Instead of searching for possessions and achievements to make you happy, reflect on who you are and find authentic joy within.
We work so hard to have it all: a beautiful home, a loving partner, a successful job and more. But what happens when these successes don't equal happiness in our lives and we're left feeling unfulfilled, unsatisfied and unhappy? How do we get onto the road that leads to happiness? And what are we looking for?
It's common to be unsure about what makes us happy, says psychologist Dr. Robert Holden, director of The Happiness Project in England. "Actually, it's fair to say that often people don't know," he says. To help people figure that out, Dr. Holden runs Happiness NOW. The eight-week course enables participants to embark on a personal development journey to figure out what happiness means to them and how to find joy in their lives.
At the beginning of the program, participants are asked to make a list of possessions, achievements and events they hoped would bring them joy but didn't. "We thought we knew in the past what made us happy, but that's not always the case," Dr. Holden says. "It's quite difficult to know what makes you happy if you don't really know yourself very well."
According to Dr. Holden, you feel happiest when you do begin to get to know who you truly are. "The reason why we're so interested in happiness is because we want to have an experience of our true self," he says. "That's the only reason we really want to be happy. We want to feel that lovely feeling of having no worries: You don't feel pressure and you don't really have to compare yourself to anyone. You just don't have to be somebody."
Keep in mind that if you're looking for a person or place to truly make you blissful, you'll be searching endlessly. "We've forgotten where happiness really is," Dr. Holden says. "It's your original nature. That's why authenticity is the key to happiness—because the more true you are to yourself, the happier you'll be."
When you stray from the idea that happiness is inside of you, you start turning to people and things to make you happy, Dr. Holden says. "We've put happiness outside of ourselves; we've put it into our job, into our bank account, our relationships," he says. "You've become so preoccupied with the search for happiness that you've actually forgotten that you're already happy. Searching mode makes happiness external: It's an outward-directed activity. Following your joy is an internal one."
Once you focus on finding happiness inside yourself and you're in tune with your authentic self, how easy is it to remain in this state of bliss? "To stay happy, you have to just keep tuning into happiness inside you. That makes it less of a workout, which requires blood, sweat and tears. Lots and lots of effort."
Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy
Happiness requires a lot of "self-attention," Dr. Holden says. "Happiness is a teacher that helps you learn more about who you are, more about what is really important in your life and what your life is really for."
Give yourself permission to be happy. "We found that a lot people just don't allow themselves to enjoy those moments," Dr. Holden says.
Determine What Happiness Is
Ask yourself, "What is happiness?"
"All over the world, in all of the research, happiness is the number one goal in life because it seems to be the goal that makes all of the other goals meaningful and enjoyable," Dr. Holden says. "Success without happiness—people wouldn't take it. Money without happiness—people wouldn't take it."
Success Doesn't Equal Happiness
Being successful won't necessarily make you happy, Dr. Holden says. "It isn't productivity that makes you happy," he says. "When you're happy, it boosts your productivity."
The Royal Government of Bhutan understands this concept and has organized the Gross National Happiness Commission to execute a strategy for gross national happiness. Some objectives of the GNH include promoting citizens to live in harmony with tradition and nature, as well as investing in the nation's greatest asset: its people.
Be Happy Now
Realize that happiness isn't a reward, but rather part of the journey. When people talk about happiness, they're often talking about an "it," prize or reward that's going to happen to them, but that's not how bliss works, Dr. Holden says.
People work hard to be happy without thinking about what happiness really is. "Some people will work an entire career, in order to be happy one day, without realizing that they could have been happy along the journey," he says. "A lot of people relate to happiness as if it's a pension that you're going to pick up later in life."
Tune in to Happiness
You don't achieve happiness, you tune in to it.
"Work ethic turns everything into an achievement, including happiness," Dr. Holden says. "[Articles] will talk about how to achieve happiness, which is a little bit like saying how to achieve your heart. You have to tune in to this compass that's inside you, trying to help you make the best decisions and help you live your best life."
You Are Worthy of Happiness Everyone deserves to be happy. Besides realizing it's in you, this is probably the biggest block to happiness, Dr. Holden says.
In Dr. Holden's book Be Happy, he talks about your happiness contract, which is this idea that in the back of your mind, you've written up a contract of how much happiness is possible and how much is too good to be true. "Every Happiness Contract has a central clause in it that states: 'Happiness must be deserved,'" he writes. However, Dr. Holden says you do not deserve happiness, because happiness is free.