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For many it feels like an elusive state that only happens to other people. Do we dare hope that happiness is something that is reachable for us?

Many have researched and pondered this question over the centuries. In the western world we often believe that this it is a state we achieve when we are successful in our career, have money, own our home, have the car we want. We strive for it while struggling to manage in the present moment. We work hard to achieve our goals and at times find ourselves disillusioned when we find the goal posts keep moving, or the sensations of pleasure only last momentarily. Sometimes we may feel so victimized, stressed or angry with life that we live day to day in a state of survival, and just getting by – coping.

Happiness is a state of being and a way of being. It is a way of relating to life, thinking about and living in this world where we are connected via an internal gauge to feelings of joy, contentment, love, kindness, generosity and creativity. It is a state which is self-generated by the way we choose to think, where we focus our attention and the perspective we choose to view the situations and experiences in our lives. In order to achieve this state it requires our active engagement in directing the life we choose to live. We can altar our internal state of being by taking responsibility for who we are in the world.

“ Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi. When we are able to create an internal state of being, and match this by action and thoughts that reflect the world we wish to live in we are truly free to experience happiness. All too often we put our happiness in the hands of other people. We give our power away not because we enjoy suffering, more because we didn’t know happiness was ours to take back. It is an easy mistake to think that because we have been deeply hurt by another or because we feel trapped or limited for a variety of reason that we cannot experience happiness. This is not true. We are not fundamentally flawed. We simple unknowingly took a fork in the road at some point in our lives that lead to a regular state of stress, depression, anxiety, anger and stress. We bought into stories and messages from our environment and people around us and took these messages to be true. We believed in our own pain more than we believed in our ability to create happiness. We allowed our thoughts and feelings to take over our experience and we lost ourselves in the story.

The research into happiness indicates that there are in fact a number of ingredients to happiness. People who live happily tend to spend time relating to others, they exercise and try out new things. They are learning and challenging themselves with new experiences. The research also shows that people who are happy actively focus on appreciating their lives and living generously. They have a sense of direction which is meaningful to them and have a sense of a life purpose that is greater than them. They have a level of emotional resilience to manage life’s ups and downs and have a way to think about life so they don’t get bogged down in negative thinking when life is challenging. They focus on the glass half full rather than half empty and induce emotional states that are positive, joyful, loving and appreciative. The research indicates that the more one focuses on these emotional states the more one is likely to experience them. Focusing has a spiraling upward effect.

We have also discovered that the body gets addicted to emotions and continues to create situations where we continue to experience whatever emotions we have regularly.

The good news is that we are able to change how we think and how we feel to create a new habit of being. The first step is to step back and ask yourself honestly how you are feeling and thinking about life. Look underneath the social façade and ask yourself have you achieved the sense of joy and happiness in life that you hoped for. Self-exploration is the key to change. Changing thoughts and habits in behavior and entering the unfamiliar liberate us to experience new heights in health, happiness and wellbeing. At some point it requires us to stop looking outward for our world to change before we can be happy and start looking inward to liberate yourself from your own painful thoughts and feelings. Awareness is the key to changing these patterns of thinking as you cannot change what you do not know about. It can be helpful to talk to a professional who can assist you in navigating your way through the journey of change to form new habits of health, happiness and wellbeing.

Written by Marianne Love, Psychologist