The Best Things in Life

I don’t much care about fashion or gadgets (I just want to look like I fit somewhere in the current decade and have a device that works). I don’t much care about travel, beyond the occasional getaway. I don’t much care about the so-called social scene.

I’ve been married for 10 years and experimented in each of the above pursuits. I’ve found each of them to be at best, a disappointment; at worst, a trap. Clever distractions to divert attention away from what truly matters in life – faith and family.

Let’s face it: Fashion is not much more than a lovely racket. Cleverly arranged pieces that appeal to the eye and make one feel “I simply MUST have that!” And after you’ve worn your perfectly paired finery, you realize you’ve spent more than you should have – on something nonessential. And just give it a season – you will find that you rarely, if ever, use it again. (Unless, of course, you are the type to choose essential pieces in classic colors and styles. In that case, you may use those pieces season after season.) And the never-ending parade of smartphones, tablets, and other devices is clearly just another trap, if you MUST have the latest and greatest. There will always be a new one.

On to travel. Don’t get me wrong. This girl has heard (but never answered) the call of the Australian Outback, the siren song of Paris, the timeless calm of the English countryside. But simply put, these things cost money. Quite a bit of it. And after the headiness of the experience has faded, all you have left are some pricey souvenirs and way too many photos. And perhaps debt. I may be in the minority here, but that seems a very fleeting source of happiness for such a high price. I’d rather have something I can hold on to. Besides an overpriced miniature Eiffel Tower.

As for the social scene, if I have to impress someone with my experiences in the world of fashion and/or travel (or anything else, for that matter!) to be accepted into a particular circle, I don’t want to be a part of that circle anyway!

Realistically, the majority of our lives are not spent in any of the above pursuits (unless we actually work in an industry relating to any or all of them). The majority of our lives are spent in making a living and, well, living. Why can’t making the most of the life we are building be THE pursuit? Instead of the next outfit, trip, or party, why aren’t we focused on the people that make up our lives?

The best things in life are not free. They cost, not money, but time and effort. Any relationship will give only what you invest in it. Therefore, I’m not going to fritter away precious moments with those I love. I’m going to enjoy them and truly love them. I married my husband because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, not just my spare time. I’ve found my calling: it is being a dedicated wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. The latest fashion will be whatever I can afford. The latest smartphone will be the one I get at a discount. The dream vacation will be the one I spend with my family – anywhere. My social life is full of beautiful people who know how to have fun – with children and pets, in a casual atmosphere, where there is no pressure to impress. Because in my world, my husband’s laugh, a sincere “thank you” from a family member, hugs and smiles from the children, my dog’s wagging tail – are the beautiful, intangible things of true value. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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Keys to Happiness

I think I can safely state that all human beings desire happiness. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet happiness eludes us. Why?

Aside from external factors (attitudes of others, environmental factors, etc.), there are four major factors that impact our level of happiness.

Health
It would appear obvious that our health greatly affects our happiness. Yet not everyone behaves as if they are aware of this simple fact. Working toward improving our sense of well-being greatly affects our happiness. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, eating healthier, and maintaining good sleeping habits can go a long way toward improving how we feel – both physically and emotionally.

Interestingly, studies have shown that happiness affects our health. Having a positive outlook impacts healing time, immunity, and even longevity.

Wealth
Can money buy happiness? It goes without saying that money is necessary – without it, we do not have access to food, shelter, clothing, or medical care. Going beyond basic needs, money may allow us to do and purchase things we want. Money allows us to travel. But just how much money is necessary to make us happy?

Material prosperity and possessions do not automatically assure us of happiness. While it is clearly evident that those with enough wealth to satisfy their basic needs are happier than those who have nothing, this does not imply that those with more wealth are even happier. When we strive for more once our basic needs are already met, it does not increase our level of happiness. In fact, it decreases our happiness, as dissatisfaction with our current situation grows. Statistics show that at a certain point, the level of happiness plateaus for those who are very wealthy, even in the face of increasing assets. Having the means to satisfy every whim does not bring lasting happiness. Acquiring all the possessions we desire may bring happiness initially, but after the novelty has worn off, it is human nature to seek a new thrill. It is a cycle without end. Perhaps this is the reason why some poorer countries are happier than countries where every desire may seemingly be fulfilled, given enough money.

Relationships and Goals
Some link their happiness to a future achievement or circumstance, limiting the current happiness they can experience:

“I’ll be happy when I can buy a house.”
“I’ll be happy when I get married.”
“I’ll be happy when I have a baby.”
“I’ll be happy when I get my degree.”
“I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.”

While each of these circumstances have the potential to bring us happiness, is it really wise to put our lives and happiness on hold until we achieve the desired circumstance? How do we know for certain that we will be happy upon achievement of the goal? Could it be that upon bringing our plans to fruition we find it rather anticlimactic? Now what? Perhaps another goal, that will surely bring happiness in its accomplishment.

This is not to say that joy cannot be found in achievements and healthy relationships. Wisely chosen, a life-enriching goal can bring great happiness. Similarly, a strong, healthy marriage and family life is a source of happiness and security. Often, if we have chosen wisely, these things continue to bring us happiness for a lifetime. At times, however, we are not satisfied with what we have – not because it is defective or disappointing, but because we are still in “pursuit” mode.

Our Own Choices and Mindset

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” – Guillaume Apollinaire

The first time I read the above quote, I had a revelation. I had never thought of happiness that way before. Like many, I was in hot pursuit of something that I’d never catch as long as I kept chasing it. But pausing, taking a look within, and examining what I found there taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned: the key to happiness lies within each one of us. It cannot be bought or earned. It comes from gratitude, self-control and self-respect.

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When you really think about it, happiness is a choice. We don’t find happiness, we choose happiness. But it’s not an easy choice. It takes strength and self-control to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, to stop thinking negatively of others and ourselves, to be determined to find something positive in the most difficult of situations. It takes self-respect to stand up for what we deserve and make our own happiness. It takes gratitude to appreciate the things we have to be happy about.

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” – James Openheim

Once we choose to be happy, we may find that some of our more elusive goals are now in reach. We find that our relationships thrive. Stresses that seemed insurmountable are now small annoyances, easily overcome. We find compassion in our hearts for others. The sun shines brighter and birdsong sounds sweeter… I think you get my point.

If we work hard at it, we can achieve a state that surpasses happiness itself – contentment, a peaceful happy calm that keeps us ever grateful for what we have and sanguine about what we do not, satisfied with the joys we can derive from simple, everyday pleasures.

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Nature is a tremendous help in choosing the path of happiness. Take a walk on a spring morning. It’s difficult to stay in a foul mood when the sun is shining, birds are singing and we are breathing fresh air. Studies have shown that natural views (the real thing, not photos or television programs) have a marked calming effect on those suffering from stress and anxiety. Spending time in nature helps to replenish our thought processing systems, which are often over-taxed by our fast-paced modern lifestyles. Take a brisk walk in a natural setting and you combine the benefits of exercise with the soothing effects of nature. Add a friendly companion and you have a stress-busting triple threat.

As to companions, if you want a companion that can provide you with an excellent example of how to be happy, as well as help in lowering your stress levels, there is none better than a dog.

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As Charles Schulz aptly expressed in the above sentiment, dogs have an exceptional ability to increase our feelings of happiness and well-being. Often, by their presence alone, dogs can assist us in lowering our stress levels. Taking a soothing nature walk with a canine companion can work wonders for the psyche.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Bern Williams

Despite our past, learned behaviors, or our natural disposition, we can choose happiness. If we make the conscious choice to be happy – regardless of what life may throw at us – and choose to surround ourselves with things and people that will boost our happiness, we may find that happiness is not as elusive as it seems.