Editor’s note: Dr. Norquist was on vacation for the holidays and is running a letter that was published earlier in this column.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
My life is going OK. I don’t have any big problems to deal with. I’m settled in my job and marriage. I have a home, and pretty good health. I’m not really very happy though – sometimes I am, but not most of the time. What would you suggest I do to be happy more of the time?
Dr. Norquist responds:
What you are asking, in essence, is “what are the conditions for happiness?” I can outline for you some of the major pieces of this puzzle, although everyone has their own individual circumstances that contribute to this puzzle.
One of the factors involved in the sustained experience of happiness is your degree of self-interest. That is, the more your self-interest is paramount, the more happiness will elude you.
This, of course, is closely related to your inner feelings of worth and adequacy. The more secure you are in your experience of your innate worthiness, the less you need to focus on self-interests, or on needing to be seen by others in a certain way. If we are concerned about making an impression on others, this is a reflection of an inner experience of ourselves as lacking.
When our self-worth is no longer an issue, life is much simpler and lighter. From this state, we respond to others as our equals, and are able to contribute to life in a way that is fulfilling.
Happiness is also either fostered or diminished by the approach we take towards others and toward all that happens in our lives. An attitude of gratitude and appreciation toward all that you see and experience will increase your happiness quotient immeasurably. Also, an accepting, non-judgmental approach towards others will leave you feeling positive. It will also have a positive effect on others.
Compare this in your mind to how you feel when you are being critical and judgmental of others. What is your level of happiness when you are having critical, judgmental thoughts about yourself or others?
Practice seeing the best in others and yourself. See your similarities with others. Have compassion for your own as well as others’ blind spots, emotional scars and vulnerabilities. We are all perfectly imperfect.
Finally, practice keeping your attention and your heart in the present. Embrace life in the aliveness of each moment. We tend to spend almost all of our waking hours in our thoughts of the future or the past, and in this way our lives are passing us by while we’re looking elsewhere. We are not even present for the living of our lives. Life is expressing itself through us. Be present to experience it.
We tend to have the expectation that we should always feel happy, and that if we feel bad, life is not going well. But life is all of this, the good and the bad, the happy and the unhappy, the good times and the difficult times. Like water, life is always changing. It is constant movement. If you identity with or become worried about feeling “bad,” it’s hard to let it pass through you. It hangs around longer. Life is all of our experiences – the whole spectrum. It’s not supposed to be just happy experiences. But if you can accept all of your experiences as a part of life, if you are secure in the knowledge of your worth, if you foster an attitude of gratitude and appreciation, and if you can learn to be present for the living of your life, your life will be much lighter and happier overall.
Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2009 Chaitanya Counseling Services