HOW TO BE A HAPPIER HUMAN: HAPPINESS AND MEANING

 

"Happy are the people whose God is the Lord" Psalm 144:15.

Simple, right? Follow God and you will be a happier human.  Well, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know it’s not that easy…in the short term. Let’s take a look, then, at what happiness means.

A THEORY OF HAPPINESS

Above all else, Aristotle claimed that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.  His is a fascinating take on meaning that can easily be misconstrued in Christian circles – tossed out with the bath water as pure hedonism, but let’s take a closer look.

When translated from the original Greek eudaimonia, the happiness to which Aristotle is referring is the end goal of the totality of a person’s life.  Therefore, it is not the pursuit of momentary pleasure, not a situational state of mind. Instead, Aristotelian happiness is a measure of how well a person has lived up to her human potential as determined at the end of her life.

So, under this theory we can not really make pronouncements that a person has lived a happy life or been happy – or lived up to her potential – until her life is over (much like we can not pronounce cake batter “cake” before it has completed baking.) However, there are some things we can do to live a life with more contentment, joy and peace. There are ways to experience a long-lasting sense of hope and meaning in life and as we strive to live up to our potential – to live a life of happiness. I think in Christendom we call this living as our most authentic lives as the person God created us to be. Aristotle would call this living a life of complete virtue.

BE HAPPIER IN MIDLIFE | INCREASE HAPPINESS OVER 50

HAPPINESS IN MIDLIFE

This state of happiness, I believe, is one of the aims of the life-changing transitions that we undergo in midlife – to bring our hearts, minds, bodies and relationships into alignment with God’s design for us.  Aristotle called it, simply, “doing the right thing.” By remaining ever-cognizant of the goal (virtue, happiness, aligning with God’s design) and choosing to do the right thing, we create a life of happiness. And what better time to really learn how to be happy than now?

It sounds like a pretty easy formula, right?  Yes? Then why is it so hard to achieve?

Well, my theory (taken from a combination of ideas from Dallas Willard and Fr. Thomas de Mello) is that our life’s story has caused us to believe certain lies about ourselves, our place in the world and our God.  Sadly, our untamed thoughts naturally serve to confirm these untruths – keeping us in a cycle of missing the mark.

"A clumsy archer may indeed get better with practice, so long as he keeps aiming for the target." 
~Aristotle

The lies of our past often keep us aiming for the wrong target. But midlife is, or can be if you are open, a time of great heart transformation leading to long-term happiness by pointing us in the direction of truth.

Keeping in mind that living as our most authentic, virtuous, God ordained selves is the goal. Following are some ways you can keep aiming for the target. I will expound on many of these in coming posts so keep your eye out!

HOW TO BE A HAPPIER HUMAN

1. AGENCY

This is just a fancy term for believing you have some choice and a modicum of control over the direction of your life…and exercising it.

2. LIFESTYLE

Are you living a lifestyle that engenders happiness?  Think of your job, your family life, your social circle, your hobbies, your free time. Do you take time to play? Do you laugh with your friends? Are you doing what you love? If no, what are you willing to do about it?
HOW TO BE A HAPPIER HUMAN IN MIDLIFE AND BEYOND

3. GRATITUDE

When we focus more on what we do have than what we don’t have, we become happier. When we neglect gratitude we often make choices based on fear or sense of lack – the resulting decisions are, often, unhealthy ones. Print out a free gratitude journal page, here:

4. OPTIMISM

Optimism is a belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil and living in such a way that we know it’s true. While we understand that difficult and hurtful events will enter our lives, we also know that God is good. Optimism is not delusion, simply a perspective that “it is well.”

5. FLOW

This is a mental state in which a person is focused, involved and processing an activity fully and without distraction.  For me, this happens most often when I am working on a piece of artwork, taking a walk in nature and just hanging out with God, or when laughing with my family.  What is it for you? Let’s commit to doing more of this.

6. FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness is possibly the most misunderstood tenant of Christendom and, because it is, it requires a bigger definition that I have space to provide here. So, instead of writing a thesis of forgiveness, I will just share a couple of quotes Ann Lamotte that I believe cut right to the core of the issue:“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past.” and “Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”   Be quick to forgive and your life will a happier one. (Again, this just touches the surface of this complex topic. I’ll share more in a separate post.)

7. MINDFULNESS

Living in the present moment, living from the heart, living in the ‘here and now.’ These are all terms describing mindfulness. By living a mindful life, you actually live life rather than drifting from moment to moment.  Individuals who live mindful lives report a greater level of contentment…and they remember what they had for dinner last night, which is not always the case for me when I’m overly preoccupied in my day. How about you?
HOW TO BE HAPPIER | INCREASE HAPPINESS IN MIDLIFE | BE HAPPY OVER 50

8. SPIRITUALITY

People who report belief in a Higher Power and participation in spiritual practices have happier lives.  Even if you’re having some trouble with religion or with God, simply participate in mindful prayer. Read scripture. Practice the contemplative arts of silence and solitude. Connect with God’s heart and, in doing so, your soul will be renewed, your heart transformed and your happiness increased – maybe not instantaneously, but eventually.

9. PURPOSE

Discover your life’s purpose and pursue it. What is the story that God has been writing with your life – what passions has he placed in your heart?  What do your personality, temperament, talents and longings reveal that you were meant to do? No one is more content than the man who gets paid for doing what he loves. And even if he doesn’t get paid, volunteering for a cause that speaks to your heart fills a person with a sense of meaningful purpose and increases happiness. Are you doing what you love?
HOW TO BE HAPPIER IN MIDLIFE

10. FOCUS ON OTHERS

Yes, happiness grows not out of focusing on what makes me ‘feel good,’ but out of knowing that I have made another feel good. I’m not necessarily referring to serving others, here, but simply focusing on them. Often just seeing another and calling them by name is enough to make them smile. My dad always made a concerted effort to call people by name whether it be a friend, coworker, flight attendant or restaurant server. If he knew their name, he used it and they knew they were seen. As a kid it embarrassed me, but as an adult I get it and love that he took the time to speak to the hearts of everyone he met. We live in a culture filled with lonely people. When you choose to let them know that you see them and that you value them, you bring happiness into their lives and make your own happiness increase. It doesn’t take any energy all and makes a big difference.

CONCLUSION

Aristotle said that happiness is the only pursuit that is an end unto itself – everything else we do in pursuit of happiness. Making right choices is simply the exercising of virtue in pursuit of happiness. Many of the tips, above, compliment one or more of his core happiness virtues: justice, courage, generosity, friendship, citizenship and intellectual contemplation.  While these are not specific tenants covered biblically, they are not unbilbilical and if we remember that the our target happiness is, truly, a chasing after God’s heart for us, it all makes sense, right? 

Ultimately, sure, it sounds like a lot of work and, on the surface, I guess it is. However, would you rather live a ‘life of quiet desperation’ or a life with purpose, hope and meaning?  I am never more content with my day than when I am choosing to do the right thing, walking in God’s will and knowing that I am serving a greater purpose with my life. These are the things that will bring about a life of happiness.

Choose one or two to focus on today and in the days to come. Then, add another and another. You are responsible for creating the life you long to live and the life God has created for you – go out and do it.

HOW TO BE HAPPIER | INCREASE HAPPINESS IN MIDLIFE | BE HAPPY OVER 50
HAPPINESS | BE HAPPIER | MEANING IN LIFE | Want to know how to increase meaning and purpose in your life and become a happier human? Here are some tips that may help!

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3 thoughts on “HOW TO BE A HAPPIER HUMAN: HAPPINESS AND MEANING

  1. I love this list! I have been working on mindfulness and gratitude recently and just trying to live more in the moment and be thankful for everything around me!

    • That’s so great, Jennifer! It really does make a difference, doesn’t it? Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Terrie

    Dear Pam, thank goodness for your connection. You are helping to open my eyes to the many ways I can choose to enjoy my midlife. Troubles have been all to many during the past several years so with your insight I can start to look forward not dwell on the hurtful past. Here’s to this moment, enjoy and be grateful. Thank you!

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