How you approach life says a lot about who you are. As we get older our priorities change. The focus shifts to experiences that actually bring meaning and fulfillment to life. But does that mean happiness or contentment? One of the toughest things to nail down about happiness is a precise definition.
Take the happiness you get from a night out with your friends and compare it to the satisfaction of staying in with a good book. Recently, it has been discovered that this evolution of happiness can be linked to science. There have been multiple studies to prove that our sense of happiness changes with age.
As we grow older, nothing gives a person inner wholeness and peace like a distinct understanding of where they are going, how they can get there, and a sense of control over their actions. How many of us have admired adults when we were younger and then grew up to find that adults actually had no idea what they were doing either? We try to consistently pursue life goals that will make us and our closest relations happy; a trait that many individuals search for their entire lives.
“No people can be truly happy if they do not feel that they are choosing the course of their own life,” states the World Happiness Report 2012. The report also found that having this freedom of choice is one of the six factors that explain why some people are happier than others.
In his best-selling first book, “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now”, Dr Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist who’s been listening to people’s problems for decades, revealed thirty bedrock truths about life, and how best to live it. In his capacity as a psychiatrist, Dr Livingston listened to people talk about their lives and the many ways people induced unhappiness on themselves. In his book, he brings his insight and wisdom to the subjects of happiness, fear and courage.
“Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.” Acquiring some understanding of why we do things is often a prerequisite to change. This is especially true when talking about repetitive patterns of behavior that do not serve us well. This is what Socrates meant when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That more of us do not take his advice is testimony to the hard work and potential embarrassment that self-examination implies.”
As people age, their temporal focus changes — whether they’re likely to be focused on the here and now or on the future. And it’s this temporal focus that drives the basic effects. It has been theorized that individuals’ views of happiness depend far more upon their sense of time than their age per se. Most people operate on autopilot, doing the same things today that didn’t work yesterday. They rarely stop to measure the impact of their actions on themselves and others, and how those actions affect their total well-being. Most people know what is good for them; they know what will make them feel better. They don’t avoid meaningful life habits because of ignorance of their value, but because they are no longer “motivated” to do them, Dr Livingston found. They are waiting until they feel better.
Frequently, it’s a long wait, he says.
Life is too short to wait for a great day to invest in better life experiences. If your daily actions and choices are making you unhappy, make a deliberate choice to change direction. No matter how bleak or desperate a situation may appear to look, you always have a choice. When you begin to shift your perspective, the very things around you that seem to be so stressful tend to look a little brighter. Suddenly the doom and gloom that weighed heavy on your chest seems to be just another drop in the bucket.
“People often come to me asking for medication. They are tired of their sad mood, fatigue, and loss of interest in things that previously gave them pleasure.” Their days are routine: unsatisfying jobs, few friends, lots of boredom. They feel cut off from the pleasures enjoyed by others.
Here is what I tell them: The good news is that we have effective treatments for the symptoms of depression; the bad news is that medication will not make you happy. Happiness is not simply the absence of despair. It is an affirmative state in which our lives have both meaning and pleasure.”
“In general we get, not what we deserve, but what we expect,” he says.
It’s easy to think you’ve done everything on your own, that your achievements are your own. For some people, this might be true. For most of us, it is most definitely not. For most of us, we are where we are because someone cared. Someone didn’t look at you and say “screw it”. Someone looked at you and said “he/she needs a hand” and then proceeded to lend you that hand.
We should live our lives on our terms. But we shouldn’t be flippant with our relationships and act as if we can live in social isolation. Sometimes the only thing keeping us sane and moving forward are the bonds we’ve forged with the people who matter. But many people wait for something to happen or someone to help them live their best lives. They expect others to make them happy. They think they have lost the ability to improve their lives.
The thing that characterizes those who struggle emotionally is that they have lost, or believe they have lost, their ability to choose those behaviors that will make them happy, says Dr Livingston.
It does not come from an external source, whether that is a person, a job, a boss, a friend, a laptop or a car. It cannot be avoided by blaming others, either, because that’s just a short-term fix. You create your own happiness and you work on it like you work on developing any other habit in life: every single day. If you expect others to make you happy, you will always be disappointed.
Of course, it’s not easy to accept that ultimately, we’re on our own but then again, what is? That algebra quiz you took in fourth grade was difficult but now you can do it with your eyes closed. Obstacles are only as big as they seem. Your mind has a way of rising to the occasion. Challenge it, and it will reward you. So many people are stuck in life because of fear.
“The most secure prisons are those we construct for ourselves.” Explains Dr. Livingston, Always take the long view in life. Be patient. The forest is never just the trees. Markets crash and markets rebound. Today’s setbacks aren’t deadly. With the right attitude, you’ll get over them – and then some. We have to work to learn to accept change and just go with it. There is a rhythm at each stage of life as sure as there will be different partners, places, jobs, illnesses, friends and pairs of pants. Sure, go ahead, get caught up in the moment but remember, when the music changes (and it will) don’t stop dancing. Listen. That’s when you’ll start to tune into the music of you. As we grow older and wiser, we begin to realize what we need and what we need to leave behind. Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t meant to stay. Sometimes the changes we don’t want are the changes we need to grow. And sometimes walking away is a step forward.