Why happiness starts with us
Why happiness starts with us
I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Martha Washington


We hear a lot these days about the fact that happiness lies within us. But what, in simple terms, does this mean? I have a recent example which I’d like to share with you, to illustrate what is meant by this very important idea, and a bit of advice about why having some peace inside is a sure way to see some peace outside as well.

Just recently I read a terrific book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which had the following to say about the importance of our perception in determining how happy we are:

…reality is merely our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it. Most important, we can change this perspective at any moment, and by doing so change our experience of the world around us.

This view has been expressed by numerous other writers on the subject of happiness. Take Sharon Salzberg in Real Happiness at Work, as she notes that ‘Life is how we see it. The world is how we engage it’. Similarly, Marci Shimoff in her book Happy for No Reason, discusses the importance of laying a good foundation by taking ownership of your own happiness. So the bottom line from these writers is that happiness depends on our perspective, and it’s up to us. But what does all of this mean, in a practical sense? Well to illustrate, I’ll briefly share a bit about some experiences of mine at music festivals in recent years.

Not long ago I went to the Marion Bay Falls Festival, here in Tassie. It was, quite frankly, awesome. I mean, it was totally awesome! For me this involved a few beers, no drugs, and some great company and a ton of gratitude for what was going on around me. Because for me, Falls is a terrific example of all that’s good in the world. It’s about talented people putting themselves, their hearts and minds, out on display. It’s about beautiful scenery, and some great food, and friendship. It’s also about pure, unadulterated fun, and it is a place where people – no, make that society – allows you to be yourself. Not too many rules, dress as conservative or wacky as you want. Just smile, and enjoy the ride.

But I haven’t always viewed festivals like this. Take the one Big Day Out I went too back in 2006, which I attended with a friend during a long stretch when I was pretty unhappy. What I saw during this celebration of music and fun (like Falls) was something entirely different. In my mind what I was attending – no make that enduring – was masses of drunk or stupid people, loud noise, claustrophobia, and stress caused by getting there, being there, and getting home. And as I saw it, the problem was with the festival, not me. This experience also provided justification for me as to why for the 14 year period when I was mostly struggling, I went to just one festival.

So what was the difference between Falls in 2014 and the Big Day out in 2006? Well most of the external ‘conditions’ if you like, were the same. Lots of music. Lots of people. Nice friends to go along with, and a few beers. Can’t complain about that, surely! But what was very different, for me at least, was what was going on inside. The fact is during most of my twenties and thirties, I had a busy, negative mind. So it’s little wonder that I tended to find fault in festivals, many other social occasions, other people, you name it…

What I have learnt, therefore, and what I think is beneficial for all of us, is to regularly reflect on why we feel a certain way towards any situation or person. If you find a person or a situation annoying you, or you’re not getting the joy you think you should be in your life, look inside and think, what’s going on in here? Because chances are, the ‘problem’, that uneasy or unhappy feeling you may be having, is caused as much by what’s going on inside you, as it is the situation.

What this example about the festivals also shows is that we can really miss out on great things in life if we don’t apply the tools that are available to all of us for greater happiness – the ‘unreasonable’ or mood happiness that starts or resides inside us. The key then, is to learn these tools and then apply them as often as we can to our daily lives.

All the best,