The elusive mind state known as happiness is forever sought and seldom recognized, even when it's found. But some folks do better at the search than others. For those who arrive in this world with good brain chemistry, satisfaction comes easily. Others need to learn techniques for making happiness a chronic condition. Many spiritually oriented thinkers assure us that through discipline , meditation and focus on the here and now, we can learn how to reclaim our soul's birthright of boundless satisfaction despite our outer circumstances. Therapists and lifestyle coaches are more apt to suggest cognitive tricks aimed at redefining negative events and accumulating joyful moments.
Most experts agree that once you have enough money to meet basic needs, it's more important to seek relationship quality than a pay raise. Indeed, scientists involved in a field of study called "happiness economics" say that being harmoniously married brings the same satisfaction as putting $100,000 in the bank every year.
The task is to always look for ways to increase our delight. More sex always makes us happy, these researchers say, as long as it's loving. And kisses and hugs release pleasurable endorphins in our brains. Other big joy-producers are found in our activities. If there's something you love doing, do it regularly! The potential for happiness also rises when you do something that you feel contributes to a cause bigger than yourself or attempt to clear guilt, anger, hate, grudges or selfishness from your being. To find out more about your happiness levels, check out www.authentichappiness.org.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Our subconscious minds might not be ready to give up feeling sorry for ourselves, feeling victimized or bad, because at some level those feelings serve us - getting us attention, for instance. Through yoga asanas, breath work and meditation , we can reach quite deeply into the physical, mental and spiritual bodies and release whatever needs to be released. We are God in some respect, but we've forgotten; (in yoga) we're trying to reunite with the infinite. Joy, happiness - that's our true nature. (But) we've chosen to create challenges for ourselves. (This helps us) as souls to grow."
TOM RUSSELL , kundalini yoga instructor, polarity therapy practitioner, Toronto
'The research shows that about 50 per cent of an individual's level of happiness is pretty set. If something very good or bad happens, there will be a shift for days, weeks, months; then people settle back to their usual level. Approximately 15 per cent has to do with life circumstances. There's often only limited room for change there. The key is the other 30 to 35 per cent, which seems to be under voluntary control. Gratitude and forgiveness (are important). In terms of the future, realistic optimism and hope are central. In the present, enhance your pleasures. Key words are savouring and mindfulness .'
JIM CHESTON , PhD, registered psychologist, Toronto
"Everybody makes the same fundamental mistake. They look for happiness outside themselves. 'If I just had that, it would make me happy.' The Buddha taught that happiness is a state of mind. It's not made out of romantic partners, cars or money. It's made out of thought. If you believe the rain makes you happy or unhappy, you're a victim of circumstance. But working with our thoughts, we're masters of our destiny. The significance of wisdom is that we realize that our happiness and the happiness of others are indistinguishable, and that we generate our happiness by working for the benefit of others."
KELSANG DORNYI , Buddhist monk, Chandrakirti Centre, Toronto
"To be happy we don't need beauty, but we must accept and like ourselves. Instead of fame, we need optimism. Rather than wealth, we need a purpose. We don't have to have a special talent but need a job or activities that we enjoy. Instead of perfection, we need realism to help us accept our weaknesses and learn to manage them. We don't need possessions but must have loving relationships. We need wisdom rather than intelligence, autonomy rather than conformity. Happy people resist social pressure and exert personal control. The things needed for happiness are all within our control, and we can work toward them."
ANDREW WILLIAMS , research psychologist, author, How Do You Compare?, Ames, Iowa
"If you find yourself in a hole, first, stop digging. Ask yourself if what you're doing is bringing you the happiness you want. How fulfilled are you in the different realms of your life? If you're not at 10-out-of-10 in everything, ask yourself, 'In what areas do I want more fulfillment and satisfaction?' If your vision of happiness is about accomplishing something down the road, you're not going to have a happy life. It's great to move forward if your intentions line up with what's important to you, but mastery is about enjoying each day, about 'How can I be happy today?'" STEVE MITTEN , master certified life and business coach, Vancouver