I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Social scientists and economists have been studying happiness for decades (see a few studies here and here.) From institutions and publications like the Happiness Research Institute to the Journal of Happiness Studies and Action to Happiness, happiness is the subject of best-selling books and blogs like Gretchen Rubin’s New York Times Bestsellers The Happiness Project and Happier at Home plus her blog everyone is talking about how to find it, how to make, who has it and who doesn’t. With the release of the film Hector and the Search for Happiness, it occurred to me that happiness is now a bona-fide pop cultural phenomenon.
As people who are creating lives we love, it only makes sense that we try to create lives that makes us happy, so happiness is logically important to us. And while I get that, I have the nagging problem that I don’t like Brussels. What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Well I arrived with high hopes, expecting to create a new life for myself in a discreet, pretty, city, but instead I found a small town with a small town state of mind. In short it has none of the allure or bright lights of a big city that I adore. Because of my hate–hate relationship with Brussels, although I’m creating a life I love one hand, I sometimes feel like a bit of a hypocrite.
Fortunately last week I stumbled a February 2004 TEDTalks entitled The Surprising Science of Happiness, by Dan Gilbert, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of the international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. He believes there are two kinds of happiness: natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Gilbert claims that “natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we want.” How does that work? Well in moments of natural happiness we say, “Yeah! I worked hard and I got what I wanted. Party time!” On the other hand, we create synthetic happiness, when we say, “Well, I didn’t get what I wanted, but I’m delighted by how things turned out, just the same.” In short we can achieve happiness or we can conceive happiness. So I started thinking about how I could conceive happiness in Brussels.
As it turns out, I touched on a path to creating happiness in my “Appreciating the ebb and flow…” post when I wrote about adding things that interest me into my life. So, I stopped talking how I can conceive happiness and finally did the Google search on the French site for art classes as well as for the gym that has all the amenities that I want without filtering for Anglophone facilities. And in both cases, I found places that have everything that I want. My change in perspective won’t change Brussels, but it should put me in the way of people who are genuinely kind and reveal beauty that I couldn’t see before. By doing those little things and more little things like them I create my own happiness. And I suspect that once I master applying the principle to my feeling about Brussels, then I will be able to create happiness whenever I want.
In the end, although hundreds of sophisticated people from Aristotle to Camus to Gretchen Rubin and Dan Gilbert have already said we create our own happiness in as many different ways, I’ll venture paraphrase it for myself by saying—I’ll focus on creating a particular outcome that pleases me instead of focusing on circumstances that don’t—just to make sure that the idea sticks in my head. With that in mind although it’s possible that I’ll never really like Brussels, there’s no excuse for me to not be happy while I’m here because as Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
What is one of your keys to attaining happiness?