It seems safe to say that everybody wants to be happy. Almost all of my clients at some point request help with feeling happier in their lives. Usually we think that happiness is something we will achieve “some day” when we finally get everything together and things work out for us at last. TV ads want us to believe that we will achieve happiness by acquiring things: the perfect house, the perfect car, a flat screen TV, the perfect body, the perfect mate. We can become really preoccupied by finding ways to get all these things that will supposedly make us happy some day in the future. But what I have learned is that happiness can only happen now, that it is available all the time, and that it is little experiences of happiness that happen throughout the day that add up to a happy life. The problem with working on projects that help us gather all these things that we hope will make us happy is that they can distract us so much that we miss out on the day-to-day moments that bring happiness. We can be so distracted all our lives that we end up missing out on the very happiness we seek.
Research has shown that material things and wealth can only contribute to our happiness in so far that they meet our basic needs. Once our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter have been met, having material possessions does not substantially contribute to feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction with our lives. When buying a new item we can momentarily be really excited about our new possession, but soon the novelty wears off and then we are on to wanting the next thing. In the same way humans can habituate to almost anything, even the most luxurious house, car, or swimming pool in the backyard.
Research has also shown that most of our happiness comes from our connections with others, especially people we love. I recently realized how much time I was missing out on connecting with my husband and daughter because I was always busy working. Working to make money, to pay bills, and to acquire new things…. Perhaps this is true for you too? It was very helpful at that moment to reflect: Is this really worth it? Maybe I can work a little less, or reserve time at home that I use to give my full attention to my family and put my work away. Putting an effort to make time each day to connect with my family has been really helpful for me. I feel happier, more relaxed, more rested, and I am actually more productive now when I am at work.
Like work, there are so many other things that can distract us from what really matters. Sometimes it is good to stop and reflect, take a little time out and pay attention to appreciate the connections we already have.