Where does happiness come from? And why is it so hard to find?
Do you struggle to let yourself be happy?
Do you ever wonder why happiness is such hard work?
Maybe you tell yourself you will find happiness when you:
- Have more money
- Complete something you told yourself you’re supposed to do
- Have the perfect body
- Or some other rubbish demand you put on yourself?
Happiness does not have to be a challenge.
Problem is, it doesn’t feel that way when we’re facing negative emotions like sadness, grief, anger. At such times, happiness can seem miles away.
Why happiness can seem hard
When we’re down, we tend to exaggerate our suffering.
When we feel bad we exaggerate the negative.
A slight bit of stress can make a molehill seem like a mountain. And at such times, we simply can’t see the hope of ever climbing all the way back to happiness.
Of course, help is always there for us.
There are more than 100,000 licensed psychologists in the United States (*1), and just as many drug stores. For those who prefer to get their help online, there are an estimated 1,630,000 health blogs according to Google (*2).
Clearly, help is ours when we want it.
Then again, those psychologists, drug stores and health blogs offer different advice, and oftentimes they even directly contradict one another.
Despite all the happiness tips, we’re getting more miserable by the day
Today, people are feeling pretty darned crappy.
The 2016 Happiness Index is sitting at a pathetic 31 out of 100. That’s less than one third optimum happiness.
And no wonder.
With such an eclectic mix of different advice, finding a way out of our pain is about as difficult as escaping King Minos’ Labyrinth.
Maybe we need to approach happiness differently.
Here’s my advice:
If happiness is hard to find, put those self improvement books aside for a moment.
Sometimes what we need is some very basic guidance, the sort of guidance we can follow without even the slightest chance of confusion.
Here is that advice:
When it comes to happiness, you’re either letting it in or keeping it out.
Quit looking for happiness. Let happiness find you
Don’t ask where does happiness come from. Ask “How do I let happiness find me?”
You cannot find happiness.
Happiness will come when you let it in.
But how do you let happiness in?
The key is to open your mind.
Happiness works like a gateway.
At all times, we are either opening ourselves to happiness, keeping happiness out, or somewhere between the two.
This gateway, this in-or-out process, occurs within the mind.
- When we are awake, our minds are either open, closed, or somewhere between the two.
- When we are down, we are lost in our own thoughts. We do not allow reality in. We don’t open our minds to the light of day. The gateway is closed.
- When we stop and actually observe the mind at these times, we see that our thoughts block out the present moment like clouds blocking the sun.
Studies prove our minds are basically a mess
A study conducted by Harvard showed that people spend 46% of the time focusing on something other than what they’re doing.
They termed this, “Wandering mind”.
Psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University tell us, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” (1)
This wandering mind serves to block out the present moment.
- Do you think about work while trying to sleep? That’s a wandering mind.
- Do you think about food while you’re at the gym? Wandering mind.
- Do you check your phone while having a conversation? Again, that’s wandering mind.
Wandering mind makes it hard to be happy.
If we’re thinking about work while trying to sleep, we’re probably stressed even though we are doing something relaxing.
So even though we may be doing something in the present moment, we might also be mentally blocking out that present moment.
If this all sounds a little too familiar, read my guide to living in the moment, Zen-style.
Happiness comes from outside. But it can only enter an open mind.
If you want to let happiness in, you have to open your mind.
The key to happiness is opening the mind; it’s being aware of the present moment.
This isn’t to say that we must be aware of everything in order to be happy.
- Focus generally on the present moment (like when we do open monitoring meditation).
- Focus on one single aspect of the present moment.
- And we can even mindfully observe our thoughts such as when we practice Vipassana.
Either way, the mind is still open. We are still focusing on the present moment, and so the gateway is open.
Open the gateway, let the present moment in, and happiness follows.
Your Own Life Experience Proves It
If you look back at both the happiest and unhappiest moments of your life, you will see that the gateway was either completely open or completely closed.
Bring to mind the happiest times of your life and you will likely find that your mind was open. Perhaps you were on vacation, standing on a beach gazing out over the ocean. It felt like there was no stress, no thoughts, no distractions. You were free to enjoy the moment.
When the mind is open in this way, we find happiness and tranquility.
When it is closed, we feel the opposite.
The key to happiness is keeping that gateway open. So how do you do that?
The key is mindfulness.
Where does happiness come from? Mindfulness
You’ve probably heard the term “mindfulness” before. But you might not have gotten the full picture.
Mindfulness is both a specific meditation technique and a general term referring to living in the present moment (*3). Both are valuable when it comes to creating happiness.
Let’s begin with the latter.
Mindfulness in this sense is simply about living in the present moment. It’s being aware of the world around us. It’s focusing on the world as it comes to us through our senses.
This technique is very easy to do. We simply focus on the present moment.
Some great times to try this include:
- When eating
- While taking a relaxing walk (read Zen Walking)
- When lying in bed
- When drawing (read Read Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s excellent Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness )
- When showering
- When practicing gentle exercises like Tai Chi
- When sitting outside on a pleasant day
Take a look at these 25 mindful habits for more great ideas.
These moments of mindfulness help to train the mind to open.
Numerous scientific studies have proven that these mindful moments create positive feelings and can even help to eliminate anxiety and depression. (*4, *5 *6)
That’s the modern definition of mindfulness.
What about the traditional term mindfulness?
Traditional Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is also one of the major meditation techniques.
In Buddhist tradition, Mindfulness refers to a certain type of meditation in which we practice awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Jon Kabat Zinn [Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School] describes mindfulness this way: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”. (7)
When we practice mindfulness, we are being present moment mindful but focusing on what is happening in the mind itself.
Most experts advocate practicing for twenty minutes at a time, which can be a challenge when we are suffering. However, research shows that these twenty-minute mindfulness sessions will pay dividends.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness significantly improves mental health and boosts happiness. (*8)
Mindfulness. Two definitions. Both equally beneficial.
Mindfulness opens the mind to let happiness in
Both present moment mindfulness and mindfulness (the meditation technique) train the mind to open itself to the present moment, and this brings happiness.
So if you ever wonder where does happiness come from, it comes from the mind meeting the present moment.
The more we open our minds to the present moment, the more we let that light in, the happier we will be.
If you think you could do with letting happiness in, I recommend reading Eli Jackson Bear’s Sudden Awakening: Stop Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Discover Your True Nature.
Where does happiness come from? Within.
Happiness is a simple gateway. We are either living in our thoughts and closing out the present moment, which is the path to unhappiness; or we are opening the gateway and opening our minds to the present moment, which is the path to happiness.
Happiness does not have to be difficult. Sometimes, it’s a simple gateway we need to open.
Try These 5 Mindfulness Exercises For Happiness
How to be Mindful & Happy
So, now we understand what happiness is we can do some exercises to create happiness. The exercises on the next page are all great ways how to be happy with yourself and will answer the question “will I ever be happy?” with an emphatic YES!
Meditate: Without a shadow of a doubt, the number one way to gain control of your emotions, to let go, to be happy and mindful, is to meditate.
Yoga: All exercise is good for mindfulness, but Yoga is probably the best of the lot because it focuses on balance (which requires focus and concentration) and also promotes calm. (read my guide to the 13 types of yoga).
Challenge your Ideas of good and bad: Something you can begin to do immediately is to challenge your ideas of good and bad. So you lost your job, maybe that’s actually a good thing because no you’ll have some time to work out what it so you really want to do with your life. So you won the lottery, are you sure that’s a good thing and isn’t going to change who you are and how your friends and family look at you? Try to realise that you don’t actually know what will be good or bad in the long run.
4: Look at Wild Cards in your Life: Looking back over the years, be aware of the number of times that you thought a situation was bad and it actually turned out to be great. Likewise, remember times you thought something good was happening and It turned out bad. See, you don’t know what will be good or bad so you may as well just submit to life and accept things as they happen.
Practice an Art form: From painting to dance to poetry to music, all art forms have one thing in common: they demand you to focus on the external, which is essentially the same thing as being mindful.
Admit you know nothing: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing,” said Socrates. It takes the deepest wisdom to submit to the mystery, magic and wonder of the world. Look for things you didn’t see before. Look for beauty. See life. Recognise its splendour. Drown in it.
Also consider these 11 happy hobbies.
Science shows meditation create happiness
Both science and spiritual wisdom advocate the use of meditation for happiness.
While research laboratories to this day are continuing to study the affect of meditation on the brain, religiosity and spiritualism centre on the affect meditation has on the spirit.
In today’s fast-paced society, however, it can be hard to control the mind.
We’re victims to a constant barrage of over-stimulation. From the pressures of work to the noise of social media, there’s such an overflow of information that the mind rarely get the opportunity it needs to rest.
Over time this leads to mental degradation, the mind becoming tired and worn.
The mind needs a chance to rest.
Sleep does not always work. Oftentimes while we sleep we dream and even then the mind doesn’t truly rest. That’s why it’s a good idea to try using some meditation techniques for happiness too.
When we meditate we focus the mind on the present moment.
When meditating, the mind isn’t creating thoughts, nor is it judging reality, nor is it performing any other task than just observing. This state of pure observation, of mindfulness, is of immense value to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Research into the effects of meditation on happiness and other mental states began in 1960 with Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. Dr. Benson discovered that meditation was effective in treating anxiety, depression, and stress, and that at the same time as curing the mind of these negative states meditation also create positive states like happiness, compassion, and love.
A later study showed that meditation can alter a person’s “Set Point.”
Meditation alters your set-point
The “Set-Point” is your baseline of happiness
“The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives,” writes Alex Lickerman M.D, Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago. This “Set Point” acts as a baseline of our well-being. Though our emotions fluctuate we will return to this set-point over time.
Daniel Goleman, author of “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” says, “There’s a bell curve for this ratio, like the one for IQ: most of us are in the middle, with some good days and some bad days. Those who are tipped to the far right are likely to have clinical levels of depression or anxiety. And those whose setpoint tips far to the left are able to bounce back quickly from upsets.”
It is possible to change this set-point. One way to do so is through meditation. A study showed that only eight weeks of meditation for one hour a day raised a person’s happiness set-point. Those participants who had meditated for an hour a day became happier and also more empathetic and compassionate. The researchers also noted that the meditators’ immune systems had improved.
Why Does Meditation Make You Happy?
So why does meditation make us happy?
It makes sense when you understand what unhappiness is.
Most of the time unhappiness is caused by changes to things you’ve grown attached to (8).
Change and attachment. These are the causes of unhappiness.
People fear change. And they especially fear changes to things they’re attached to.
Let’s take a closer look for one second.
Let’s say that you are in a loving relationship. You’re married. It’s been perfect. You can’t imagine ever getting a divorce because you’re so happy. But then your husband or wife cheats on you. Obviously you’re hurt. But why are you hurt? You’re hurt because something that you have become attached to (your marriage) is being changed (by infidelity).
You’re stock broker making millions. Because you like making millions, you become attached to it. You pray it will never end. But then bam!, 2008 recession. Stock market isn’t what it was. You end up losing your job. You’re now working at a grocery store. Happy? I don’t think so.
Those are two examples of things that were positive that changed. But have you ever noticed how even when something changes for the better you still feel a little bit sad? Weird huh? But again, something you had grown attached to changed. And the result is unhappiness.
Meditation Makes You Happy Because It Helps You Let Go
So, we know that when you are too attached to things you risk becoming unhappy.
When you’re too attached to your marriage, for instance, you risk becoming unhappy when things go wrong in the marriage. And also, because you fear change, you become unhappy at the slightest suggestion that something might go wrong. Even the tiniest little hiccup can cause anxiety. And it is all because you are too attached to things.
Meditation helps you to detach. And when you detach you gain control of your emotions.
This is a little blurry. It can be hard to visualise what’s going on here. So let’s take a closer look at why attachment hurts so much.
- You’re in a marriage.
- Because this marriage means so much to you, you try to hold on to the marriage in your own mind.
- It’s like you are mentally gripping this marriage with your mind. But then something changes.
- Your husband / wife has an affair.
- This feels like reality is pulling at your marriage.
- Your mind is pulling one way. Reality is pulling the other.
- This is a fight you won’t win. Your mind can’t defeat reality. The more you resist the more strain you’re going to feel in your mind. The more strain your feel in the mind the more pain there will be.
- End result? Unhappiness. Pain.
- The solution is to let go.
Meditation helps you to let go. When you let go you find happiness.
The tighter you grip onto your ideas the more painful it is when life pulls the other way. That’s why you need to let go.
There are a million and one quotes and platitudes about letting go.
- When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” —Lao Tzu
- “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” —Rumi
- “In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” —Buddha
But what is letting go really all about?
Just imagine that your mind and reality are two physical forces. Now imagine if your mind is pulling one way and reality is pulling the other? What’s going to happen? Something will break. And it aint gonna be reality.
So Happiness Is Letting Go. But How Do You Let Go?
So here’s the problem where most people struggle. How in the hell do you let go?
I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about holding a physical weight now, is it?
If you were holding on to a weight you could just set it down on the table and bingo, problem solved.
But you can’t just let go of mental attachments, can you?
You can’t let go of your ex.
You can’t let go of your old job.
You can’t let go of your past.
You can’t let go of your deceased family members (something I had to learn to do myself).
You can’t let go because you’re not actually holding on to anything.
Pop Quiz: How do you let go of something when you’re not actually holding on to anything
You’re holding on to a weight that exists only in your mind. So how on Earth do you let go of that?
Well, let’s think about it in terms of letting go of something that does have a physical existence.
If you were trying to let go of a weight, what would you do? You would loosen your grip. Gravity would take over. And gravity would bring the weight to the floor so you don’t have to carry it anymore.
So when you let go there are two things involved. There’s your grip and there’s reality.
And if you want to let go of something in your mind you also have to let go of your grip and you also have to let gravity take it.
One half of that is a lot easier than the other half. It’s a lot easier to let go of your grip than to let gravity take it, because what on Earth is mental gravity? We’ll deal with that in a sec.
Let me recap.
We know that unhappiness is caused by holding on too tightly. We know that pain / suffering begins when we hold on to something that is changing, because our minds and reality are pulling in opposite directions. And we know that to be happy we should let go and trust life.
There was also something about gravity…? We’ll get to that.
For now we need to let go of our mental grip.
To let go we meditate. Meditation is entirely about letting go.
So let met show you how to let go by meditating.
How to let go by meditating (happiness step #1)
This meditation is going to take five to ten minutes and I promise you that you will be very glad that you did it.
Follow these instructions:
- Get comfortable in a relaxing space.
- Close your eyes and focus your mind on your breathing for a few minutes (use these breathing meditations for the best experience).
- Continue to focus on your breath. Thoughts will arise in your mind. The trick here is to simply observe them. Do not fight them. Do not try to repress them. And do not attach to them. Just observe them and let them go when they go.
- Continue observing your thoughts and tell yourself that they are only thoughts. See the true nature of them. See that your thoughts are not real they’re just like little smog clouds that arise in your mind.
- This will loosen your grips on your thoughts, which is step one of finding happiness.
So we’ve now started to use meditation for happiness. But what on Earth was that “mental gravity” we were talking about? What’s up with that?
Believe it or not, there is a mental “gravity” and it works in the same way that gravity works.
Gravity works by creating a force to which objects are attracted. Planets create gravity. And because of that we are pull towards the ground.
Your mind is also pulled towards the ground. The ground is reality. Like regular gravity, mental gravity pulls you towards reality. We’re also ways being pulled towards the way things are.
We are mentally pulled towards reality. When you go through bad breakup, for instance, you are pulled towards accepting the breakup.
But (and it is a very big but) we have the power to resist gravity.
Just like your muscles can pull a weight against gravity, your mind can pull against reality. And just like with your muscles, if you pull too hard you will suffer, you will be injured, and you will be unhappy.
And that is the entire nature of unhappiness.
Unhappiness = Your Mind Pulling Against Reality
Does it seem funny that your mind works in the same way that your muscles work?
Your muscles can simply exist in the state they’re naturally meant to be in. When you just let your muscles do what they’re supposed to do you will be healthy and your muscles will be happy. And when you let your mind exist as it should your mind will be healthy and happy too.
But how do you let your mind simply exist in the state it is supposed to be in?
That’s stage two.
Meditation for happiness stage 2
So far we have used meditation to let go of our grip (by loosening our thoughts).
Now we need to let go and let gravity take its course.
Essentially, we need to let things exist in the natural order. This is step 2.
Just like you let gravity take over and pull the weight to the floor, you’re about to let reality take over and take any mental weight in your mind. This will free your mind. And it will make you happy. V
- As before, take yourself somewhere peaceful and relaxing.
- Close your eyes and relax (you will find this Nine Round Breathing Meditation very helpful for this).
- Now you are going to let gravity take over. And the way to do this is by being mindful of your senses. So, begin to focus on each of your senses. Meditate on taste, touch, smell, sound, ad sigh. And then meditate on your own body (by doing body scan meditation)
- Continue to meditate in this fashion as you take 108 breaths.
- Open your eyes and continue to be mindful (to focus on reality). This will let reality (gravity) take over and it will make you very happy.
If you have performed both those meditations you will be feeling very, very relaxed and incredibly happy. And if you haven’t actually done the meditations yet, go ahead, do them now. I promise you they will make you feel amazing.
4 More Meditations For Happiness
The technique above is my favorite for happiness. But these techniques are great too
*For guides to all these techniques read: The 31 Top Meditation Techniques.
Vipassana meditation is a technique in which we mindfulness observe our emotions. This makes use more aware of your feelings. And it empowers us to take control of negative emotions.
Did you know there are 16 different types of happiness? When you practice Vipassana you’ll feel each of them.
2. Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving Kindness Meditation is a technique in which we visualize the giving and receiving of compassion.
Neuroimaging scans show that Loving Kindness Meditation changes the structure of the brain and increases arm feelings like kindness, love, compassion, and happiness.
Pratyahara is actually a type of yoga. It is a method through which we eliminate the negative influence in our lives and increase the positive influences. This tips the scales in favor of happiness and removes causes of unhappiness.
Read my guide to Pratyahara Yoga.
4. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Do you experience a lot of negative thoughts? If so you should definitely try Mindfulness-Based-Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It’s a method used by therapists to target and change problematic thoughts.
- You can also use these techniques for positive thinking. And remember to start your day positively with these tips.
Leave a comment.