A reader of medical research and the life sciences since 1966, Tessa often reports on the latest research in those fields for others.
Happiness Is a Combination of Situation and Perspective
So much has been written about how to be happy, yet so few are happy. Depression is at an all-time high, and people are looking everywhere to fulfil their dreams. They think if they fulfil their dreams, they will be happy.
The happiest people in the world all live in countries with mixed economies (part socialist, part capitalist). They have free or cheap medical assistance, a government-sponsored safety net if they lose their jobs, and free education. They also work shorter hours (35-hour week) and have longer vacation time (6 weeks paid vacation).
Happy people are also happy with who they are and what they have.
Self-Acceptance, Acceptance of Situation, and Gratitude
The number one attribute of happiness after basic survival is taken care of is a combination of acceptance of who or what one’s situation is, plus gratitude for what one has.
There can be no happiness without self-acceptance and gratitude.
We are all dealt different hands in life. Some are born with incredible looks, health, and talent into rich families. Others are born with disabilities and limited abilities into dirt poor homes.
This is where life isn’t fair.
Life, however, is fairer in a county where the laws of the people enable all people to have equal access to those resources which will enable them to live a life of well-being. This is what countries like Finland, Australia, Canada, Germany, etc. have done. They have provided all people with the necessary tools to be able to live well.
Of course, there are people who are very rich (in all countries) who are also very miserable. This is because they have little acceptance of who they are and little gratitude for what they have.
They want to be something or someone else. Or they want what other people have. This is a definite road to misery. We can never be someone else, and it is not always possible that we will have the opportunity to garner what other people have.
If we cannot be content with what we have, it is unlikely we will be content. Stress and unhappiness often follow ambition, unfulfilled dreams, and competing with the Jones’s.
Meaning Is Not Necessary for Happiness
It is not necessary to have meaning in our lives to be happy. Those who seek meaning are those who are unhappy. This tends to be the very poor and the very rich.
The very poor are unhappy because day-to-day life is stressful. Health services cannot be afforded, and jobs pay so little that there is nothing left to pay for further education. It is a catch 22 situation. Anyone and everyone will be miserable in this situation.
People who are miserable begin to look for purpose and meaning. It seems inconceivable to them that they work so hard and there is no reward. They think that if they find meaning, they will find happiness. As life only has the meaning we give to it, meaning seldom brings happiness.
Then there are those who are more than comfortable and who are enormously successful. Many of these people have grown up in environments where every need has been met without struggle. They never learned to appreciate who they are or what they have, and therefore they are never happy.
Know Thyself—Self Knowledge
Before we can fully accept ourselves, we need to have self-knowledge. When we lie to ourselves about our characteristics, it is not possible to properly accept ourselves.
Therefore, it is important to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. Sometimes when we tell others the truth about ourselves they respond by telling us not to be so negative. We are not being negative by being honest. It is perfectly possible to look at our nose in the mirror, admit it is a large nose and it is offset by large ears, and not worry about it. Large noses and large ears may define us physically, but it certainly doesn't define our characters.
Self-acceptance is about accepting all of who we are, and we need to know ourselves in order to do that. It can also be an on-going journey throughout our lives.
Does Money Make You Happy?
Yes, and no. Studies show that people who have insufficient money to pay for the basics are highly stressed and the most miserable of all.
Studies also show that so long as people have sufficient money to live on, they are as happy as people who have much more money. Money is another term for resources. We use money to buy the things that are vital to our lives—food, shelter, education, medical services, etc.
So despite the saying that money doesn't buy happiness, the truth is that it does. If there isn’t enough money to pay for essentials, there cannot be happiness. It is for this reason that countries with adequate necessary resources for everybody tend to have the happiest citizens. Most countries in Northern Europe fit this category.
The Politics of the Country We Live in Will Affect Our Happiness
Unfortunately, it is easier to attain happiness in some countries than others. When the culture is one in which the well being of all people is of concern, then governments tend to reflect that. When the culture of a country tends to be more competitive, then the government of the country tends only to reward the winners. When the culture of the people has been destroyed through wars, colonialism, etc., then life can be a constant struggle as it is each man for himself. Mankind is happier when living in harmony and co-operation with others. Competition tends to have a negative impact on happiness (with the exception of the winners).
Free medical care and free education is common to all the countries where people are happiest. In other words, their economic systems are a combination of socialism and capitalism. This enables people to live stress-free lives. These countries also tend to have good social-welfare systems.
As low income and poverty is a prime indicator of unhappiness, it goes without saying that countries where poverty is not on the menu, the citizens of those countries will be happy.
Why Acceptance and Gratitude Are Necessary for Happiness
Outside of financial difficulties, our greatest degree of unhappiness comes from our perceived view of our inadequacies and measuring ourselves against others.
When we are competing with others (and measuring ourselves against them), we cannot possible be open to them in any real way.
The many suicides that happen as a result of people feeling inadequate and being bullied on facebook is an example of this. When we stop measuring ourselves against others, then they have no ammunition against us. More importantly, we can accept others as they are, and we can become truly connected to them.
In accepting ourselves as we are (and this sometimes entails brutal honesty), we not only remove any weapon someone else can have against us, but we no longer reject ourselves. We no longer feel inadequate. And, again, we are able to truly able to accept others as they are (even when they have a lot more or a lot less than we have), and that helps us to be truly connected.
When we begin to feel grateful for what we have, we no longer look at what others have and yearn for that. There is no happiness in yearning for what other people have. It is a sickness that never ends. There will always be people who have more than we have, and if we base our happiness on attaining what they have, then we will never arrive.
The only way out is to be happy with what we have.
Interestingly, once we begin to be thankful for what we have, it becomes quite easy to enjoy what we have and to appreciate it. It is also the ultimate tool for good relationships with others. That's because we no longer feel resentment towards those who have more than we do.
Practicing Self-Acceptance and Gratitude
I started with those exercises in early 1992. It was a good investment. At the time, there was absolutely nothing to be happy about. I was in a terrible state. The only thing I could think to be thankful for was that the sun would rise in the morning. It didn’t take me long, after being thankful for that, to find other things to be thankful for.
Now, a quarter of a century later, I know that that little acorn of gratitude grew into a very big oak tree.
I am truly grateful for what I have – a room to sleep in, a private bathroom, a small kitchenette, some clothes, food in my fridge, and relatively good health for a woman in her late 60s. I also learnt self-acceptance. That was hard, but it eventually came. I think it’s fair to say that I’m content and reasonably happy.
So if you’re looking for happiness, in my opinion, I think that if you start with self-acceptance and gratitude, you will soon find yourself to be more content and happy than you have ever been.
A Challenge to You
I challenge you to search through your mind for something to be grateful for. I also challenge you to tell me you aren't immediately happier, and that there isn't a positive change in your mood! And all it took was five minutes. Now make it a habit!
© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger
Tessa Schlesinger (author) on July 22, 2019:
What you're doing - albeit it unknowingly - is simply putting the mind into a state of alpha or theta. That's what brings the relaxation.
The brain has four different states.
Beta - the fast rhythm in hte brain which we use every day to talk and interact, solve problems, etc. We are mostly in that state.
Alpha - which is a slower state in the brain - this is the state your brain goes into for a light meditation or what is called mindfulness. It is also called being 'in the zone' when people are in a complete state of creativity.
Theta - this is a very deep meditation level and is also the state just before one falls asleep. In this state, the mind seems to see things that appear to almost be in a dream world.
Delta - when the brain is asleep. This is the slowest brain wave.
When people talk about altered states of consciousness, prayer, meditation, this is what htey are talking about - the different states of the brain.
I simply chose to bypass the part of trying to do it by discipline. Brain entrainment works because the brain auatomatically takes on the rhythm of sound and light. So if you look at a fire, you brain automatically goes into Alpha. Likewise if you listen to a waltz by Johan Strauss.
Sharlee on July 22, 2019:
Very glad to hear you have found a way to quickly solve problems. I guess to each other own. I find mindfulness quickly brings me to a place where I can see the very core of any given problem, and I can, as a rule, see how I can or in some cases can't solve a given problem,. It may be beyond my control, and destructive to continue worrying about it. It does seem when I relax a bit I can better and more quickly problem-solving. It well appears we both have found good methods for problem-solving.
Tessa Schlesinger (author) on July 22, 2019:
Yes, I know what it is. I have always found it perfectly useless as my problem is not finding a way to relax, but trying to sort out the problem. I would rather sort out the problem (then I will be relaxed) I have honestly never understand the point of relaxing and the problem is still t here.
If I can't pay the rent, relaxing about it is the last thing I need. My brain goes to sleep. It is not busy solving the problem. And it's time wasted.
Sharlee on July 22, 2019:
I use mindfulness as a form of deep meditation. It quickly lets me relax, and reflect on the present.
Tessa Schlesinger (author) on July 22, 2019:
I'm not really into mindfulness. Research shows it works for women because most of them (73% according to MBTI) are focused on their feelings. And, yes, there is nothing like gratitude and self-acceptance (and acceptance of one's situation) in order to clear the stress and anxiety. :)
Sharlee on July 21, 2019:
Worries can't survive in a grateful heart. This article was very enlightening. I practice mindfulness and find it points one toward being grateful in many different ways.
Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on January 08, 2019:
I enjoyed reading through this article. I am happier, though I was not unhappy, to begin with. Most of my feelings are in degrees of happy. Unhappiness comes in spurts and sometimes long spells depending on what is going on around me.
I testify that gratitude is the key. I am grateful for my wife and kids and the place we have to live. We are not in danger of going hungry and I have a place to write my feelings and good friends who read them.