Have you ever said you’re happy when you really weren’t? When someone asks how you are, it’s natural to say you’re “ok,” even though you’re wishing for different circumstances. You want a bigger this or a better that. A lot of people feel this way.
What if I told you you didn’t have to go after a better job or a new mobile phone to be happy?
“Many people settle for a less than optimal life, one where happiness is occasionally attained by pursuing pleasure. Instead, studies indicate that happiness is more of a choice than a goal to be pursued,” says Javy Galindo, author of Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails.
Javy teaches a course on the psychology of happiness. There are lots of books about how to be happy, but he wanted to write one that was simple. He often has students contact him with questions about his course, so he came up with the idea to write a book about how he might respond to their emails. Here’s a synopsis of what he has to say about happiness:
Email 1: What makes us happy?
Think about things you really wanted and got. When you get something you want, your happiness spikes, but then you forget about it. After a while, you don’t even remember those little things that made you happy in the past.
When people go from extreme poverty to a higher lifestyle, they do generally become happier. But this doesn’t happen to most people.
Your circumstances change throughout life, but your happiness typically goes back to similar baseline. Even people who go through traumatic or tragic life events, such as losing body parts or losing a love one, generally go back to their baseline happiness after the dust settles.
“Altering the conditions of our lives has less influence on our experience of happiness than our choices in thought and behavior. In other words, ultimately, we are what make us happy,” Javy said.
Email 2: Why do we do the things we do?
We do a lot of normal activities such as brushing our teeth or taking a shower without thinking about it. When we get dressed, we just do it without thinking about it. Our voluntary actions aren’t so voluntary. They seem to make us more efficient life-livers. A lot of what we do is unconscious activity.
If happiness is a choice, then why don’t we just choose it?
Have you ever been upset when getting caught in traffic or got cut off? Are you thinking about it, or just reacting? It’s a problem when you begin to develop habits that cause you to be unhappy. Your heart is pumping and your internal body is taking care of a lot of activities without thinking about it. The way you think and perceive the world is often equally unconscious.
“Our choices of thought and behavior are often not voluntarily chosen, but are the result of unconscious processing through things such as habits, conditioned behaviors and evolutionary instincts,” Javy said.
Email 3: What is happiness anyway?
Be careful of the cult of positivity. It’s a component, but it’s not everything. Happiness is more than a feeling. Happiness is the state of a life well lived. Emotions are chemical reactions and they fade over time.
“Beyond simply feeling good, being happy also refers to a sense of satisfaction and meaning we experience through our engagement with life,” Javy said.
So get engaged with the activities that bring you satisfaction.
Email 4: Live easy.
How can we live with fewer unpleasant emotions? Choose not to burden yourself with difficult thoughts. Choose to live easy.
Don’t make things harder than they have to be. It’s not just about being un-miserable. The goal is to be happy. Develop healthy relationships with your joys.
Email 5: Live light.
If you do the same things every day, go back to the same place, eat the same food, or see the same person in the same place all the time, it becomes mundane.
What if you continue to rely on the exact same thing? This is what happens with ice cream, alcohol, gambling or other addictive things. You need more and bigger to feel more. This is how you can get on a hedonic treadmill where you never reach happiness. These activities weigh you down and enslave you to dependencies.
So how can you experience more joy? Develop a healthy relationship with variations in small pleasures. Whether it’s flowers or coffee or music or travel, do these little things to bring joy to your daily life.
“We can enhance our experience of feeling good by placing more attention on the brighter sides of life and by being more lighthearted, enabling us to more easily appreciate the simple joys we experience every day,” Javy said.
Email 6: Live smooth.
People are happiest when they’re engaged in a physical activity, such as work they love. People who reach peak happiness get so engaged in what they’re doing that they lost track of time. They got so lost in the activity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re engrossed in a conversation, gardening, working, writing or doing some type of artistic or athletic endeavor. What matters is that it flows out of you. Everyone has a flow state. It’s where you lose yourself in an activity.
“We are happy when we experience satisfaction with our activities. We often experience this when we enter flow states, states of complete engagement with our activity. The interesting thing is that the experience of flow is independent of the activity itself,” Javy said.
Email 7: Live meaningfully.
Many people search for purpose and meaning in life. Some people experience a vibrant life, while others see it dull. You become desensitized to things you see often.
You can always choose how you perceive things. Nothing changes about the world. You choose how you want to see things, positive or negative. This is The Power of Thinking Differently.
“The key is that we can make choices with how we engage in the world to make life feel more purposeful and meaningful. We can choose to participate in activities that involve some form of emotional risk, to give ourselves a feeling that our actions matter. We can pursue endeavors that are altruistic, prioritize building social bonds, and get in line with our virtues and character strengths. And we can choose to be open to new perspectives in order to make life more full of meaning.”
Javy Wong Galindo is a professor of philosophy, humanities, and psychology in Northern California. He has been a popular instructor at Heald College, John F. Kennedy University, and De Anza College. He is also a proud member of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, and the Western Positive Psychology Association.
This former electrical engineer and performing arts instructor has had the privilege of working at several high-tech companies including Cisco Systems, Motorola, ViaSat, Tellus Technology, and Northrop Grumman among others.
Javy is now most well-known for his engaging college courses and public talks, his enthusiastic teaching style, and his ability to convey complex ideas in personally meaningful, simple terms. These characteristics are epitomized in his two books: Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails and The Power of Thinking Differently.
Javy is available for talks and workshops on various topics including creativity, innovation, creative thinking and authentic happiness.