|Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness."|
Thus, striving to be happy is the essential framework for the setting of resolutions. I feel many resolutions are set in a framework of shame, that one is not living up to one’s potential; or discontent, that one is not good enough as one is, or does not have enough.
No wonder resolutions tend to fail. The emotion behind them, even if unstated or unacknowledged, is negative. Many people despair when they look at their resolutions in the cold light of January 2nd, because the list just reminds them how lacking they believe they are.
Equally sad is those people who are high achievers who bend their will to fulfill all their goals, yet at the end of the day still aren't happy. There's a real disconnect there!
What makes you happy?
Making good resolutions is a process that starts with defining what makes you happy. I honestly believe – and have often experienced – that goals are most quickly achieved when there is an undercurrent of excitement about them. If a resolution does not make you feel joyful, or excited, or filled with eager anticipation, then it is likely to fail. And what happens then? You find yourself trapped in a negative cycle of feeling bad, setting an uninspiring goal, and feeling worse when the desired end fails to materialize.
Invest time in some inner exploration to identify that which makes you really happy. Recall moments of pure happiness in your past – even if they were fleeting. Try out some ideas in your mind and ask yourself if the thought of them really makes you happy – or are they in fact being suggested by guilt or shame or some other negative emotion?
Living an authentic life is very happy-making. Authenticity is honoring who you really are, doing what you are meant to do, developing your innate skills and talents, and living the kind of life that leaves a unique legacy when you are gone.
When you are living authentically, you feel “right” in yourself. It’s like flying in the slipstream – you know you are on the right course. There is less drag on your energy. The milestones ahead are consonant with your vision for your life.
When you have a few ideas that make you happy, jot them down on your list of resolutions.
Obstacles to being happy
Many people don't know how to be happy. True story! They pursue the wrong ends, are too scattered or cluttered to be effective, try to be something they are not, or suffer from topsy-turvy beliefs that damage their self-esteem and drive. Here are four common stumbling blocks that prevent many people from being happy.
1. External focus – “Stuff will make me happy.”
2. Future focus – “I’ll be happy when …”Happiness is an inward quality, but in our culture, we are brainwashed to believe that happiness is something you get from things, such as accumulating more and fancier belongings; or from circumstances, such as having a particular job or living in a particular place; or status, such as being married or being famous. People allow themselves to feel unhappy because they lack those things or that status. What rubbish! Jesus called this “building your house on sand.” Buddha clearly taught that we only feel peace when we rid ourselves of attachment to such longings. You don’t have to be religious to realize that dialing down your longing for externals makes room in the heart for emotional equilibrium. If possessions, circumstances, or status are the primary source of your happiness, then you condemn yourself to misery when your situation changes and you lose part or even all of your talismans.
True happiness is not conditional on circumstances. I once met a woman who had been unhappy for years. She persisted in thinking that when her family moved again, or something else in her situation had changed, she would finally be happy. She projected all her hopes into an ephemeral future and lived in a state of misery.
Friends, unhappiness is a shadow that packs its bags and moves with you. You must find happiness here and now, in this place and moment – or not at all.3. Negative thoughts – “Oh, woe is me!”
Perhaps it’s part of the human condition, but some people get so stuck in patterns of negative thinking that they can never be truly happy. Stop it now! If you suffer from this, you need to reboot your brain by practicing positive affirmations and learning to look for the good around you. Teach yourself the art of appreciating little things every day.4. Negative speech - “Oh, woe is me,” part 2.
The worst thing anyone can do is to worry out loud. There is an energy behind words that “puts it out there” into the universe and may attract the thing you fear. Negative words affect the mood of others, too, and bringing down the people around you is hideously counter-productive.How to be happy
1. Apply possibility thinking to your problems.
Instead of dwelling on a problem and using your fertile imagination to explore all the terrible ramifications that could result, turn your thoughts around and imagine all the possible solutions and upsides. Force yourself, if you need to – “fake it till you make it,” as they say. Your mood will lift as the heaviness of the problem is whittled away by thoughts of solutions, workarounds, and remediation. “Chance favors only the prepared mind,” said Louis Pasteur. Prepare to find a happy outcome by planting thoughts of positive possibilities in your mind.2. Really know that happiness is an inside job.
You have to truly make this statement an integral part of your belief system. Sure, we can enjoy acquiring new things or piling up more money or singing like an angel or having a body like Superman or Wonder Woman, or insert your old resolutions here. That’s all part of the enjoyment of life, and we should all try to better ourselves and the world as much as we can. But remember that enduring happiness is that eternal glow that comes from within and is not dependent on things, circumstances, or status.3. Indulge yourself sometimes.
Many people feel guilty if they are not doing for others 24/7. Being other-centered is a virtue, but if service to others does not spring from a well of joy and charity in our heart, it becomes a burden. It makes us bitter, angry and tired, and the resulting stress can lead to physical illness. When your resolution framework is “strive to be happy,” you will be able to find the right balance between service to others and care of the self.4. Make room for happiness by cleaning the "house" of your heart.
I don't know how anyone who is burdened with guilt, shame, or sin could feel happy. But I do know some great ways to lighten that load. For many people, turning their life over to Christ and receiving divine forgiveness bears immediate results. But for most people, including Christians, honestly facing one's weaknesses and faults and restoring one's relationships is a process that takes some time.
The gold standard for cleaning up one's life is the Twelve Steps. If you do not struggle with an addiction (or a relationship with an addict) you do not have to join a group. The Twelve Steps in themselves are effective for everyone. Pay particular attention to the steps in which you ask God for help, take a personal inventory, and make amends to those whom you have hurt.5. Stay open to the unexpected.
Deepak Chopra makes a wonderful case for embracing the unexpected: "When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences and their meanings, you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities." Making resolutions, or plans of any kind, that are too watertight, closes the door on the possibility of something even better happening. One could also say, "Expect a miracle." Why not?!6. Be happy with what you have.
How many things did you buy because you thought they would make you happy? Almost everything you own, I bet! So instead of hitting the mall or the online shops yet again, stop. Look around you, and enjoy every single thing you have right now. Appreciate what each item does to make your life a little better. It is probably sufficient for your needs. So let gratitude well up in you. When your heart is full, you won’t feel such a craving to go spend more money on more stuff. This is an excellent way to reduce debt as well.
Strive to be happy
Can this simple phrase really be your only resolution? Quite possibly, it could. You may wish to add some color and excitement to your resolution by also jotting down those things that make you happy and will enable you to live your most authentic life. You could also create life categories such as health, family, relationships, talents, finances, leisure, self-improvement, and so on, which may help you organize your thoughts and remember some additional areas you'd like to be happy in. Just please, ask yourself what would true happiness would look like in all those categories before you write down any tiresome, old-style goals.
Keep your eye on the prize, as they say, and keep believing you can attain it. If you are really excited about your resolution, your beliefs will fire up a sub-current of activity that naturally guides your behavior and effort in that direction.
When you strive for happiness, you will be more powerful and successful in everything you undertake.
Wishing all my readers a happy year ahead!
Quotes for inspiration
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." - Philippians 4:8
"Pray, hope and don't worry." - Padre Pio