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How to Cultivate Happiness

“It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.”

- Arthur Schopenhauer

The Happiness Dilemma

Having the self as the one, true source of happiness can feel like an impossibility. In fact, it can feel like a vicious cycle when you’re battling with depression or anxiety. Seemingly, everyone else is gleefully riding along on the happiness train, yet try as you may, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to get a ticket for the next stop.

If you haven’t felt genuine happiness in months or years, and it can only be found within oneself, then how are you ever supposed to feel happy again? When we’re dealing with depression, there is so much internal work that needs to be done to fully heal. Everyone’s path is unique, though I suggest it include speaking to a professional- whether that be a therapist, coach, and/or a psychiatrist.

One, quick caveat: there is nothing wrong with receiving joy from external sources. In fact, when I am feeling disconnected from positive emotion, I have found that external sources of happiness are the best thing to remind me that experiencing happiness is possible. Quite literally, on a daily basis, spending time with my dog brings me pure, unadulterated joy- even if fleeting.

So again, if genuine, sustainable happiness can only be found within, how do you create it? Let’s break it down.

Happiness: A Simple Composition

When you think of happiness, you often think about feeling content, joyful, as well as having fun and being around close friends and family. Each of those components has a deeper and contextual significance for everyone. Feeling content typically comes from being at peace with yourself and knowing that you have everything you need and could want in life. When you finally recognize that you have all that you need and can obtain all that you want, then life more easily lends itself to enjoyment. That is not to say that it is impossible to enjoy life when you are not content, but rather that enjoyment of daily life will not be a constant struggle.

Have you ever noticed that some of life’s happiest moments occur within the context of fun and camaraderie? It is impossible to feel both down and have fun at the same time, and when we’re having fun, it’s usually with our closest friends and family. You are engaging in activities that interest you, energize you, and feed your soul. In today’s world, this is often in stark contrast to the jobs we work and the activities we typically engage in, if at all, after hours.

The friends and family component is also crucial to the composition of happiness. As an introvert, I can attest to the level of happiness that being alone brings me, but spending time with good friends and family whom I love and genuinely care about me is a different, essential type of joy. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we as humans crave to be around others, making it essential to our mental health and quality of life.

How Do We Create More of That?

A powerful question to ask is “how can I feel more content/joy/fun/kinship in my life?” I suggest taking it one step at a time. In my experience, reconnecting with friends and being intentional about creating fun and enjoyable moments with them every week or so was significant in raising my level of overall happiness. Not only did I spend time with them in person (once things started to open up), but I also made time to talk and began a group chat.

What really brought me closer to them was being very honest about my experiences with depression. This created space for all of us to be vulnerable and genuinely support each other. Deeper than that, though, allowing myself to be vulnerable reinforced my acceptance of the current situation and my new self-love practice.

As I focused on self-love and healing old emotional wounds, I was able to be intentional about the people I have in my life and how I spend my time. Through self-love and acceptance not only was I able to say no to the things and connections that brought me down, but I was also able to create the connections and experiences that truly fill my cup and bring me happiness.

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