It’s quite normal to spend most of our lives focused on external factors as the key to happiness – if I had more money, I’d be happier, if I had a better job, more education, a better living situation, better friends, better family, or more fun things to do. Unless you are a trained Buddhist monk, these things clearly have an impact on happiness – however our thought patterns, perspective, and how we relate to our feelings are considerably more important.
Truly evolving our thought patterns is not the same as “thinking positive” or “more smiling, less worrying.” Although it can be beneficial to give ourselves these messages on tough days, lasting happiness is a result of the choices that we make and the work that we do – not quick fixes. These choices may also seem very unnatural to us at first, or at times we may not even realize there is a choice at all!
It is empowering to appreciate how much influence we actually have over our happiness. The often uncomfortable work of knowing and accepting our authentic selves is a powerful first step. From there, some of the key principles of building emotional health are:
- Maintaining a high degree of self-care and self-esteem
- Developing healthy and fulfilling relationships – romantic, friends, and family
- Having a strong sense of purpose
- Comfort with expressing feelings authentically
- Physical wellness and lack of addictive behavior (substance, codependency, sexual, gambling, shopping, social media, etc.)
- Healthy thought patterns (removing invisible toxic beliefs) and realistic expectations.
- Peace with the past, and the ability to reconcile hurt from trauma
Lastly, while feeling happy is a wonderful goal, there is a saying that carries a lot of meaning, “The goal is not to feel better, it is to feel our feelings better.” While it is admirable to work towards achieving a better (and happier) life, the reality for us as human beings is that there are always going to be significant ups and downs.
Paradoxically, when we learn to accept (and even cherish) these periods of struggle, there is a freeing feeling that helps us to achieve overall happiness. Freud has a wonderful saying: “One day you will look back to your days of struggle, and they will strike you as the most beautiful.”