Posts Tagged ‘life’

happiness - a journey not a destination

happiness – a journey not a destination

September 2, 2010  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  6 Comments

I’ve been in two minds about writing a blog on the complex subject of happiness – and couldn’t contain myself any longer. Happiness has become such an industry – over 300 million Google references, c0mplete sections in bookstores and a happiness or well-being conference accessible every couple of months. However, in the relentless pursuit of happiness, many people are making the mistake of treating it as a destination rather than a journey.

In this world of instant gratification, people want to find the answers. A bit like one of our children at high school…”Dad, I don’t want to know how to do the maths, I just want the answer”. The happiness answers can be complex and elusive. People suggest that the best starting point is picking the right parents. Possibly true – but unable to be altered.  It’s a state of mind, say some. Don’t worry – be happy! Some quotes on happiness that resonate with me include:

  • “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” — Helen Keller
  • “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.” –Unknown
  • “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”– Frederick Keonig

The last quote causes me to reflect on a trend I see around me. My generalization is that beyond a threshold level of income to meet living requirements, there is an inverse correlation between happiness and further wealth accumulation. Why? I guess because people run out of things to have, buy, use and as their lives have been focused on doing just that, become lost and unfulfilled.

From all I have read, there seem to be two things that seem to appear on every list as precursors for happiness. They are connectedness and generosity. Connectedness – played out through family, friends, organisations, netball teams, men’s sheds and so on, that engenders a sense of belonging. Generosity – that taps into that basic human need to give and care for others. Of course love embraces both connectedness and generosity.

On the next rung of common happiness precursors we find – being active (walking, running, dancing and being vital); taking notice (being aware of the beautiful, curious and unusual and relishing every moment); learning (challenging yourself to gain knowledge and mentally stretch); and gratitude. Joseph Krutch said, with perspicacity, “Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude”.

The Positive Psychology movement, pioneered by the eminent Martin Seligman, has much to offer around happiness. The movement is changing the emphasis of the profession from pathology and mental illness to positive emotion, virtue and strength. If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Seligman’s best seller “Authentic Happiness” Random House 2002. He argues that positive emotions generate strengths and that authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths. It’s a powerful, potentially life changing book, one that has caused many to take the next step and enroll in Seligman’s  Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

An alternative, useful for amateurs like me, is to ponder the messages in Positive Psychology Daily News – a free on-line service full of applications for daily life. On the subject of applications, from a sea of happiness apps for i phone, there are two that stand above the pack. One is Live Happy ($1.19) and the other a free app called Gratitude Journal. Both worth down loading from i tunes.

Anyway, the subject is interesting and exploring it makes me happy!

 Finally, a marvellous quote from Nataniel Hawthorne, ““Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you”.

what is your purpose in life?

 Discussing new opportunities over a coffee recently, my colleague surprised me by posing the question, “What is your purpose?” I hesitated and offered a few words about helping others, and then realised that I needed to give this some more thought.  I’ve often thought that it would be quite powerful to have a defined purpose – like a form guide in the back pocket. It was also interesting to read Lenore Taylor in the SMH claiming that the Government’s main problem in the election was a coherent sense of purpose.

This wise colleague who shared the coffee hinted that life’s real purpose was more than about goals and objectives – which are often the means rather than the end, or the things that disguise the real journey. He then shared a challenge he gives some of his mentees, asking them to write a poem about where they are from.  I noted the comment and at the time categorised it as a coaching gimmick. Being a person who likes to tick the box and move on, I went home and penned this:

“My purpose in life is to help people and organisations realise their potential”

Felt a bit chuffed about that – that’s exactly what I do, and enjoy doing it….boards, mentoring, businesses, family, friends….yes, that’s my purpose. I also reflected on how that purpose has evolved over time. Yet, for some reason I kept coming back to this as unfinished business, unable to dismiss the question “where are you from”. As I searched the web for inspiration (and manoeuvred past the religious zealots and their self-righteous offerings of purpose), I discovered the difference between an outer purpose (what you do, your talents, values and preferences) and the inner purpose (where you are from, where you are heading, what brings happiness and sadness).

Realising that my purpose was really an outer purpose, I set to work on the suggested poem, “I  AM FROM” – a very personal and raw offering , one which I did not write to publish, but one which I am prepared to share in this context:

I am from convict stock, from the sunburnt Mallee and Gippsland’s green.I am from the house of love,

built by special parents with shining ideals.

 

I am from genes conferring forward momentum,

giving intelligence and stupidity, played out in different ways.

I am from the school of glass half full

where possibility and hope outweigh doubt and fear,

where first we seek to understand – and then,

take courage to confront, create, change and renew.

 

I am from the world, the experiences, the pain and joy

that come with high expectation.

I come from raucous laughter, of mates and sporting contests

from bush tracks, gardens, beaches and layered urban life,

learning to be authentic in a world that is mostly not,

striving to contribute – for family, friends and beyond.

 

I am of a nature that yearns to be connected, yet

relishes the contrast of escape – where solitude prevails.

I am from the house of love

which cherishes family young and old,

where compassion, generosity and encouragement

nourish and inspire.

 

He was right! The exercise awakened the inner purpose, just as Steve Pavlina does with his worthwhile life purpose in 20 minutes exercise. Steve suggests that you take a piece of paper and keep writing your purpose, clearing your head, writing it again, until you cry. Then you have nailed it. It’s worth a look.  Another exercise used by top coach Margie Hartley at Channel is to ask “When are you at your best and most energised?” What happens then? What are you doing, feeling thinking? The answers give a clue to the direction of your purpose statements.

I ran the exercises and my purpose now is:

“With love, compassion and courage, to add richness to the lives of those around me”

The process of articulating the purpose will probably be an ongoing one, however I am lifted by the thought that this particular purpose will provide fulfilment and growth to me and hopefully add value to others. It’s important to say that there is no right or wrong in this pursuit – it’s a single private measure that adds meaning to life.

What is your purpose?