A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy?
Something to consider:
Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.
Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.
Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.
I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.
I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.
I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:
Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.
Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.
Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”
Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!