Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Equation of Happiness

Happiness Research is an area that I as a psychotherapist of course have been trying to follow, as I meet many unhappy persons in my job.
Much of what has been written about this field of research I have found to be interesting, but unfortunately not very useful. The definition of the term “happiness” itself also varies a lot, and much of what I have found only really describes those things people strive for, in the belief that they will bring them happiness, but which in the long run do not – prosperity, social status, celebrity, a well-trained body, etc.
But, when I a while ago came across a blog entry from a British GP, one that I felt presented a concise and useful definition of “happiness”, I felt that I finally had found something useful. His definition was “Happiness is inversely proportional to the difference between how I think life should be and how it is.”
In the image above I have further developed this simple definition with a couple of additional factors, which I believe have an impact on our experience of being happy. The factors involved can be described in this way
  1. The first factor is “PEACE”. I believe that we all possess Inner Peace, a quiet place that can be located far down in our subconscious mind, and which for some, or for everyone at times, can be difficult to reach and have access to. But, I believe it is there, and that we can learn how to access it. Feeling Inner Peace, or peace of mind, can be seen another expression of lasting and secure happiness.

  2. The second factor is “HOW IT IS”. Strictly, this should objectively describe our external and inner reality. But, we are subjective creatures, so “How it is” is the reality we perceive, and this perception is strongly colored by our values, inner beliefs, conditioning during our upbringing, self-image, self-esteem, traumatic memories, etc.

    The more aware we can be of these inner “filters”, the more objectively we can look at our external reality and at ourselves.  And the more objective and aware one can be when looking at one’s reality, the more ways one can find for changing it to the better, which can lead to more contentment and happiness.

  3. The third factor is “HOW I THINK IT SHOULD BE”. Exaggerated and / or unrealistic expectations are conditions for feeling discontent and unhappy.

    Realistic expectations, plus being able to define clear personal goals, to plan, evaluate, to find external and inner resources, are the conditions for turning these expectations into concrete action for developing and improving one’s life (factor 1), which leads to increased happiness.

  4. The fourth factor is “GRATITUDE”. In the image there is a symbol for a pump, energized by my Inner Peace. This pump symbolizes what happens if I regularly spend time, preferably a period of time each evening, for feeling and expressing my gratitude for all those things I have in my life that I regard as valuable, as assets, as things that give my life meaning and purpose: my relationships, my work, my health, being in nature, my spiritual life, my own positive qualities and skills, etc.

    Activate this “pump” each day, and your experience of inner peace and happiness will increase.

  5. The fifth factor is “BITTERNESS”. In the image there is a symbol for a second pump, and this one is energized by my expectations. The more unrealistic these are, and the less I am able to reach them, and the more I consider others are to blame for this, the faster this pump runs. The “Bitterness” pump drains my inner peace, and decreases my happiness. If it runs too often or for too long time, the “bubble” Peace may become completely depleted…

    A while ago, I read a poignant definition of “bitterness”: “Bitterness is like drinking poison, and then hoping someone else will die.”

    Making oneself aware of one’s judgmental and bitter thoughts, and “neutralizing” them with thoughts of gratitude, is a good prescription for keeping and increasing one’s inner peace.
So, in summary: I think we most of the time have access to what we need in order to achieve a sense of happiness and contentedness.

We can by ourselves influence each one of the factors that build up or wear down our happiness:
1. Inner peace, 2. Our own life, 3. Our expectations and goals, 4. Gratitude

and 5. Bitterness.