By VICTORIA SARNE
From time to time we are asked if we are happy and I wonder how many of us can genuinely state that we are authentically happy?
Society, corporations and the media send us messages and myths about to how to achieve this state, assuring us that if we buy this car or that house we will inevitably be happier. Most of them in the mainstream are promoting materialism, the achievement of money or possessions - and why not, because every time you spend a few dollars you are making them rich.
Most countries' mission for their population in general terms is to exhort us to work harder, earn more money and be successful. Nothing wrong with that as a work ethic and a worthwhile goal in general terms, in fact it is necessary. The issue is with the word "successful" - how we define it and what it means to us individually. For many of us we unthinkingly confuse the word success with happiness, thinking that one equates to the other.
Even though much attention is also given to developing a more spiritual attitude inviting us to achieve real happiness in a less material way, many people still subconsciously cling to the idea that money and power are the real goals to achieve, mistakenly believing that this brings automatic happiness and contentment. In their minds climbing one more rung on the ladder, more money in the bank, bigger, house or another car is going to be the way to happiness.
Our culture determines for us and tells us repeatedly, overtly and subliminally, being a rich and powerful man or woman is the only key to happiness. These become our role models and yet how often will we see a fall from grace as they turn to many forms of destructive behaviour or develop a sense of loneliness.
My own observation having worked with many extremely wealthy professionals is that I wouldn't even need to have the fingers of one hand to count those who are truly fulfilled and deeply happy within themselves, despite their seeming to have achieved the ultimate goal.
To achieve authentic happiness we need to build a healthy relationship between our material ambitions and our emotional and spiritual needs. Achieving a sense of contentment is not some air-fairy, esoteric dream but a realistic one which can be arrived at using practical steps to gain self-awareness. In other words, happiness comes from being emotionally healthy and balanced; we have to know ourselves and we can only do this if we develop a habit of honest self-appraisal.
I have paraphrased author and performance strategist Laura Garnett's suggestions for emotional health and well-being. She makes 10 points:
Be aware of your emotional baggage. We all have some leftover wounds from childhood which subconsciously play into our adult behaviour or habits.
Make sure that you work at recognising and reversing negative behaviour which causes conflict with others.
You stop all negative self-talk, replacing it with positive words learning to be kind to yourself and respect your own abilities.
You become aware of triggers (meaning learned behaviour from your past) which sets off a more intense negative reaction than the situation merits.
You develop a way to counteract a negative trigger, whether it's something you say to yourself or something you can do so there is no need for regret later.
You develop healthy relationships with others without the drama, meaning you value them and they feel the same about you.
That you really understand that money and any other external rewards whilst enjoyable and even necessary, are not how you should define your worth or your life objectives.
You prioritise your own well-being and work on building habits which will add to your emotional health and a deeper sense of calm.
When disappointments and setbacks occur, as they will do in everyone's life, you know that they do not reflect your value or your integrity; they are simply external events that have happened and you can view them as a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.
You learn to evaluate your sense of inner peace and contentment. When you are emotionally healthy you will be balanced, happy and generally contented. For that to be a reality you should be able to feel this positive sense of ease roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of the time. Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing. Choose to be happy.
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.