When my son was in kindergarten, he came home one day with a homework assignment. He had to match human expressions to the feelings they represented. He was excited to tell me that the smile on a face represented “Happiness.” It was so simple then to define what happiness was. As we grow older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to determine what it means.
Today, it is all about the attainment of “something” before we can achieve happiness. I will be happy when: I get that promotion, I buy that luxury car or home, I lose 20 pounds.
My husband Carl recently had a conversation with someone who spoke about his frustration with not being where he thought he would be in his life. When Carl probed further about what he meant, he attributed his lack of happiness to where he stood in his career and his financial situation.
“If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu
If you hope to achieve happiness with the attainment of something, your happiness will be short-lived. If it is about getting that promotion, once you achieve it, you will be happy, but it will not last long. Eventually, you will be looking for your “next source of happiness”. True happiness needs to come from within. It is by finding enjoyment in everything we do and in what we have. Don’t actively search for happiness, trying to find things that bring you closer to it.
Personal fulfillment is not about status or material possessions. You just have to read about all those “famous” people that are so miserable to know it is not the case.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
In kindergarten, my son learned to define happiness by the expression on a face. A smile which represents an internal emotion equals happiness. There was no mention of personal possessions. It was easier than that. How you define happiness is up to you. My advice is that you strive to find it in things that do not depend on external factors that can disappear. Find happiness in things that come from within.
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