Happiness is a bit of a paradox — or, at the very least, an elusive objective. The very nature of happiness is a bit of a double-edged sword. Everyone wants to be happy, to feel fulfilled and satisfied by day-to-day life; but it's not quite that simple, is it?
In fact, recent polls are finding that Americans are the unhappiest they've been in 50 years, with a meager 14% of adults able to confidently say they feel self-actualized and satisfied with life. What could be the cause of this? Have current political friction, economic hardship and unsettling world events caused a general wave of discontent and dissatisfaction to wash over the entire country? Or is there a deeper cause to this mass frustration? Here's a closer look at the "hang-ups" of happiness, why it can seem so difficult to attain, its paradoxical nature and the direct relationship between happiness and gratitude.
"Happiness" — or, at least, our general idea of it as a society — doesn't come naturally to human nature. While this may seem like a cynical or depressing claim, science has backed it up on numerous occasions. In fact, countless studies have proven that instinctively noticing the negative is quite literally in your genetic makeup; along with reproduction, it's the primary survival tactic of the human species.
Early in human history, your ancestors' ability to perceive threats by foreseeing and noticing negativity around them was a matter of life and death. Remaining aware of what was wrong in their surroundings was the first step to survival. Now, even after thousands upon thousands of years and even with modern luxury and technology, this instinct is still deeply engrained within humanity's psyche — including your own.
But times have changed quite a bit since then, haven't they? You most likely are not in danger of being hunted or attacked by ravenous beasts of the jungle or enemy clans crossing into your territory and fighting your people. The type of conflicts and struggles the human race faces now is quite different; the battle is waged in your interactions and relationships with others, in your impressions of the world and how they've shaped your mind and — perhaps most importantly — in your relationship with yourself.
And yet, this same instinct still prevails for so many around the world, this reflexive pessimism. For many, trust, openness and forgiveness don't come easy, and apparently neither does happiness. Upon closer analysis, this is strangely paradoxical; after all, this age in human history is, generally speaking, a period of relative ease and gratification. You can see and talk to a loved one on the other side of the world with the press of a button; a wealth of knowledge and information is instantly accessible via the mobile phone in your pocket or the PC in your home; you can travel anywhere your heart desires by car, boat or plane. Very little in the way of comfort and capability is not already within reach.
Over the course of the past 50 years, society has seemed to place a greater emphasis on attaining self-actualization, personal satisfaction and "finding happiness," yet somehow, Americans are the unhappiest they've been in that time period. How? The answer is simple: In this great mass pursuit of purpose, meaning, peace and happiness, human instinct notices every little troublesome thing along the way that disturbs these states.
You may have woken up with complete mobility and a fridge full of food and started your morning by enjoying a fantastic breakfast, taking a hot shower, dressing in a fine tailored suit, kissing your beautiful wife goodbye, starting your brand-new vehicle and arriving safely at work in 10 minutes or less, but that one sly comment your coworker made is enough to ruin your whole day. There's that pessimism reflex! But how can you change something so deeply engrained in your DNA? How can you alter your perception and re-hardwire your brain to not allow so much negativity into it?
The answer is tortuously simple: You remember the positive.
Practicing gratitude is definitely not as easy as it sounds. Oh, sure, it might be easy to drum up a mental list of all the blessings in your life, but how often do you practice true gratefulness for these things? How often do you genuinely feel thankful or practice it as a state of mind rather than a detached, apathetic list of all the people and things you know you're lucky to have?
Gratitude should never be limited to any one occasion, holiday or event. In the same way you can implement practices to learn how to adopt a calm, meditative state of mind throughout your day, you can do the same with a thankful state of mind. In fact, you may even find they come hand in hand; if you experience a great deal of anxiety or depression due to how your mind is perceiving your environment, consider that you may be emphasizing the wrong aspects of it. Sometimes, with a simple shift in focus, you'll rediscover the 10 amazing blessings you were dismissing in lieu of one pesky little negative situation or sensation. Practicing gratitude meditation may prove effective in nursing and nurturing your state of happiness and peace.
At Bethesda Gardens in Loveland, our caring staff wholeheartedly encourages our residents in their own pursuit of peace, health and happiness, and we strive to provide them with the attentive support and active social life they need to do so.
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