I have thought a lot about happiness over the last 15 years. For some reason it has come up in many late nights, catching up with old friends and finding out what each other has been doing since we saw each other last. Are you happy? This question comes up a lot.

I can remember musing to my friends that happiness was a retrospective state in that we don’t realize how happy we are until we look back. Only then do we find ourselves saying “they were such good times”. Sure, there are times I can recall myself thinking “Wow, this is amazing, I am so happy right now” – but they tended to be one off significant moments, like watching a sunset floating down the Nile River. For the most part, I wasn’t really conscious of my happiness until I looked back and realized I was.

So do I think happiness is a retrospective emotion now? Actually no…I don’t. I think what has change my mind is my definition of happiness. I used to think of being “happy” as a big emotion. Like “anger” or “excitement”, however I know think of happiness as being more of a state. I read a definition once of happiness and it said that it was a “feeling of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to joy”.

I liked this definition, as it didn’t overly define how you should feel. It gave scope to having a range of feelings without undermining your overall being of happiness. I stopped seeing other excited and joyful people, thinking that they were the benchmark of what happiness was. I think I am getting better and better at understanding and appreciating what makes me happy. It doesn’t happen by accident, it is through deliberate actions and choice:

– Being really clear on my personal values and making and taking decisions that don’t conflict with them

– Having a clear vision for what I want to be doing in the longer term. I use this to help navigate my smaller steps along the way.

– Being selective on who I spend my time with

– Reading real stories of courage and bravery

– Finding time to do nothing but think, reflect and ‘listen’ to myself

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