Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness

A note from for Thursday July 16 2008

My thanks to all who have shared so generously about your own personal journey towards the happiness you now experience. You are great examples of living life by your own design.

Continuing our topic for the week, our friend Marci lays out something from her book that is highly fitting for most of us.

The Pursuit of Happiness
by Marci Shimoff

Years ago, I taught a success seminar in which I asked the participants to take a big sheet of heavy paper and write across the top "100 THINGS TO BE, DO, HAVE." They made three long columns and began listing their dreams, big and small. When they shared their goals afterwards, they were invariably all fired up. People wanted to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, own a Mercedes SL600 Roadster (cream white, with titanium silver alloy wheels), dance at the White House, fly a small plane around the world. They wanted to rise to the top of their fields, end world hunger, create world peace, have their picture on the cover of Time magazine.

Somewhere on the BE list a few people wrote "Be happy," but I was surprised at how often most of them overlooked that. That's what the whole exercise was about, wasn't it? Didn't being, doing, and having all these things, equal happiness?

Over time, I've come to look back on those lists as a great example of taking the long way around. Big and wonderful as those things might be, they aren't the ultimate thing we all want. If you cut to the chase, what we really want is to be happy.

The truth is that happiness is so compelling, so attractive — so irresistible — that whether you realize it or not, everything you do is aimed at making yourself happy. Happiness has been called the holy grail of human existence, the be-all and end-all of life. Aristotle called it the goal of all goals.

So how do we do it?

When I talk to people about happiness, they often quote Thomas Jefferson's famous line from the Declaration of Independence. "Sure, I want to be happy," they tell me. "After all, doesn't everyone have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" We've been conditioned to believe that happiness is something for us to pursue. So like a dog going after a stick, we chase after happiness — grabbing at all the things we think will bring it to us.

One day I discovered what Thomas Jefferson really meant.

I was on an airplane going to a conference with my good friends Stewart and Joan Emery, leading lights in the human potential movement. We were talking about the concept of happiness — something I do a lot — when Stewart turned to me and said in his charming Australian accent, "Marci, do you know what Thomas Jefferson really meant by the pursuit of happiness?"

Back in Jefferson’s day, he explained, the common usage for the word "pursue" was not "to chase after." In fact, in 1776, to pursue something meant to practice that activity, to do it regularly, to make a habit of it.

What a difference a definition makes! Thomas Jefferson, our wise Founding Father, meant that we all had the right to practice happiness, not chase after it. And this is still true today. So let's stop pursuing happiness and start practicing it.

How? By changing our habits.

In my book, Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, I interviewed 100 unconditionally happy people. While a few of them were born happy, most of them learned to be happy by practicing habits that supported their happiness.

Through my research I uncovered 21 core Happiness Habits that anyone can practice to experience lasting happiness and become Happy for No Reason.

What a relief! You don't have to chase after the car, house, spouse or great adventure to live the life of your dreams. Simply making the Happiness Habits your own will help you build a deep and sustained happiness. Something I'm sure Thomas Jefferson would approve!

About the Author: Marci Shimoff is author of the new book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out; plus Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul, making her one of the bestselling female nonfiction authors of all time. She's also a featured teacher in the international film and book phenomenon, The Secret. Visit Happy for No Reason.

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