And that is how I usually start, by thinking. However it appears that happiness has much less to do with thinking and more to do with actions and habits. Anyone who starts to wonder how happy people think has a happiness problem, I fit into that.
The Happy Fallacies
A lot of us get stuck with thought patterns that do not lead to being happy. Here are just a few of the obvious ones:
Earning more money will make me happy. We do know instinctively that this is not true, but cannot easily let go. I have been unhappy with lots of and little money.
Holding resentments. I have heard this described as drinking poison and expecting the other person to die…
Being right, feeling and chasing superiority. Discovering I am wrong in something is a great avenue to learn more about myself, but when I value being superior the price could well be too high and the leaning is zero.
Devaluing happiness: putting other things in front of happiness, really this amounts to making bad choices.
Controlling others: it is impossible to be happy while at the same time trying to control people.
Distrusting the world, people, and life. Making mistakes is fine, people will always fail us in some way. But then having the attitude of never trusting again leads to isolation and therefore unhappiness. Worry is in this category.
One that I hadn’t considered before was being needy or avoidant. This has been an interesting on-going conversation for me with someone close. My usual reaction is avoidant, it has amazed me how ingrained this pattern is and difficult to change.
Can Older People Change
This is of particular interest to me having passed the 50 mark a couple of years ago. I have asked myself “can I really change, is all this effort just a waste of time and energy?”
There is a problem with that statement in itself. Labelling and categorising myself as an older person seems nonsense, however that is something that has happened in my brain.
My other half has often said to me one of my major attractions is my flexibility. So yes, I can change, anyone can change at any age. There is, however, a prerequisite: the wish to change.
Deciding to Learn How to be Happy
This is not a new theme for me. I was reading either Learned Optimism or Flourish by Martin Seligman a few years ago. Half way through the book I read one paragraph that I thought was rubbish. I haven’t finished the book, or read his other one. That internal disagreement let me unable to read the rest, though I did not see it so clearly at the time; it was more like losing interest. (I also had internal justifications based on his early career of torturing animals – feeling superior?)
I did not see family patterns until later in life. Happiness is not one of my family’s defining characteristics, and obviously not one of mine. I am not the brightest in the room sometimes, as others have seen this before me – but is that not always the way?
There has been a lot of information, (propaganda?), about happiness during the last few years. Courses like this one on Coursera are great, there are websites that just focus on the Science of Happiness. I have ended up on all their mail lists and sometimes wonder if this is just pop psychology run mad again.
However, I remember while reading about depression a few years ago the following quote “I am not depressed, I am just Scottish”. That made me laugh, still does, but it came at a time that I was trying to understand the effect of growing up in the Scottish culture.
I wouldn’t say all Scottish people are hypercritical control freaks. But that is because I have not met them all, (black swan theory).
With all this measuring of happiness it is clear that certain countries have a culture that encourages fulfilment and happiness. In Scotland that was not my experience, it was good to read The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence by Carol Craig to find perspective for myself.
All these ideas come from the video below.
I can see that changes like this are not a one-time event. We all know how difficult it is to change habits and replace them with better constructs – so on-going effort is required.
This is the list:
Create positive goals – frame goal in positive terms not negative
Influence your environment to make it easier to make better decisions – e.g. don’t buy the ice cream… if you want to loss weight
Have friends / know people that share the same goals and aims in life
Serve as a mentor to someone – help people.
Be open minded to trying out new happiness enhancing habits and exercises.
All the above said, if you have underlying problems a decent psychologist or counselor might be the best place to start. All of the above is written for my own benefit, if you manage to find something in it great. If you have any thoughts leave them below in the comments.