The Counterintuitive Path to Happiness

Rebecca Ray on Happiness

Dr Rebecca Ray is an writer, speaker and happiness enthusiast who’s been a clinical psychologist for over a decade. The author of three books (including her most recent release The Art of Self-Kindness), Rebecca challenged our conventional ideas of happiness back in Issue 38 of Peppermint. 

I don’t blame you if the word happiness ignites complex feelings within you that are anything but happy.

The #happiness focus we have as a society certainly appears to be missing the mark with our individual and collective mental health. The statistics are horrifying: we lose nearly eight Australians to suicide each day, and in any one year, over two million Australians experience anxiety and around one million will experience depression.

It seems we’ve been seduced along the way into believing that happiness is normal and if we don’t have it, something must be wrong. So, we search for it in all the places the media tells us everyone else has apparently found it: by looking like a supermodel, by taking unlimited overseas holidays, by reaching CEO before the age of 30, all while maintaining a relationship worthy of #couplegoals with a brand new SUV in the driveway of a four-bedder in the city.

Enough of us have tried to follow the advertised formula. Attempting to chase, buy or acquire happiness almost always leads us to focus on what’s lacking. The truth is that happiness is simply a transient feeling – like confusion, boredom, frustration or any other emotion that we may experience as part of our daily lives. And emotions are inherently unreliable markers of quality of life because: a) we can’t control them any more than we can control tomorrow’s weather, and b) living meaningfully requires that we experience the full spectrum of feelings, not just the ones painted with rainbows and unicorns.

Happiness is so much more than just the (potential) positive emotions that show up fleetingly in response to external circumstances

But I’m not saying you can’t be ‘happy’. I’m saying that your power lies in how you define happiness and what you do to create it. Happiness is so much more than just the (potential) positive emotions that show up fleetingly in response to external circumstances like your bank balance, dress size or the number of likes you received on your last Instagram post. It’s also the richness of a life lived with love, accomplishment, engaging activities and a sense of purpose.

I’m here to suggest you reclaim your power over the quality of your life and your wellbeing with these five strategies for thriving that don’t depend on feeling good 100% of the time.

KNOW WHAT MATTERS TO YOU

Don’t let the media hoodwink you into believing its version of what should matter to you. The truth is, you already know. By getting clarity on your values, you build the basis for where your time and energy is best used to live fully, meaningfully and with vitality. The only catch is you then need to…

DO WHAT MATTERS

Actions count. Want a shortcut to positive feelings? Do good to feel good. Reach out to your people with gestures that show your love. Be an agent for random acts of kindness and buy a coffee for the person in line behind you. Donate your time to help kids learn to read or donate your money to the charity that has your heart. Never underestimate how making a positive difference to others will make a positive difference to you. The trick is to remember we must…

ACCEPT THE RISK OF CARING

This is where we usually trip up. We want to do what matters but find it difficult to navigate the pain that might show up along the way. Caring means we can’t have one without the other. We can’t love and not risk heartbreak. We can’t try and not risk failure. But do you really want the alternative of doing nothing with your life? If not, then…

LOOK INWARD, NOT OUTWARD

Walk your path guided by your intuition, your heart and what you’d like to say about how you lived your life when looking back from your final days. Stay blinkered to comparison with others, which feeds a mindset of scarcity. And finally…

KEEP YOUR MENTAL TIME TRAVEL TO A MINIMUM

What if you could experience happiness right now? Beware of the mind that fixates on the problems of yesterday or lives only in anticipation of tomorrow. We invite far greater psychological freedom when we practise responding to the present moment as it’s occurring now.

I’ll meet you on the road less travelled – the one defined by what truly matters deep down, and that heads in the direction of living bravely and meaningfully today.

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