but now I'm REALLY unhappy because I just spent money I don't have and I won't be able to pay my bills.


I wasn't happy before and now I am REALLY unhappy because I gained 40 pounds and I hate myself.


I wasn't happy before and now I'm REALLY unhappy because I am convinced I CAN'T be happy without taking drugs or drinking!

 

FUNDAMENTAL HAPPINESS

 

If you are fundamentally happy, you can go to a party where you feel uncomfortable and disconnected...you don't relate to the people or the scene, maybe you even get into an argument or disagreement at the party. You are having negative thoughts and feelings about the past, present or future and you aren't happy in this "situation" but, when you get back home, you can quickly and easily get yourself back into a state of fundamental happiness.


Fundamental happiness is the ultimate goal because it is not dependent on situations or circumstances that are unpredictable and out of your control. To be fundamentally happy also makes it easier to find happiness in situations and/or circumstances.


Now, I am not saying that to be fundamentally happy means that you are happy 100% percent of the time! If anyone tells you that they have the "key" to being happy ALL of the time....that is a huge red flag and you should run!


What I AM saying however, is that to be fundamentally happy means that your fundamental constitution or "set point" is one of happiness or contentment and when you do find yourself in a state of discontentment or unhappiness...it is a quick and easy process to get yourself back to your normal state of being happy and content.


So, I am sure you are thinking...this is all well and good and I understand the difference between situational and fundamental happiness but...WHAT is going to make me happy?

 

THREE CORE ELEMENTS TO HAPPINESS

 

Ok, so that was a little bit of a trick question. The question really isn't WHAT is going to MAKE me happy but, what is required in order for me to be happy?


While investigating and breaking down the concept of happiness, I discovered three core elements that are required in order to create a state of both situational and fundamental happiness: safety, attachment and appreciation.


We can't be happy unless or until we feel safe!


To be safe is to be protected from danger or risk. If we are being exposed to danger or risk OR more accurately, if our perception is that we are being exposed to danger or risk, it is impossible not to have negative or unpleasant feelings about the past, present or future and therefore impossible to be happy.


The key word being perception!


There are people who find great happiness and joy skydiving while for other people, the thought of jumping out of an airplane is terrifying and they would not find happiness in this situation!


People that find happiness in dangerous activities still have a relatively strong sense of safety or they wouldn't participate. I guarantee you that their perception would change if they were mid-air and their parachute didn't open. They would NOT be happy in that situation because their sense of safety was taken away!


When we don't feel safe, it elicits feelings of fear and fear is one of, if not THE most intense emotions we can feel.


Much like happiness, fear can also be situational or fundamental. For some people, their general state of being is one of distrust and anxiety while for others, their general state of being is one of trust and calm.


Going back to the party example I used above...you could be at a party with wonderful people and even having wonderful conversations but if your general state of being is one of distrust and anxiety, you may be worried that people don't like you or that they are judging you, even if you have no evidence to back up this thought or feeling. You distrust yourself or others so you don't feel "safe" and you aren't able to be truly happy in this situation.


In contrast, you may be someone who has a general state of trust and calm but you are at party where everyone is participating in activities or having conversations that you don't agree with or that go against your core values and beliefs so in this situation, you don't feel "safe". The circumstances are creating negative thoughts and feelings and you are not able to be happy in this situation.


Fear is not "bad", it serves a very useful purpose to alert us to danger or risk (either physical or emotional) such as in the second party example. The problem is that when our core state of being is one of anxiety or fear towards people or circumstances, this makes it harder for us to ever feel a sense of safety and therefore to ever feel happy in certain situations. When our fundamental state of being is one of anxiety or fear, focused inwardly towards ourselves, this makes it very difficult for us to ever get to a place of fundamental happiness.


To understand more about fear or if you feel as though your general state of being is one of anxiety or distrust, it may help to read my article Understanding and Processing Fear


The second element that must be present in order for us to feel happy is attachment. We have to feel a sense of connection. You could even go so far as to say that you need to have a feeling of love in order to be happy. At least love how I define it.


My definition of love, which I explain in more detail in my article A No BS Objective Guide to Love is: a strong bond based on shared or evoked emotions that causes you to take someone or something as a part of yourself or your identity.


I feel so happy when I am with my best friend because I feel safe and I have a strong bond with them, we have shared so much together and they really get me.


I feel so happy when I am at the beach because I have a strong attachment to nature...it's a part of who I am.


I feel so happy with myself because I know who I am and I trust myself.


It is hard to feel happy with a person, situation, circumstance OR with yourself if you are detached or disconnected.


You could go to a party where the people are nice and you feel safe but you don't really have an attachment or feel a connection with any them BUT, they have your favorite music playing and are serving your favorite food...because you feel safe (there is no perception of danger or risk) AND you found something that you connect with that feels like a part of yourself or your identity (your favorite music and food) you are able to be happy in this situation.


Obviously, the more you are able to find a connection and trust with yourself above everyone and everything else, the easier it will be for you to find both situational AND fundamental happiness.


The final core element that must be present in order to be truly happy is appreciation.


Appreciation is actually the "life hack" that can make happiness more quickly and easily attainable because it is the one element that we have full control over!


You could be at the party with your favorite food and music but be so focused on the fact that you aren't connecting with anyone that you don't appreciate the food or music and therefore aren't happy. BUT, you can make the conscious decision at any time to switch your focus to one of appreciation for the food and music and instantly find happiness in the situation.

 

HOW TO BE HAPPY - ACTION STEPS

 

Now that you know what the three core elements that must be present in order for you to be happy are, it puts you in a much better position to find happiness with situations (situational happiness) AND with yourself (fundamental happiness).

Before I go on, I do want to mention that there are going to be times that you are NOT happy and it is ok and very appropriate that you are NOT happy during these times.


Remember that to be happy is to be fully in the moment without any unpleasant thoughts or emotions regarding the past, present and/or future so when we find ourselves in situations that elicit very strong unpleasant emotions, it is going to be impossible for you to be happy in those moments.


It's OK to feel unpleasant emotions, they are there for a reason. Emotions are the compass that can guide us to discover what is and isn't working in our lives and where we need to put our focus to help create change and growth.


If you want to create positive change and growth in your life AND get to a place of fundamental happiness, you HAVE to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!


A huge problem in our society is that we are obsessed with being happy! We are very uncomfortable when we are not happy AND we are very uncomfortable when other people aren't happy! We are often even shamed or shame others for being unhappy.


What's wrong with you, why aren't you happy?


Look at everything you have, you SHOULD be happy!


Nothing EVER makes you happy!


It is because of our feelings of uncomfortableness and shame around not being happy, that we often look to our "coping mechanisms" to help us feel better.


I'm NOT happy, I hate this feeling...how can I make it go away?!


What we should instead be asking ourselves is...


Do I Feel Safe?

If the answer is no, you then need to ask yourself, why? Is the fear internal or external? Is the fear I am feeling valid? If yes, what is the evidence to prove that there is a valid threat? Is there anything I can do to eliminate or minimize this threat?


Do I Feel Attached or Connected?

If the answer is no, you then need to ask yourself why? Is the disconnection internal or external? Is the disconnection I am feeling valid? If yes, what is the evidence to prove this? Is there anything I can do to feel more connected?


Do I Feel Appreciation?

If the answer is no, you then need to ask yourself, is there ANYTHING about this situation, circumstance, person OR myself that I can appreciate in this moment?

 

WHEN OTHERS AROUND US AREN'T HAPPY

 

While it is absolutely not your job to make others happy, we certainly do want those people that we care about to be happy whenever possible and there are things we can do to help them AND to help ourselves to better handle their unhappiness.


Be OK With Others NOT Being Happy

We want others to be happy because we care about the people around us but also because, when the people around us aren't happy, it negatively affects us. We want them to be happy so that we can feel ok. I know that I am very guilty of this. I grew up in a very abusive home and because of it, I have struggled with codependency issues. NOT being ok with others being unhappy is a hallmark of codependency.


This DOES NOT mean that you should tolerate abusive behavior. Someone being unhappy and someone treating you poorly because they are unhappy are two different things. But, be aware that sometimes your need to try and make them happy when they aren't can create more conflict and turmoil in the relationship.


Look At Ways That You Can Help Others Feel Safe

Again, while you are not responsible for anyone's happiness, there may be ways that you may be either contributing to or taking away from other's ability to be happy. Are there ways that you are not "safe" in your relationships? This could mean physically as is the case in an abusive relationship. A person can not feel safe and therefore never be truly happy, if there is ever a threat of physical violence. This is one of the MANY reasons that I do not believe in "corporal punishment"!


Physical safety is also one of the ways in which men and women vary greatly in relationships. When a man shows signs of aggression or has extreme anger issues...it is almost always perceived that there is a potential danger for physical harm, even if he has never actually been violent or acted on the aggression physically. Men will often try and downplay this aggression. "You know I would never hit you." NO, actually...women don't know that, it always feels like a real threat at some level!


While physical safety is a much more cut and dry issue, emotional safety is more complex and much more common in relationships. It is helpful to take an honest look at yourself, and how you show up in relationships, and ask yourself, is there any way that I may be perceived as unsafe emotionally? As well as asking yourself, what can I do to create emotional safety in this relationship?

Look For Ways That You Can Connect With Others

We need connection to feel loved AND to be happy! Look for ways that you can connect with others. This absolutely starts with being authentic, honest, open and vulnerable. I know this is sometimes hard to do but it is imperative if you want to create happy, fulfilling relationships.


It is also just as important to look for ways in which you may be disconnecting with the people in your life, especially during times of conflict. Do you tend to be passive aggressive? Do you withhold your love and affection or retreat? Do you shut down completely?


If you have a hard time handling conflict in relationships, it may help to read my article Feelings Process For Resolving Conflict


Be Appreciative

We can't force others to be appreciative but what we can do is lead by example. Make it a habit to focus on the good qualities in the people, circumstances, and situations around you AND in yourself. Make sure that you not only focus on the good qualities around you but that you also make it a habit to voice your feelings of appreciation. Doing so is going to help foster the feelings of safety and connection in others around you.

 

FOCUS ON YOUR OWN HAPPINESS

 

You can't MAKE others happy and, at the end of the day, the only person we have full control over is ourselves. The sad truth is that there may come a time that you find it necessary to leave those relationships and/or circumstances in your life that are not conducive to your own happiness. I believe in unconditional love BUT conditional relationships!


There are certain conditions that are going to make it impossible for you to be happy. Be honest with yourself and do your due diligence to try and find or create the elements that are necessary for happiness in all circumstances and relationships in your life but if the time comes that you have exhausted all possible options and solutions, it is time to cut your losses and move on.


As hard as that may be, you owe it to yourself if you ever want a chance to be truly happy!


My wish is that by better understanding what happiness really is and understanding the elements that are required to create happiness, it will give you a greater awareness and sense of personal power in your journey and better enable you to find true happiness with yourself and throughout every area of your life!


xoxoxo

Gina




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