Happiness is a big deal. According to Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., like love, happiness is often spoken of like it’s a physical object we must find and snatch up. Yet, also like love, happiness is something we are more likely to cultivate within ourselves than stumble upon in our wanderings. As the Dalai Lama has said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
When we look at happiness as an object, we may put goals or milestones in front of our happiness. As Paula Davis-Laack writes at HuffPost, women may be setting themselves up for happiness failure by buying into certain myths of happiness:
- I’ll be happy when I get married or find that perfect relationship.
- I’ll be happy when I make more money.
- I’ll be happy when I have kids.
- I’ll be happy when I lose weight.
- I’ll be happy when I change jobs/get a new job/get promoted.
Society spins a very seductive story for women, making it seem as though they’re not really worthy unless they’ve achieved these milestones. However, the truth is we don’t have to hit a certain goal to be happy. Dr. Nancy has written that, “It’s not money, good looks, success or even love in our lives that makes us happy. Many people who have all these things and should have high levels of happiness reported feeling glum and bored. So why don’t these things bring happiness to their obviously wonderful lives?”
“Things don’t make us happy, because people quickly adapt to change. We get used to the new things in our lives, which soon become everyday and predictable. Research also suggests that each of us has a “set point” for happiness, a level of contentment that stays about the same even when external circumstances in our lives change.”
For some women, that set point solidifies with age. A new study recently found that women get happier later in life, particularly between the ages of 50 and 70. Study author and psychologist Katherine Campbell says the findings suggest that mood improves as women transition from midlife to late-life. She says, “Women feel more in control of their lives and are still physically capable of enjoying their hobbies and traveling. They are often more financially stable and have less responsibility for children. They are free to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and are able to prioritize their own needs and wants.”
If we follow the Dalia Lama’s wisdom and look at happiness as originating from our own actions, we can modify our actions to work towards happiness in our everyday lives. As Dr. Firestone writes, “Determining what these actions should be is each individual’s personal adventure, but research can provide some guidance. Studies show that the happiest people are those who seek meaning as opposed to immediate gratification or pleasure. To find fulfillment, each of us must uncover our true hopes, ambitions, dreams and ideas, and then make our actions match these ideals.”
Where is your meaning? Is it in your child’s laugh? In your work? In your community? What about your hopes? Your dreams and ideas? Your ambitions? What actions can you take to bring more meaning to your life, and dedicate yourself more fully to that which you feel most passionate about?
There are things we can all do, not only to bring new meaning into our lives, but to make the world a better place for all of us to live in. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Do something nice for someone.
- Go out of your way to help another woman.
- Reach out into your community and volunteer.
- Take five steps each week towards your personal goals.
- Spend time with friends or family.
There is no time like the present to take control of our power and perception, and create happier, healthier lives. We can tap into our own personal meaning by shifting our actions, expressing gratitude for what we already have, and taking time to be kind in words and actions toward others. The rewards of taking these actions and accepting responsibility for our own happiness are immeasurable. But daily setting this course toward these goals in every action you take will keep your steps on the path of personal happiness without distraction from society’s conflicts and crises. And your candle can share its light with others working toward their own happiness and sharing their light as well.