These days the media is constantly telling us we should strive for happiness. They tell us we all have the right to happiness. And of course we do, but does the media's version of a happy utopia seem like a virtually unattainable goal? Happiness is subjective and means something different to each of us. We are influenced by our experiences, our upbringing, friends, culture, religion and so each of our journeys is unique.
We are part of the aspirational, 'have it all' generation, and it's no wonder that it's very easy to lose sight of what true happiness means to each and every one of us as individuals. What should we take on board and what should we disregard? Are our expectations different these days? Has our very definition of happiness changed over time? Has it evolved to mean something different to past generations?
Many of us are constantly searching for this thing called happiness, as we are brought to believe that this is the holy grail we should be seeking. Is this putting too much pressure on us? Should we be looking at this differently?
I regularly hear friends and acquaintances declaring their unhappiness because they've not achieved a defined target, been passed over for promotion, gone through a relationship breakup and a variety of other perceived failures. Berating oneself will not change the situation, and the raw emotions only serve to compound the current belief in one's worthlessness. Just the other day someone uttered the words, 'I just want to be happy'. As we talked she further explained, 'I don't know what's missing, I just know I want to be happy'.
In today's society where so much is available to us at the mere touch of a keyboard, it's quite natural that we turn to more materialistic or hedonistic solutions for a short term fix, and whilst this provides comfort and a sense of wellbeing and increased status in the short term, it leaves us striving for the next fix. Believe me I've done it myself and have the wardrobe disasters to prove it.
A few years ago I was back home in Wales visiting my mum, just a few months before she passed. It was a beautiful summer's afternoon and we were sitting on a bench overlooking the harbour watching some fishermen mend lobster pots and the swans and ducks flapping around with their respective offspring. There had been a big win on the lottery night before, and right out of the blue mum said, 'If I won all that money I wouldn't change a thing. All of life is here, I can't imagine wanting anything more than this. I'm content here." That was the moment the penny dropped for me. Mum loved the finer things in life but on the whole lived relatively simply. She always bought things that meant something, possessions she would cherish for a long time, rather than following current trends, and invested her energies into pursuits that provided lasting enjoyment. She knew who she was and was satisfied with that.
Having, myself, ridden roughshod through the peaks and troughs, credit card in hand, chasing this elusive thing called happiness, what really hit home (apart from the credit card bill) was the word 'contentment'. Hearing my mum's voice using it in that context I equated it to the steady, secure, satisfying and indeed quietly 'happy' place I'd been searching for. I no longer needed instant euphoric highs to be 'happy'. Today, for me, contentment is something far more comforting and long lasting. Now, instead of looking at what I want and desire, I appreciate what I already have. Don't get me wrong, I loved those moments of fevered happiness with all the rush of endorphins but for the most part I'll happily settle for a life of peaceful contentment.
Everyone has the capacity to be happy (content) but it's about getting to the right place mentally instead of constantly chasing outside aspirations. Looking within and accepting that the seeds of happiness are already there, you just need to recognise them. Sometimes we strive too hard for some utopian version of happiness, illustrations of which are posted daily on Facebook and Instagram, would it not be better to sit back and reflect on where we are, what we have, and work towards realistic goals that will nurture our being. I'm not suggesting for one moment that anyone should limit their dreams, rather to find happiness in the journey than the conclusion.
Every time I go back home to Wales I sit on that bench and remember mum's words and it never fails to brings smile to my face and a deep sense of gratitude for all I have.