Happiness…it’s the holy grail, right? Dr. Tim Bono, in his book Why Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness, addresses this and other myths about happiness and shares some fascinating research about what really makes us happy. One of the concepts he discusses is “hedonic adaptation” — the notion that we adapt to our life circumstances, so that even if you win the lottery or get that thing that you really wanted, after a short while you will get used to that and it won’t bring lasting happiness.
I got to thinking lately about what really makes me happy. Among the other “distractions” out there that move us away from authentic happiness, such as being constantly bombarded by subtle and not-so-subtle media images and cultural messages of how we should look and live to have the “good life”, I notice how easy it is to get sucked into the abyss of modern technology. While there are so many benefits of being connected at the click of a button, there are also some down sides that are hard to escape.
Our self-worth and attention often become wrapped up in how many likes and follows we get; we can forego old fashioned conversations for text messages that lack the warm glance, the soothing voice, or the indescribable feeling of sitting in the presence of another human being. We can get sucked into the vortex of surfing, hopping from site to site in a manner that scatters our attention. We are tempted by materialism and consumerism at our fingertips, without the feeling of paying paper money that we worked hard to earn. And we spend increasing amounts of time in front of screens of all kinds for our entertainment and companionship — and to escape from boredom and other emotions. While technology might at times bring satisfaction, I think few people would say that it touches their soul and makes them feel alive.
I have had a few really remarkable experiences in the woods lately. On one recent snow shoeing adventure this winter, I made my way through fresh, pristine snow that stretched endlessly before me in the woods, untouched by human feet lest for one set of cross country tracks. The sun was glorious, shining on the snow in a way that made it shimmer and glisten as if it were filled with jewels at each turn. The birds were my companions, and the sound of crunching and crackling snow delighted me and became my focus of attention as I ventured one foot in front of the next. Honestly, I felt like a kid let loose in a candy shop or a playground, with a joy and feeling of aliveness that is not so commonplace in my fast-paced, technology-filled world. At one point, I sat down in the snow by the pond’s edge and meditated, feeling an indescribable connection to nature and the earth and these gifts in my backyard.
I believe we all have a medicine for our soul. For some people it might be being in nature. For some it might be painting or playing music or creating some unique expression of who they are. For others it might be sitting with a friend over a cup of tea, or volunteering at a food pantry, or letting loose and singing at the top of their lungs in the shower. It doesn’t have to be profound — just authentic to who you are at your core and what truly moves you.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- What makes me feel fully alive or joyful?
- What did I used to do as a child that I loved?
- What brings me a deep sense of peace?
- What allows me to feel a deep connection with other people, the world, or something larger than myself?
Once you have asked yourself those questions, see if you might get quiet and ask yourself what is one thing that you could do this week that would enable you to tap into that? It need not be something that requires setting aside a huge amount of time. I have had some very joyful moments breaking out into dance while washing the dishes and singing to my favorite music. Perhaps it is preparing a delicious meal and savoring it by candlelight, or curling up by the fire and petting your cat, or sitting outside in the sunshine for a few minutes during a work break, or reaching out to a coworker or friend in need.
Whatever you choose, make it a point to do that one thing this week, and notice how it feels. What is it like to tap into this part of you, to honor the authentic part of you that longs to be heard?
As Tim Bono says, true happiness is not about being happy all the time, and it’s not even about striving to achieve some end point of “being happy.” But it is about taking small, consistent steps to be “happier.” Paying attention to the small things that move our hearts and touch our souls may be one place to start.