No matter how we pursue it or define it, there is one thing we all have in common: the pursuit of happiness. Some temporarily find it in wealth, others in love, and others in chocolate, alcohol or exercise. We may believe that once we are ten pounds lighter we will be happy, while others may feel that once we find that perfect partner we will find our life’s true meaning. Ultimately, when these goals are achieved, we are disappointed to find our life has not changed at all. Happiness does not come from anyone or anything; it must come from within us. Moreover, although the answers may be found in books and motivational speakers, the process is up to us. So how does one achieve a life time of happiness?
In North America, we commonly measure happiness through what we own and how much money we earn. The new car, TV, large home complete with the stylish furnishings proves that we have made something of ourselves. We find jobs that will pay the credit card companies only to find ourselves trapped in an occupation we dislike, counting the days to retirement and working for the weekend. In addition, our cultural practices have steered us away from contemplative peacefulness to a life of hectic schedules, eating on the run and no time for exercise let alone asking ourselves if we are happy with this life. Interestingly, in the talks I give to groups, it is not uncommon to see a few tears in the audience when I bring up the question of happiness.
I believe the achievement of happiness begins with challenging why we do what we do. Why do I have to own things that end up owning me? Why must I over schedule my life so I have little time for healthful nutrition and physical activity? By asking the bigger questions, we are able to understand the motivations behind our actions. Buddha believed that in curing dysfunction we are able to attain enduring happiness. So what are your dysfunctions and how can they be cured in the name of life long joy?
It took me one too many failed relationships to motivate me to step back and ask these big questions. I dedicated one year to personal reflection, working through many childhood memories and experiences. It was very uncomfortable to face those memories I would have rather kept locked up, but it was worth every tear. I can honestly say that I have never been happier with my life. It is through this self understanding that I am able to make positive changes that align with who I am and not who I am pretending to be.
While I firmly believe true happiness is attainable for everyone, I also believe that our consumer culture works against us in achieving this. It is also important to create a healthy lifestyle as health and happiness go hand in hand. Work less, exercise more, eat a healthy diet of whole foods and avoid fast food. Get your sleep, laugh every day, appreciate what you have, manage your stress well, surround yourself with positive people and value your health over your possessions. Of course, you cannot change everything at once. Start small by choosing one aspect of your lifestyle and go from there. When you come to a road block ask yourself why it is there and how can it be removed.
You only get one chance to live. Do not make the mistake of living a life full of excuses and apologies. Ask more questions, challenge the answers and uncover the power and passion of everyday happiness!
Kathi Cameron is the co-author of “Leading to Life Long Exercise”. She holds a masters degree in Exercise Psychology and counsels on behaviour change as it relates to the promotion of health.