• Hannah Ireson

I'll be happy when.......

Choosing happiness

Everybody wants to be happy. A simple internet search produces tens of thousands of results on how to achieve a state of happiness. However, the most crucial aspect of this advice is often overlooked – to be truly happy is to find joy independent to our life circumstances. After all, it is broadly acknowledged that all the riches and possessions in the world mean nothing if you’re miserable deep down. Although it is easier said than done, happiness is a choice. It is not a target to blindly aim at nor a given outcome of achieving a particular goal. When faced with adversity, many of us have found ourselves thinking “I’ll be happy when…” as we consciously delay our happiness until circumstances change (when you get the promotion, when you move house, when you buy that thing).

This is madness – gambling our existent, actual present against an imagined future. And if you can’t be happy now, what’s the guarantee that your gamble will pay off in an imagined, theoretical future?

Author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle attributes three key elements to true happiness -

1. Acceptance

2. Joy

3. Enthusiasm.

He explains that the vast majority of suffering we experience is unnecessary – we sabotage our own happiness with expectations and unsettled thoughts which replay over in our heads, regardless of the present. The pattern perpetuates as the more distorted negativity our minds create, the more we find ourselves facing negativity in real life. If we can’t observe and identify this, our mental patterns will create the same response over and over again. Many of us have allowed our thoughts to get stuck in the past, and if those thoughts are negative then we are constantly commemorating unhappiness in our precious present.

Tolle urges us to ask ourselves whether the thoughts we are having truly hold a place in what we are doing right now – do you honestly need to be recalling a negative encounter while you wash your hair? Our bodies cannot differentiate between real stress and imagined stress, so by living in an emotional haze of remembered anxiety we are programming our cells to maintain an eternal ‘fight or flight’ state.

These unconscious thoughts can be viewed as “background unhappiness”, attributed to a general feeling of discontent or irritation in your day-to-day experiences. By observing your thoughts, you can become aware of any lingering negativity and try to disassociate from it with the realisation that you are not your thoughts. You are a steady conscious presence witnessing those emotional states as if watching a change in the weather. This is crucial to the idea of choosing happiness as in that moment of identification, you have the option to confront and change the thoughts and beliefs at the root of your background unhappiness.

Tolle also advises that we consciously choose peace over drama. Despite wanting to be happy, there is a part within us all that longs for some drama and conflict. The piece of us that would rather be right than happy is our ego and our best way to counteract it is to become aware of is as that voice in our head that judges, compares, dislikes and comments. That voice may relive past situations and imagine future events without giving any thought to the true present. We can make changes by listening to the voice and identifying it as something you can observe and override rather than something that rules you.

Becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves and pulling our thoughts away from hypothetical past and future experiences pulls us out of our own heads and into a present moment where we can choose happiness. This introspection is not always easy amidst the distractions and responsibilities of life. An extended state of happiness can require real work, but luckily you have all the tools for it already inside your head – all you need now is some peace and quiet to contemplate and reset…

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