Every so often I have the spark of an idea which hasn’t yet fully formed into an article or reflection piece. Some ideas (like this one!) are big, broad-stroke conceptual frameworks and others just little thoughts and ‘ponderings’! I am putting these little ideas out in the world in the hope of better understanding where I am close to the mark, or be challenged where I am way off the mark.
On this occasion, I have attempted to broadly conceptualize ‘happiness’. The framework consists of four pillars which are within your control: joy, connection, alignment and growth. All are interconnected – you cannot have joy without alignment with your values, or connection to others; equally, even if your life is in complete alignment and you feel connected to others, you will not feel happiness without joy. Yet, the four pillars alone will not bring happiness without taking the conscious decision to pursue happiness.
Play, celebration, discovering beauty, hedonism (yes, even hedonism! Sometimes you need to pursue some pure pleasures in life!)
Friendships, family, relationships, closeness to humanity (including compassion)
Feeling right – doing what you know you should, serving others, knowing your values and sticking to them, being at peace, acceptance, remembering that ‘this too shall pass’
Achievement, development, learning, growing, striving for a better future
To reach ‘happy’, you need mental strength. It means you have identified your triggers, worked through past trauma, to move beyond just ‘being’ and toward ‘happy’. In the depths of depression, you must first choose to keep breathing, then choose to stay, then choose to resolve conflict, and eventually come to the realisation that you can choose to be ‘happy’. It is not as simple as choosing to jump to the end game.
Yet equally, no matter your mental state, you can always choose ‘the pursuit of happiness’. This may seem naïve – after all, don’t we all want to be happy? To truly choose the pursuit of happiness, you must agree that regardless of your mental state, there is always a choice to be happier than you are currently.
Elizabeth Gilbert summed this up in her interview with Oprah on Super Soul Conversations. She talks about her friend who was a heroin addict, homeless and in prison whose belief was that just as you think you’ve hit rock bottom, “there’s always another trapdoor, there’s always another bottom… there’s always something lower” but as she recovered, she realised “there’s always another level up. There’s always another ascension, more grace, more light, more generosity, more compassion, more to shed, more to grow”
It does not mean that you won’t experience unhappiness, or that you can choose to ignore tragedy, but you cannot be happy if you choose darkness over the pursuit of happiness. Unhappiness is a valid, necessary part of our lives. If we didn’t know sadness, how would we know joy? Without the dark, how could there be light? At a certain point, the pursuit of happiness must be a conscious choice, to ever to get a chance at finding it.
Have I got this right? What am I missing?