The Key to True Happiness: Don’t Aim to Be Happy

True happiness does not have contingencies. That is, to say, “If x happens, then I will be happy” is not authentic happiness.

true happiness
Beneath the surface of the storm, in the depths of the ocean there is calm

When people speak of happiness, they are often talking about an overall mood–not about a lasting feeling.

After working with many clients, and observing truly happy people, I believe that happiness is not a goal you obtain or something you can give, take or receive. It is not a noun, but a verb.

Molecular geneticist-turned-Buddhist-monk and author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important SkillMattieu Ricard defines happiness as an inner calm that exists within yourself no matter what “mood” or circumstance you are in and is something you practice, not a destination at which you arrive. He likens it to the stillness and quiet at the bottom of the ocean despite the raging storm creating torrential rains and crashing waves at the surface.

Instead of “If x happens, I will be happy,” the mantra is “No matter what happens, deep down, I live happiness.”

Or, to quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “There is no way to happiness; Happiness is the way.”*

happiness is the way

Happiness, therefore, is not the goal. Learning to practice happiness is the goal. And that happens through actions not words.

I imagine that at this point you’re thinking, “Just great, Stacy. Thanks for adding one more thing on my already long list of things to do.  For someone who doesn’t give advice, you sure are dishing it out today!”

But, as with everything I say or write, this is just a suggestion, or perhaps an invitation.  And I do try to present research-based strategies that you can incorporate into your parenting in “baby steps.”  Furthermore, practicing true happiness is not difficult. In fact, here are two ways to “quick-start” it:

  1. Listen to or make music.
  2. Express gratitude.

I’ve found that music can shift your mood to set the stage for gratitude.

It doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to or make, as long as you enjoy it. It doesn’t matter to whom you express your gratitude, or what you say you are grateful for.

Happy practicing!

*Thanks to my dear friend and writer Robin Reiser for suggesting I add this quote.