Happiness is one of those sorely misunderstood concepts. I think of happiness as a pulsing, fleeting and often euphoric state. The foundation of happiness, however, is anything but. I believe that contentment is the genesis, the birth-mother of what we refer to as happiness. When we cultivate a sense of contentment and peace, then we have constructed an internal geography that supports these punctuated moments of emotional or mental bliss that we like to call happiness.
What this means is that happiness is not something that can be given to you. You alone have to build the foundation to support it. This includes engaging in good self-care (e.g., adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, pleasure), cultivating good social relationships, planning pleasure and relaxation periods, being productive, contributing to society and being relatively free of self-destructive habits. We are all a work in progress, but it goes without saying that if you are self-destructing on a daily basis…you are far less likely to ever feel happy.
We often short-circuit our chance at happiness by attempting to grab a quick fix such as accumulated material possessions, over-eating, using substances, having unhealthy relationships, taking huge risks for an adrenaline rush, etc. These are indeed coping skills designed to deal with some underlying and unmet need, but they are not good ones. Good coping skills do not have negative consequences. Poor coping skills do. Addictive behavior is a great example. Using substances such as alcohol, street drugs or even prescription meds can certainly numb your pain, but this also means you are opting out of life and deliberately avoiding the task of developing healthy coping skills. Any type of pain is there for a reason because it is a message. Numbing it is like putting a sticky note over the red engine light on the dashboard of your car. It might mean you don’t see it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there and won’t have disastrous consequences in the future.
When we are balanced and emotionally content because of high-quality relationships and a life full of meaningful and prosocial activities, it’s like being plugged into the electrical source. You get a steady current and are ready to handle those lightening strikes of happiness when they come along.
Make a plan to build a solid foundation that would support consistent contentment, which will give rise to the euphoric feeling of happiness on a more regular basis. To do this, you will need to address your needs across the “Core 7.” At the Mental Fitness Institute, we believe that improving only one problem area does not lead to the intended changes and increased sense of happiness and satisfaction because the other needy areas swamp any improvement. Rather, we must address all seven.
We believe the Core 7 consists of: