I wish I had a quarter for every time I've heard a parent say fretfully, "I just want my children to be happy."
And I wish I had the same for each time I've heard an adult lament, "I just want to be happy."
It seems to be the pot at the end of the rainbow, always before us, but ever elusive. A woman recently shared a book with me titled "Happy for the Rest of Your Life." Amazed by the idea that anyone could presume to know the secret to being happy forever, I had to crack it open.
The author, Dr. Gregory Jantz, begins with common cultural pitfalls to happiness. He tells us that the pursuit of education, career success, love, children, a cause to believe in, narcissism (its all about you beliefs: your needs, rights, desires, self), physicality (youth or a great body), and materialism cannot make us happy in and of themselves. They can greatly enhance our lives, but eventually their magic will fade.
If a marriage ends, and love is your focus for life, then you may want to end with it. If your children misbehave consistently, they will wear you out before you know it. And when your beauty, money, or job vanishes, where will your self-esteem be?
He believes that there are fundamentals that must be attained to in order to set the platform for a life filled with happiness. First, he encourages getting in touch with negative emotional patterns and moving in new directions. He reminds us to care for our physical bodies with good nutrition, supplements, sleep and exercise. We need to build healthy relationships with others while setting appropriate boundaries for those who bring unnecessary pain and suffering into our lives. He emphasizes the importance of spirituality.
Happiness is attainable also with the right components of optimism, hope and joy. These are choices to see the good in life and in the future, and to push past inevitable difficulty by managing one's focus. On the contrary, pitfalls of depression, anxiety and addiction strip us of these gifts and take us off the road for a while. Perfectionism, fear, and anger must be overcome, too.
Dr. Jantz ends his book with a few thoughts to ponder.
* Happiness is a response to life that comes from inside oneself , not from outside circumstances.
* Depression isn't something you live with, but something you get help for.
* Addictions both mask and intensify pain; they never heal it.
* Relationships are supposed to support you, not drag you down.
* An attitude of optimism is a choice.
* Failure today points the way to success tomorrow.
* Don't let anything get in the way of you getting the help you need. Ask, expect, act.
Most importantly, he says, even if happiness isn't a path you've ever taken, even if it seems artificial or unfamiliar, go down the path anyway; and take baby steps.
Tabi Upton, MA is a therapist at Richmont/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.