The lips are raised. You can see all four canines, incisors, premolars, and almost all the carnassial teeth exposed. The breathing is rapid. You may be expecting a growl or a snarl when you see a five-year-old Border Collie doing that. Instead, you hear a high pitched whine and his tail wagging like a banshee flag in the wind.
‘He’s smiling at you,’ Tracy said, who is Tommy’s guardian. Tommy continued smiling and this back end was swaying more and more as his bushy tail swung from side to side even more manically. Only when I stroked his head and offered a smelly dehydrated liver treat, did he shifted and stopped ‘smiling’. His lips dropped, he starts salivating, his breathing and body relaxed and his whine changed into a satisfied grunt as he leaned towards my leg and slid down on his side, munching his snack. Anyone can see that he is, at this moment, a happy dog. Almost instantaneously, I felt the same. Happiness is indeed contagious.
What is happiness to you? What makes you happy? What stops you from being happy? How can you improve your happiness?
To me, happiness is a state of mind. No one object or situation will always make you happy. For example, if you like ice cream and it makes you smile when you have one, you may think that ice cream makes you happy. Imagine eating 10, 20 servings, will the next one bring you as much happiness? If you say your children, when they are screaming or shouting at you, is that your source of happiness too? Perhaps it is that favourite place you like, imagine living there for a prolonged period of time, say maybe 20 years, does that place still bring happiness?
It is evident that the same things, people, events, and places that bring happiness can also deliver unhappiness. So, it is clear that they are not the entire answer. I believe that the answer lies within. You have to look internally to find happiness, not externally. Before you can look internally and improve, a simple question would be ‘what influences your internal self?’ The answer to this is actually very simple. Just look around you. Your surroundings provide input, stimulus, and feedback to you, affecting and changing you inside. Your external environment affects your internal environment.
The people you meet and spend time with, the information you see and hear from all sources, the news headline you read, the gossip you listen to, the sights you see, conversations that take place, the books you read, the language you hear and use and fundamentally, any interactions you have exposed your five senses and mind to will affect your inner you.
Show me your friends and I will show you your future. If you hang around happy people, the likelihood of you being happy is much higher than if you hang around unhappy folks. Have you ever been in a positive state of mind and started chatting to someone who was unhappy and they literally drained you dry? You feel exhausted and possibly even grumpy after that interaction? On the other hand, have you ever been lifted up emotionally (even if it is temporary) by someone who exudes positivity? Who you surround yourself with is extremely important as it affects more than just happiness.
Have you noticed that 80% to 90% of news headlines are not only negative but sometimes, even tragic? Or how the gossip you hear is mostly centred around bad news rather than good news? Perhaps you hear more complaints about life than commendations? Do you notice more frowns on people’s faces more than smiles? What do you think happens to your internal self when you read bad news, hear frequent complaints, and see more frowns than smiles? A constant supply of them daily would seriously put you in a bad mood! You need to guard your mind fiercely, not unlike how a seasoned tigress would guard her vulnerable cubs in a cave with a narrow entrance. It is like trying to get into an A-list party that Tom Cruise had organized for his closest family of 20. You will not allow anyone who is not on the list to get in. And that list of yours does not include anything that will bring negativity to your party of happiness.
In addition, it is not enough just not letting negativity influences or thoughts into your mind. You have to intentionally add positive influences and thoughts too. Your mind has a negative bias. Imagine your mind as a garden. If you plant nightshade, you get poison. If you plant crops, you get a harvest. If you do nothing, weeds will grow naturally. So, it is not enough to stop negativity solely, you need to work on planting the right stuff, inputting positivity concurrently.
Gratitude is helpful for maintaining happiness too. The power of being grateful cannot be underestimated. Have you ever felt good about something like a delicious chocolate cake, a holiday, or an award only to feel bad seeing a more delicious chocolate cake, a better holiday, or another award? You get my gist. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Allowing yourself to go to a beautiful place in your mind can greatly help with your happiness. If happiness is a state of mind, all the tools you need to be happy is already present. You do not need anything outside your mind. It may not be easy for you to go to a beautiful place if 1. You do not have one and 2. If you do not often train yourself to do so. Like a muscle or a skill, it is something that gets better with practice, and similarly, you lose it if you do not use it. If you leave the game, the game leaves you. Practice often, allowing yourself to go to your beautiful place whether it is needed or not. This way, it is much easier to go there when you truly need to.
I hope you can see that happiness is an inside game, not an outside one. Here are three suggestions to help improve your happiness.
1. Guard your mind fiercely to what input you expose it to. Do you really need to read the news or go on social media first thing in the morning (or at all?)?
2. Practice the Attitude of Gratitude. It will greatly elevate your state of mind. Remember that Comparison is the Thief of Joy.
3.Train yourself to go to your beautiful place often, whether you need it or not. You will glad you did when you do eventually need to go there.
Tommy knows what makes him happy, how to get there, and how to enjoy himself. If he can do it, so can you! Don’t let your smart brain complicate things! What makes you happy?
N.B. Dogs also show their teeth when they are warning you off. Please do not mistake every dog that shows its teeth to be smiling!