kerravonsen: a rose bud: "Beauty is mysterious" (beauty)
[personal profile] kerravonsen
"The secret of success is this: there is no secret of success." -- Elbert Hubbard

I'm tempted to say something similar: the secret of happiness is this: there is no secret of happiness. But that isn't quite it, though it is similarly paradoxical. Happiness is like a wild bird: if you pursue it, it will flee from you, but if you sit still, it may creep up on you while you're not looking. Why do I say that? Because pursuing happiness as a goal means you have to decide beforehand what will make you happy, and pursue that thing; if you fail to get that thing, you will be unhappy; if you succeed in getting that thing, it may still not make you happy, so you chase some other thing which may or may not make you happy - it's like chasing a mirage. If you don't predefine what will make you happy, you give life an opportunity to pleasantly surprise you.

But if you can't pursue happiness, how can you find it? It is frustrating to me when people speak in generalities like "think positive" without saying how to do so, when life is full of negatives that get you down. It's like saying "you can be happy by being happy" - circular logic is not helpful.

So I figured I'd try to be helpful by noting some things for the stealth-ninja method of allowing happiness to creep up on you.


1. Turn your thoughts towards something greater than yourself.
Whether that be God, or the universe, or the interconnectedness of all things, the idea is that turning your thoughts away from yourself helps you to not worry about yourself.

2. Whatever is good, whatever is honourable, whatever is of good repute, let your mind dwell on these things.
Similar to #1, but more specific in focusing on good things. I'm not saying be an unrealistic Pollyanna optimist. I'm saying there is always good in the midst of the bad; seek out the good, ponder it, fan those tiny flames.

2A. Count your blessings.
Specific good things in your own life, rather than the world in general.
These can be really tiny and seemingly trivial, but then the tiny things are easier to find. A break in the weather. Having the bus pull up one minute after you get to the bus stop. The delicious taste of crispy hot chips. These are little drops of blessing; be thankful for them.

2B. Cut down (or cut out) watching/reading/listening to the news.
Because for the most part, the news dwells on whatever is bad, whatever is dishonourable, whatever is of bad repute. Good news is not "newsworthy". Why exactly does one have to keep up with the news? Because everyone tells you to? Because nobody questions whether you should? There are only two good reasons I can think of for watching the news: (a) to figure out who to vote for, and (b) to figure out who to pray for. And you don't need to be constantly wading in that muck to be able to do that. News-watching keeps you feeling frustrated and helpless, or else it makes you go numb; neither of which is happy-making.

2C. Cut down (or cut out) watching advertisements.
Easier said than done, true, but definitely worth aiming for. Why? Because the purpose of advertisements is to make you discontent with what you have, so that you will want (and buy) whatever it is that they are advertising. Advertisements are designed to make you unhappy. So keep them away from you.

2D. Contradict doom and gloom.
Puddleglum is one of my heroes. Yes, when we first meet him, he was all doom and gloom, but I think that's because he was trying to conform to Marshwiggle culture. When they got in the thick of it, he kept on looking at the bright side. There they were, being kidnapped to the underground, with their captors saying "and few return to the sunlit lands", and what did Puddleglum say? "At least it's not going to rain."
So I try to do the same. When someone complains about rain, I say "At least its good for the plants." When someone complains that the weather is too unpredictable, I say "At least it's not boring." And things like that. It takes imagination and practice, and some days it's impossible, but a lot of the time it isn't.

3. Let yourself laugh.
Cultivate laughter in yourself. Appreciate wit and absurdity and oddness. This also takes practice.

4. Try to treat a normal day as if it isn't a drag.
Normal days are what you have the most of. Sure, holidays and weekends are fun, but it is normal life that you spend most of your time in, and if you decide that the only times you can be happy are in not-normal life, well, you're sunk, aren't you? This gets back to #2A - count your blessings.

5. Live in the now, because now is where you live.
Related to #4. If you spend your "now" dwelling on yesterday or tomorrow, you aren't appreciating what is happening while it is happening. That isn't to say that you shouldn't plan for tomorrow or look forward to things -- anticipation is part of the fun -- but feeling discontented because a beloved past is gone or a hoped-for future hasn't arrived yet, well that's just borrowing angst.

"If only... if only... I hate 'if onlys', they always make me feel like I haven't been paying attention... to now." -- "You Can't Lose", Robyn Dunn

6. Do not allow your happiness to depend on the actions of someone else.
Why? Because you have no control over other people's actions, you only have control over your own actions.

I wasn't aware of how much I was depending on others' opinions until an incident involving a new piece of clothing I was wearing, that I wanted other people to admire, and I was waiting waiting waiting for someone to remark on it, and nobody did. Then I pointed out the new clothing to a friend, so of course she had to say she admired it, whether she really admired it or not. So that didn't work at all. I learned from that incident that I had sabotaged my own enjoyment of the new clothing by making my enjoyment contingent on other people saying something about it to me. If I hadn't done that, I could have quietly admired the clothing by myself, enjoyed its newness and niceness, and if anybody had said anything, that would have been a bonus to add to my happiness, not a condition for it.

Yes, this one is a tricky one, because of course we enjoy admiration and recognition, and need encouragement from others. The best I can do so far is try to catch myself when I start doing this, and remind myself of the clothing incident, and attempt to reign in my feelings. It's another paradox: humility can make you feel happier.

This is also related to my work as an artisan and writer: to be true to myself, I need to do my creative work for the sake of the work itself, not for the sake of getting kudos for it; because the kudos may not come; because the kudos won't come until after I've finished working on it; because if I am not satisfied with the goodness of the work, no amount of kudos will make me satisfied with it, since I would feel the kudos were undeserved. Again, the caveat is that I can't work in a vacuum, that I do need encouragement... but encouragement isn't the same as satisfaction.

7. Perform random acts of kindness. Anonymously if possible.
Being kind to others makes you feel good about yourself. Doing it anonymously removes the temptation to make your feel-good-ness depend on the recipient expressing gratitude to you (refer point #6). I don't mean that it isn't good to know if they are grateful, but there's just something about it -- I'm not exactly sure what -- which makes it more fun if they don't know it's you. Like being a secret kindness-ninja(*). You can hug it to yourself and whisper "I did that" and it is so much more comforting than making someone feel awkward and obligated.

Pay it forward.

(*) I am coming to the conclusion that in the "pirates versus ninjas" debate, I come down firmly on the side of the ninjas.
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Kathryn A.

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