The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines being happy as a state of well-being and contentment.
Others define it as a state of being mentally and emotionally healthy.
In my late fifties, I thought that I needed less to be happy as compared to the period of 30-45 years so I began reading extensively about the science of happiness. I wanted to understand things better and then act better. The psychologists like Martin Seligan of USA who had done extensive work on this subject proved me wrong. He helped me understand that what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change over time. By this he meant that the value that one attaches to the three distinct elements of happiness changes over time.
The three distinct elements of happiness are:
- The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many positive emotions as you can as you go through your day-to-day activities.
- The good life- achieved by identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. First and foremost, you have to know at a deeper level who you really are- your strengths and flaws, accept yourself and apply that knowledge to find the great story of your life. Secure in that knowledge, you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or be manipulated by others.
- The meaningful life- involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world. Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting might be will make you happy if it is not really your life and no life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.
The happiest people in the world tend to pursue a full life encompassing these three elements. They throw in a positive effect-focusing on their identified positive traits and virtues, optimism and being in the flow.
As a child, I found my happiness by being surrounded by loving and caring parents and people. I felt secure in their love and caring. I believed that they had the capacity to protect me from any harm or hurt.
As a teenager, that transitional period in one’s life when hormones are raging through your body and yet the part of the brain that controls your emotions and motivations is not fully developed. Like any other normal teenager, I had very little capacity to control my behavior, what mattered most to me was being accepted by my peers and having freedom and fun.
From 25 years of age, my brain had fully developed to direct my behavior to meet the challenges created by the environment. Supported by my parents and teachers, I started taking on my adult responsibilities and found my satisfaction in:
- Having strong healthy relationships with loved ones.
- Finding fulfillment from work- it pushed me to be more and do more.
- Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimizes our brains ability to learn. It helps you regulate your emotions.
- Happiness with my romantic relationship.
- Content with my personal growth
- Secure in spirituality or religion
Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. It has a positive impact on our health and well being.
By the time I was 60, I had weathered many storms in life. I had come to fully understand that I was ‘No man on an Island’, I was interdependent on others. My journey through life is interwoven with the lives of my family members, friends and colleagues at work. What I do affects their lives and what they do affects mine too.
Right now, I feel deeply satisfied with my life and continue to find more meaning to it. I no longer place much value on things and status like the young. Since life is essentially about relationships- the relationship with your God, with yourself, with your family and with your friends and the other people around you, I place more value on God, family relationships and other genuine relationships which give me long term fulfillment. They enrich myself and make me happier and content.
Kahlil Gibran, one of my favourite authors said: “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction, is to live twice.”
This is what makes me happy :
1. I derive more joy and fulfillment by spending time with close family members and friends. I get a high and laugh like a child when I am in the company of friends whom I have known since the school days. We know each other so well that we can anticipate each other needs. I consider myself very blessed to have such high quality social relationships and strong social support networks.
In the two months of the COVID-19 pandemic Lockdown, I have not been able to see and touch my family and friends; I feel as if a part of me is missing. During these two months my grandchild has started talking and walking. I have missed these important milestones.
The ‘feel good factors’ like oxytocin, the bonding hormone, are not flowing as they usually do. No wonder I often find myself stressed and feeling some body aches
2.Doing what I love and enjoy- It is relaxing to immerse myself in an interesting novel. It is also incredibly thrilling to lose myself into my creative writing. As I am doing what I love and enjoy, I effortlessly maintain concentration and focus, feel in control of the activity and time seems to be passing quickly. This what the psychologists call being in the flow.
Gardening also relaxes me. It challenges my brain as I figure out what to do with a stunted plant.
3.Spending time with myself- My “Me” time. It is part of my continuing quest to know and understand myself better. During this time , I endeavour to nourish and care for my body, mind, heart and spirit.
Mahatma Ghandi once said : “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”
Last but not least, we have always to remember that no one is completely happy all the time and that each one of us is responsible for creating her/his own happiness. Every day, one has to make the choice of working towards being happy as one carries on the day-to day activities. It is lifetime work. Those around you can help to enhance that happiness. It is never lost on me that money is a tool to make your life comfortable but will not necessarily make you happy.