No, this is not going to be yet another article on New Year’s resolutions.  I’m pretty sick of those, actually—I mean, most of us know what it takes to get healthy, we just have issues with motivation or stamina.  It was in reviewing an end-of-year article, though, that I ran across this idea:  Happiness also requires discipline.  My initial reaction was to be a little offended; I mean, happiness just “happens” right?  It’s part of being human and just bubbles up from inside somewhere, right?  Well, yes and no.  The more I thought about this, the more I realized that there is something to this notion.  How easy is it to just keep moving forward in our lives, doing the mundane stuff that makes up most moments of most days?  It’s not that happiness is somehow a chore, but it requires noticing what is actually happening.  How often do we forget to do that?

Then there is the question of having a meaningful life.  This does not imply happiness necessarily.  One could be doing really meaningful, useful work….and be miserable doing it.  I think a lot of us get hung up on feeling a bit like martyrs, doing “good work” and really not liking it at all.  Or simply being so busy doing it that all the joy is gone.

So why does happiness take discipline?  I think it’s because we have to be paying attention….and we don’t do that well at all!  Even when we make an effort to notice, I think we rarely actually savor the moment.  How often do we say “wow, that’s a pretty sunrise” and in seconds, we’re moving on to the next thing?  When was the last time you consciously paused, noticing the lightness in your heart, committing that feeling to memory?

How much do we really value happiness?  Think about what gets rewarded in our society:  making money, doing “good work”, working hard.  I’ve never heard someone say admiringly “yeah, he’s a bum, but he’s really happy”.  In Bhutan, the government uses a measure of Gross National Happiness to set policy; this takes into account not just productivity, but sense of purpose and spirituality, among other things.  (I found the actual questionnaire they use here http://tinyurl.com/mdt8tcl.  For the record, there is some question as to how much the country is focusing on this in the past year, but it’s still a fascinating idea).

If one were to spend more time noticing and cultivating happiness, I think we automatically would become healthier as well.  Time spent noticing happiness would teach us to slow down, which calms down our constant fight-and-flight behavior.  Cultivating the feeling of happiness would remind us what truly feels good long term vs what feels good in the moment….so we might eat better, sleep more, and move in a way that is helpful to our bodies.  It might even teach us to stop complaining about stuff that doesn’t really matter.  And maybe, just maybe, it would remind us that working harder just to maintain all the “stuff” we’ve acquired (the big house, the boat, etc) doesn’t ever help us enjoy it.

Yes, sure, you’re busy.  We all are.  It doesn’t make slowing down impossible.  Challenging, yes, but not impossible.  If it actually does feel impossible, then I suggest that you look closely at how you spend your time.  Where are you spending time and energy that doesn’t contribute to your happiness?  Why can’t you find 15 minutes to notice your world each day?  What are you avoiding?

  1. Bonnie Miles01-29-2015

    Yep! This article sizes things up nicely. Thank you Wendy.

  2. Gina Pardovich01-20-2015

    Thanks Wendy. It is a good reminder to live mindful.

    Frankl’s work brought me through a dark time many years ago. I am glad his words still reach out.

  3. Lisa01-20-2015

    I just finished reading a book by Viktor Frankl called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” A small book that touches on this very subject. It’s an accounting of his time in the Nazi death camps and while there realizes the primary human drive is not pleasure or happiness, but what we find meaningful…

  4. Pam Page01-20-2015

    Enjoyed this article immensely. I find most of my happiness with the natural world: my dogs, walks on the canal, listening to the geese flying overhead, etc. Today it’s simply having sunshine! The survey was very interesting and as Rene Marie is doing I plan to take the survey now (and give it to a few friends!) and then later for comparison. I also thought (and this made me smile) how wonderful it would be if this was part of our U.S. Census!

    • Dr. Wendy Warner01-20-2015

      Yes, the survey is fun…..just ignore some of the parts that clearly only make sense to the Bhutanese!

  5. jane01-20-2015

    Nicely put.

  6. René Marie01-20-2015

    The concept of “Gross National Happiness” is both beautiful & fascinating! I took a look at the survey and had so many thoughts… how validating it must be for the Bhatan people to fill it out and feel heard (one of the most basic human needs). I imagine like “do you know your great grandparents’ names?” could start wonderful conversations and likely bonding in families. I had the idea to print two copies for myself, fill it out now & then again in a year or two. Many thought- provoking questions, an assessment of priorities, perspectives and concerns; all so valuable to stop and consider. Just in browsing through the questions, I felt good about most of my answers. But when I didn’t, I saw an opportunity to grow. Win/win! Thanks Dr. Warner, I think I’m going to have fun with this.

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