Nowadays, when I visit a book shop, I navigate the self-help or psychology section and seem to find the word happiness written everywhere.
More and more book titles focus on the pursuit of happiness. It would seem that there's a spreading desire to avoid pain and augment happiness, despite its nature as an abstract concept.
Many people have tried to define happiness and the concept of 'attaining' it, but I've yet to find a quote as fitting and truthful as this one by the Dalai Lama:
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from our own actions"
The honest truth? Happiness cannot be found overnight.
Several years ago during a talk Dr. Pat Love was giving in Singapore, she shared her own definition of happiness. "To me," she said, "happiness is about being aware of all my gifts and talents first, then being able to share them with the world."
Something clicked inside me when I heard this and for the first time I could fully define what happiness meant to me.
Happiness is being aware of our own gifts. To do so requires us to build awareness around our strengths and flaws, our light and our shadow. And once we've developed that kind of awareness, happiness is about making use of and sharing what we have discovered and built for ourselves with others so that they may learn and build happiness for themselves.
In one of my earlier blog posts on Self-Awareness, I discussed how developing awareness is the foundation of attaining total wellbeing inside and out. So if wellbeing is rooted in awareness and awareness is the prerequisite for happiness, we can deduct that happiness and wellbeing go hand in hand and they are both a byproduct of developing awareness. Awareness of our own innate gifts and talents.
We are incessantly searching for ways to create happiness and be well, that we overlook the fundamental step to actually do so by becoming aware of who we truly are.
To know who we really are, which is normally quite different from what we grew up to believe, we must become aware of our innate gifts and talents, as well as our learned abilities. Are you a natural empath? Have a natural inclination for generosity? Maybe you're a powerful communicator? Or have a strong, logical and structured mind? A born leader? An inspiring teacher?
Knowing our strengths is one of the very first steps to developing awareness and therefore, wellbeing and happiness. But as with anything, there are a few challenging other steps to achieve all those things. To know who we really are, we also have to face our so-called weaknesses, or areas of improvement, as I prefer to call them. By bringing these areas to the surface, we recognise them for what they are and therefore can choose to do something about them. This action will empower us even more while making us feel more whole.
Steps to Recognising Your Strengths & Weaknesses
- The Outside Observers Exercise (creates awareness and allows us to see what we might be hiding from ourselves):
- Ask 4-6 of your friends, colleagues, partner, children to write down what they think 3 of your strengths and 3 of your weaknesses are on separate pieces of paper (I know it's scary, but do urge them to be totally honest with their answers - we're trying to heal here, not perpetuate denial!)
- Now write out all the strengths they wrote down one column, and all the weaknesses down another. Recognise the ones that got repeated. This is now your personalised list given to you by people who see you from the outside.
- Choose a coach to start working with. The benefits of having someone on the outside guide you are truly unparalleled. If you'd like to learn more about why everyone should have a coach, read my previous blog post about it HERE.
So... happiness depends on our wellbeing and our self-awareness. I hadn't made that connection for many years. I remember those times I was so unhappy, I'd keep looking for happiness and wellbeing outside, in the form of relationships and material things. One of my go-to's was shopping, I'd been taught that it was the way to happiness. But time would pass by, and I'd become even more unhappy, because much like many exterior 'escapes', it only offered temporary relief. Sound familiar?
One day, I chose a different way, which was certainly not the easiest way. I chose what Dr. Scott Peck likes to call the road less travelled, and I found true and lasting happiness, even in those challenging moments when happiness seemed but a delusion. Today, I would love to see that road I chose transform from one less travelled, into one most people journey down. Human beings from all walks of life, all walking down one road of self-awareness and self-responsibility.
What do you say?
With Love. EF
header image by Rob Bates