The pursuit of happiness is one of the primary goals of all humans. This, along with life and liberty, was declared as an essential right in the US declaration of independence. Every religion and philosophy has offered its pathway to happiness. Happiness is a state of mind and there are many paths to it. There are common prerequisites to sustained happiness as well as common causes of unhappiness. These usually transcend all classifications of gender, age or race. There are other factors which are very individual specific.
What is Happiness?
Happiness is a state of the mind. The dictionary definition is ‘feelings of joy and pleasure mingled together”. A feeling of happiness is more than just an experience of joy or pleasure. It is a state of mind where the individual feels that “life is good”.
Happiness is a state of mind which can be induced by many means – some result in short term happiness while others result in long lasting happiness. One way of inducing long lasting happiness and bliss is meditation. For a busy person, a more practical way to becoming happier is to make steady progress towards meaningful goals. Even though this seems simple, it really is a very powerful technique to attain a state of long lasting happiness. The goals may vary from individual to individual, but for everyone happiness comes from merely making steady progress towards goals that are meaningful to them. The key is that goals have to be meaningful to you. Progress towards goals set by some one else will not bring happiness (unless you too desire the same goals).
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There should be a balance in your goals to ensure that the prerequisites of happiness are fulfilled. These prerequisites include good health, sufficient income to meet basic needs, affection, some productive work or activity, defined and achievable goals and good attitude. All the money in the world will not make you happy if you ignore your health or have bad relationships. Also you must try to remove the causes of unhappiness from your life. These causes are – lack of any of the prerequisites for happiness, failure to achieve goals, envy, relationship problems, loneliness and fear of the opinion of others.
Studies have shown that a number of factors contribute to sustained happiness. Some of these are
• Good self esteem
• Feeling of control over one’s life
• Supportive and warm relationships (marriage/friendship )
• Satisfying work
• Enjoyable leisure activities
• Good attitude
• Good Health
• Moderation in everything
• Impersonal interests
Thus a very effective process of becoming happier is to set goals for improvement in each one of these areas, start working towards these goals and then periodically reviewing the progress towards the goals.
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So the first step is to set goals for yourself in the major aspects of your life. These goals have to be meaningful to you and they have to be specific and time bound. If the goals are not meaningful to you, you will derive little happiness from achieving them. Also if they are not specific and time bound, you will not be able to measure your progress towards these goals and thus will not experience the increased happiness which comes from making steady progress towards your goals. Goals need to be set for the major aspects of your life which contribute to happiness – Health, Financial, Relationships, Career, Attitude, Self Actualization etc.
Then you must assess where you currently are in relation to your goals. Say if your financial goal is to have savings of twenty thousand dollars in five years, you need to assess your net worth today and also your current income and expenses to know how much you are currently saving.
Next you must set up a time bound action plan to achieve your goals. For your financial goals this means determining the extra amount you need to save each month, either by earning more or spending less or both. Then you need to have a plan for earning more and for reducing your expenses. This plan needs to be specific with amounts and timing e.g. you will reduce expenses by $50 a month by eating out less often and you will increase income by $300 a month by taking on a part time job.
Then start implementing your plan and monitor the progress. As you see yourself meeting your periodic targets, you will find your happiness increasing. Many of us have experienced the happiness which comes from steadily losing one pound per week in a weight loss program. Imagine having the same effect in all aspects of your life. The important thing in this is to make steady progress towards your goals. Happiness will grow as you see yourself making progress.
Once you achieve your initial goals, you need to set new goals – maybe in different areas of your life e.g. if you have achieved your fitness and financial goals, aim for making a difference to the world around you. (Making a difference is a source of deep and long lasting happiness). Being without a goal after achieving your earlier ones will reduce your happiness. Say you suddenly inherit some money and achieve your financial goals, you will be happy for some time, but the effects will soon wear off as your mind adjusts to the new level of affluence. To sustain happiness you will have to set new goals for yourself, maybe in different areas of your life.
If you faithfully follow this process of making steady progress towards meaningful goals, you will become happier day by day.