In old stories, noble heroes on quests fought valiantly to conquer dark forces. In exchange for their sacrifices and bravery, deserving heroes were rewarded with a happy ending.
These old myths lead us to believe that happiness is the end goal of a long, harrowing journey. They also suggest that happiness only arrives after you’ve proven your worth.
When confronted with unhappiness, then, you may feel that your own happiness is still far off in the distance, too far to ever travel. Worse, you may convince yourself that you’re unhappy because you don’t deserve to be happy.
While the legends of bygone days are entertaining to read, they portray a limited view of happiness, one that would be impossible for anyone to achieve. Fortunately, happiness is not a destination, a reward, or even a privilege of the select few.
Happiness can attained by anyone in three steps. That’s a much shorter trip than heroes of yore had to make.
Focus on the happy circumstances that already exist in your life
Imagine an over-protective mother who, in her efforts to shelter her beloved child from the dangers of the world, keeps them locked up in a safe, dull room. She means well, but in her zealous protection, she has prevented her child from the delightful aspects of the world as well.
Likewise, your brain is hard-wired to pay attention to events that cause stress in order to protect you from harm. It’s a defense mechanism that has allowed our species to thrive for many millennium; however, it causes us to lose sight of the things that bring us joy.
Dr. Stephen Trudeau, a psychologist at the Passages Addiction Treatment Center in Malibu, counsels patients to “deliberately focus on happiness instead of stress.”
Set up more happy circumstances
There is no way to hoard happiness. It comes and it goes so that we have the opportunity to experience the full range of human emotions. While you may not be able to harness happiness so that it will come when you beckon, you do have the power to create situations that bring you joy. Dr. Trudeau explains:
The truth is that in order to have a happy life, we must set up the circumstances over and over because life can be difficult and the mundane aspects also demand attention. By setting up happy circumstances, we can be in the moment more often.
Balance work with love and play
When the father of modern psychology Sigmund Freud was asked to identify the key to happiness, he responded that happiness is a balance between work, love, and play, an essential and often neglected part of being human. In seeking happiness, what you’re actually seeking, then, is a balance of the major areas of our lives.
Dr. Trudeau provides an insightful mantra for remembering this balance and its benefits:
Blessed is the person who loves their work, who engages with good spirit even when the work is not enjoyable for it needs to be done.
Blessed is the person surrounded by love, who engages in relationships and nurtures them, who gives love often to everyone they meet.
Blessed is the person who plays with abandon, who laughs with friends and enjoys the many delights of this wonderful planet.