I think it would be fair to say that most of us want to find happiness. When I ask clients what they would like to be different at the end of therapy they usually say they would like to be “happier”. I really do understand why; a life without happiness can feel lonely and isolating. We look around and see others laughing, enjoying things, and for all intent and purpose being happy. We crave what they have, criticise ourselves for not feeling it, and continue our quest to find it.
If I told you to make yourself sad I bet you could think of something really upsetting and sadness would emerge quite quickly. The same can be said for anger or anxiety, but happiness is harder to achieve. It’s hard to feel lasting happiness just by thinking about something pleasant and so many of us invest lots of our time trying to achieve it. However, data suggests that the constant search for happiness can have to opposite effect and can in fact increase feelings of unhappiness, discontentment, anxiety and depression.
So, rather than seeking happiness I want you to try to find meaning. Happiness is very self-focused, but meaning is more external. It’s more about our relation to others and the world around us. Meaning gives us a sense of purpose, a direction, something tangible to aim for. We can find meaning in different areas of our life and often when we can achieve meaning, that all important sense of contentment and happiness begins to occur all by itself.
So how do we find meaning? Well, start by thinking about life areas that are most important to you. Family, friends, work, travel, education, spirituality, health, fitness? Take just one area to start with and ask yourself these questions:
What do I want out of this area of my life and what am I doing to move me in that direction?
Am I interacting with other people in this area, and if so what am I giving/offering them?
How can I feel closer/more connected to others in this area?
What/who do I love about this area and how can I increase that sense of love?
What am I telling myself about how I fit in and belong in this area?
Answering these questions will have probably given you a list of things to do. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the list but integrate them slowly so that you can keep them up!
Question 5 is important- if we are telling ourselves a negative story we need to change it. The story needs to play on our resilience, our strengths, and our determination to find purpose. Write your story down and put it somewhere you can see it.
So what do you think? Recon that the quest for meaning is worth a go?