Walk into the average bookstore, and you’ll find at least one department focused on happiness. The topic is on our minds a lot. Being happy is more important to most of us than having a great career or lots of money in the bank. But does this desire for happiness actually make us happy?
It is often said that we need to create our own happiness, and how being sad is bad for energy. Spiritual people are positive all the time, right? Do you ever see a monk look sad, or even angry? Well, think again. In Buddhism, suffering is part of life. Pain, sadness, anger: they are all emotions that make us human. After all, without sadness, there can be no happiness. No rain, no flowers. William Breen, clinical psychologist, once put it like this: ‘There's this idea out there that our emotions are 'positive' or 'negative,' [but] I think all of our emotions are normal and adaptive and have a purpose or function. To use them all means we are living a rich, fulfilling life.’
Embrace your shitty day
Living a rich and fulfilling life, by simply allowing the emotions we experience as a human being to exist. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Acceptation is key. A monk bumps into a table every once in a while, and he probably doesn’t like it any more than you do. Sometimes you can’t control what happens in your life, and it makes you sad. But that’s OK, it’s part of life.
It’s like Morgan Harper Nichols once said: ‘For the highs and lows, and moments in between, mountains and valleys, rivers and streams, for where you are now, and where you will go, for ‘I’ve always known’ and ‘I told you so’, for ‘nothing is happening’ and ‘all has gone wrong’, it’s here in this journey, you will learn to be strong, you will get where you’re going, landing where you belong’.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Having a hard time embracing setbacks? American psychologist Steven C. Hayes developed the ACT method for that. ACT means Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a new form of behavioral therapy. The ACT method helps to live a rich and meaningful life, teaching you how to handle setbacks that will inevitably cross your path. ACT uses six powerful principles that allow everybody to develop a skill that will enrich your life. It’s about:
*Acceptation: actively inviting unpleasant thoughts, feelings and situations
*Defusion: letting go of your thoughts, so they can’t hurt you anymore
*Yourself as a context: creating a new, more flexible relationship with yourself
*Here and now: being in touch with the present
*Values: discovering what’s really important to you
*Acting with devotion: taking actions based on your values.
It’s in the little things
Of course, you can still look for happiness. Just know that the things outside of you, will usually just make you happy for a short while. It’s the little things in life that make you really happy, according to happiness expert and sociologist Christine Carter in her book The Sweet Spot. Gratitude, she says, is like ‘the holy grail to happiness’. And you can teach yourself this gratitude. For instance by keeping a special diary. At the end of every day, you write down three things you’re grateful for. Your beautiful family, the fact that your fridge was filled – but also the least pleasant things, because they make you value the good things more. In everything, give thanks (even after your angry or sad mood).
Text: Gabriëlle Koster - Photo: Ronaldo Oliveira