Can I share something with you that’s been bugging me for a really long time? It’s to do with happiness. You see, in popular culture there’s a tendency to idolise happiness.
Sure, we all want to be happy. But to put happiness up on a pedestal? Like it’s out of our reach unless we do this or buy that… I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sit well with me.
The problem is that corporations make money by convincing us that we are not happy until we buy their product or use their service. So for them, a pedestal is the perfect place for our notion of happiness to reside.
If happiness is not found within us, but is something outside AND slightly out of reach, then we are more easily convinced that there is something out there we need to allow us to find happiness.
Now that social media is part of everyday life, there’s another aspect to this. Whenever we post we want to share the best of ourselves. The highlights reel. I totally get that.
But we forget all too easily that everyone else is doing the exact same thing. So we build an image of someone else’s life using the only material we have; their Instagram feed, AKA ‘the highlights reel’.
Combine this info with our already skewed image of happiness as something that is just out of reach and what do we get? Our brains telling us that there are certain people out there who have reached ‘happiness land’. As if so-and-so with the perfect Insta feed has or did something that you haven’t and has now gained access to this exclusive destination.
THE TRUTH ABOUT HAPPINESS
But what if I told you that happiness is not a destination, a place or even something that you find, get, buy or have. What if I told you that happy is not even something that you be?
Here’s what I’ve learned: happiness is something that you do. Stop thinking of happiness as something passive, to be found or gotten or had. Happiness is active: I wish English would allow for us to use the phrase ‘do happiness’.
The other thing that really bugs me about finding happiness is that generally once you find something you’re looking for, you hold onto it. It’s yours; you have it and you always will.
But happiness is not a constant. Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE, even the most outwardly ‘together’ people – has their hard times. Times when we just don’t have the energy, will or self-love required to do happiness.
When we’re feeling down it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that perhaps we’re just not cut out to be one of those ‘happy people’/Insta goddesses. But the truth is this: happiness doesn’t choose you, you choose happiness.
THE SIMPLE SECRET TO HAPPINESS
So taking this into account, what is this one simple thing we can do to choose happiness every day?
Okay, here it is:
So simple, right? But honestly so effective.
Let me clarify. I hear some of you saying ‘well duh, of course I go outside to work/school/whatever’. What I mean is go outside simply for the sake of being outside. Not as a secondary benefit of whatever other task you’re doing.
I was first introduced to this concept by an unlikely Humans of New York post. A ninety-three year old woman posed for a photo, then simply stated “If you force yourself to go outside, something wonderful always happens!”
It came at a time in my life when I really needed to hear that. I had convinced myself that I’d made my life so complicated and challenging, and I’d started questioning if I was really on the right path to fulfilment and happiness. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be the person I thought?
I was living in Zanzibar and the contract for my teaching position at a training centre had ended. I’d lived and eaten with the other teachers and directors at the training centre. Determined to continue living in Zanzibar and make it on my own, I rented a room in the village, started a free class for young adults, and volunteered at the secondary school and with the netball team.
I wasn’t making any money. It was my first time living alone. I loved it and I was terrified all at the same time.
To paraphrase my dear friend (!) Rachel Green… It was scary, but it was mine. I was out there and I was doing it.
Even though I knew I should have been proud of myself, the doubts started creeping in. Why wasn’t I speaking more Swahili? Why didn’t I have a stronger connection with the locals? I started to question my purpose.
Enter 93 year old Mary and a simple message: Go outside and something wonderful will happen.
Hell, if a 93 year old could make the effort to go out every day and walk around Central Park then surely I could do it too! So as much as I could, every evening at sundown I went for a walk in the village.
I wasn’t walking to netball or to school. I didn’t have an errand to run or anyone to meet. I was simply walking for the sake of being outside. And do you know what? Mary was right! Something wonderful did happen. Nothing miraculous; I didn’t suddenly become fluent in Swahili or anything. But each and every time I went, my mind-set improved because I was doing happiness. Here’s what I discovered:
Your eyes are opened to small wonders
Don’t expect happiness to be something big. If you expect to be happy after getting married/getting promoted/moving house/finishing college then you’ll spend most of your time waiting to be happy and not actually doing happiness.
When you go outside every day you’ll realise that happiness is the smallest of things. When you’re not rushing from one thing to another you’ll notice and appreciate the little stuff.
It could be the colour of the sky or flowers in bloom. Or maybe the laughter of a child. It could be anything at all. But as you notice it, appreciate it and be thankful that the universe allowed you to see it in that moment.
Since adopting this mind-set I am constantly awed by the beauty of creation and the innovation of humanity.
You feel more part of a community
As you walk, make a conscious effort to smile at every stranger. Try to say a friendly hello or compliment them on their clothes/pet/child/whatever. You won’t sound as creepy as you think.
My default is always to smile. What I’ve realised is that it takes a while for a smile to leave your face. Try it. Simply smiling is an act of happiness. And by smiling at a stranger you’re sharing that happiness with someone else.
You’ll also notice that your body language begins to change the more you take a ‘happiness walk’. When we’re rushing around we’re so closed off. But walking simply for the sake of it allows us to physically open up, which shows when we meet new people. You will naturally come across as genuine and approachable.
As I shared in these small happinesses with the people around me, I began to sense a different kind of contentment. My heart has always yearned for true community. And, believe it or not, by simply being outside, walking and sharing greetings and smiles, I began to feel a part of something bigger than me.
It doesn’t take much. All it takes is small, repeated actions.
And it will grow from there.
Your troubles are put into perspective
When we’re constantly rushing from one thing to the next we adopt our ‘closed’ posture, and it has repercussions for our thoughts too. When we’re outside but ‘closed’ and looking in, our doubts, troubles and worries can get blown out of proportion because we lose perspective.
Go outside, go for a walk, and see, hear, feel and appreciate everything that is around you. Be grateful for the small wonders you encounter. Interact with your community. By appreciating that you are part of something bigger, your brain is able to process your troubles without blowing them out of proportion.
Are you ready to change your perspective on happiness?
- happiness is not something you find, get, buy have or be
- happiness is something you choose to do every day
- social media is a highlights reel only
- “If you force yourself to go outside, something wonderful always happens”
- Going for a ‘happiness walk’ opens your eyes to small wonders, helps you to feel more part of a community, and puts your troubles into perspective
One of the best ways to create a new, healthier habit is to identify a habit you would rather change, and replace it. No time lost!
For example, when you get home from work/school/errands do you give yourself 5-10 minutes to relax before starting your next thing? It might not seem like it at first, but it will be much more refreshing and satisfying to go outside for a short walk instead.
Perhaps you could replace 10 minutes of Pinterest scrolling time with a walk. You choose. It can be anything, but I assure you that the habit replacement method is achievable for when you’re feeling time poor!
Do you agree that happiness is something you do and not find?
Do you have any experience with the ‘happiness walk’? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments below.