The Pursuit of “Happiness”

Find Your Happiness

Welcome to the first issue of the NarcSlayer Newsletter! Since it is the first, I wanted to share something profound, but not too overpowering. I wanted to keep this article positive and productive — things I hope you all are currently trying to implement in your lives.

So, as the title may have given away, I want to talk about happiness. Or, more specifically, the basics of how to be happy. If you were a part of my small group or you saw my Facebook Live in the NarcSlayer Club Facebook group, you know that I touched on this there as well. On any particular topic that I share with you, I want you to be armed with as much information as possible. I don’t want to just give you a tiny snippet of something and then hope you turn that into a reality in your life. That just wouldn’t be fair. I feel like that could be setting you up for failure and that’s not what I want to do. Not by a long shot. That being said, I will share some of what I already have in other forums, but my hope is to build upon that (so that you can too). 

First, I’d like to reiterate how important it is to focus on things that you can control as opposed to the things that are just simply out of your control. As a reminder, some of the things that are in your control are as follows: The amount of effort you put in, how you take care of yourself, how you treat others, your actions, your words and lastly, how you handle your feelings. The things that are out of your control are as follows: What others do, what others say, things that already happened, how other people feel, other people’s actions and lastly, other people’s words. 

Choosing to focus on the things that you can control sets you up for success. You know if something isn’t going your way, you have the ability to reassess and make a change. If you are trying to change that which you just simply cannot (because it is out of your control), you are always going to come up short. And after trying and trying and trying to change something and continuously coming up short, who are you going to blame? It’s natural. You’re going to blame yourself. But just because this is a natural and normal thing for you to do, does not mean that it’s productive. You’re going in circles. Focus on the things that are in your control. This is a great first step in the pursuit of your own happiness. 

Some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, okay. Focus on me and my life and blah blah blah. Not that easy.” Listen, I totally get where you’re coming from. You might think I’m asking you to put “positivity blinders” on to focus on only what you can control, but there’s a fog all around you and you can’t see anything at all, let alone what’s right in front of you. Some of you might be trying to make it through the fog, while trudging through mud that’s making it almost impossible to move. Some of you might be trying to make it through the fog and mud, and there’s freezing rain hitting you at the same time. Guys, I get it. What I am asking of you is not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. It seems impossible. But it’s not. I promise you. This is why we call it the pursuit of happiness. It’s a process. It’s a journey. And you have to choose it. Choose to squint through the fog. Choose to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even in the mud. Choose to ignore the freezing rain. It’s only trying to stop you. And you won’t let it. 

So, why should you choose the more difficult path when remaining in misery seems easier? Because even though it’s harder, you want it. When you complain about something, it’s coming from a deep sense of wishing things were different. Living a life in the pursuit of happiness gives you something to strive for. It gives your life meaning. There’s also evidence that says having a  positive outlook in life is more strongly linked to increased longevity than the evidence linking obesity to reduced longevity. Say what?? You will live longer if you choose to have a positive outlook. If you choose to focus on the things you can control. If you choose your pursuit of happiness.

I’ve introduced Sonja Lyubomirsky to some of you. She is a psychologist and professor at the University of California. She has devoted her life and career to studying human happiness. I think she has the necessary qualifications to weigh in here. She defines a happy person as “someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger”.

I love this definition because it doesn’t minimize the struggles we experience in life. It defines a happy person as someone who is choosing the sometimes more difficult path in life in order to experience positive emotions more frequently than negative ones. Leading a happy life isn’t about avoiding hard times altogether. It’s about experiencing that adversity and choosing to see how you can grow from it. Choosing to see the positive as opposed to the negative in a ratio of three to one leads to a natural tipping point, in which you are naturally more resilient to adversity. Wouldn’t that be a great place to be? Stuff happens?? I can handle it. I’m good. I’ve experienced this before and I learned. I know exactly what to do. 

The pursuit of happiness is about growth. It’s about accepting all of the things that happen in your life – positive and negative. It’s about enjoying the good and harnessing the pain from the bad and turning it into something else. 

There are, of course, proactive steps you can take in order to attract more positive things in your life instead of simply always having to react to the negative ones. Lyubomirsky came up with five intentional effortful activities (what she called “Positive Activities”) that you could incorporate into your daily life. First, she says to regularly set aside time to recall moments of gratitude. You can do this in a couple of ways. You can keep a gratitude journal to reflect and remind yourself of your own blessings. You can write gratitude letters to specific people and explain how they’ve been a positive influence in your life. Second, Lyubomirsky says that we should engage in self-regulatory and positive thinking about oneself. Speak positive daily affirmations to yourself. Get in the habit of thinking about your successes. Reflect on them. Think about your goals for the future. Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful tools you could and should be using in your pursuit of happiness.

The third positive activity that Lyubomirsky says to engage in is practicing altruism and kindness. Routinely committing acts of kindness or trying to make a loved one happy. Studies show that trying to make others feel a sense of happiness allows our own to flourish as well. The fourth positive activity Lyuobomirsky suggests is to affirm one’s most important values. Take an assessment of your life and your priorities. Be honest with yourself. Do your priorities align with your values? If not, time to make a change! Our last positive activity is to savor positive experiences. Using various mindfulness techniques, remind yourself often to take note of the current moment and do more than just enjoy it – savor it. Remember – every day may not be good, but there is good in every day. Savor the things that you enjoy. Make them last a little longer. Hold onto them just a little tighter. These tiny moments will start to spread to other areas of your life. 

You may have noticed my intentional misspelling of the word “happiness” in the title. If you’re a Will Smith fan, you know the entire article title, The Pursuit of Happyness” is the name of one of his movies from 2006. I loved this true story in this movie and I wanted to share it with you (or if you’ve seen the movie, remind you of it). Spoiler alert! Will Smith plays Chris Gardner who has fallen upon unimaginable hard times and has been evicted from his apartment. Eventually, he becomes an intern at a successful brokerage firm, but works for no pay. As a result, he is still unable to afford housing. He and his son have been homeless and going from shelter to shelter to make it work. The movie ends with Chris sitting in the office of the head of the company and thinking he is about to be fired. He wore his nice tie in hopes of effecting that decision. Instead, he is offered a paid job as a broker. Chris tries to hold back his tears as he is told to come to work tomorrow wearing that same nice tie. 

I want to share this story with you because I believe it does a great job of sending the message that I am trying to give you. Never, is my intention to minimize your struggle or to minimize your trauma. My intention is to let you know that despite the struggle and despite the trauma, you deserve to walk the journey in the pursuit of happiness. You can turn your pain into something beautiful. You can rise from the darkness and emerge radiant.