If there's one thing that we all seek - it's happiness. I've never met a person who has told me they didn't want to be happy, have you? When I do individual therapy, I have the opportunity to sit down with people as they present their concerns to me - whatever they may be. They usually seek therapy because they're experiencing some level of emotional distress - and are fundamentally unhappy. I've noticed that a number of things come up over and over for people as reasons why this is so. There are certain things they either have - or don't have - and with this information I've been able to come to an understanding of a question posed by many:
"What makes people happy?"
What do they have that others don't? What's their secret?
The following are my 5 secret qualities of happy people, in no particular order:
1) Absence of Toxic Shame: In the book, “Healing the Shame That Binds You, " John Bradshaw describes the difference between healthy vs toxic shame in that, “Healthy shame is an emotion which signals us about our limits. . . and keeps us grounded, " where “Toxic shame is experienced as the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being. " Truly happy people have a strong sense of themselves and their value, in other words, an absence of toxic shame. This usually comes from a nurturing, loving and supportive experience in their families of origin. There are many reasons why people struggle with toxic shame. I find it often lies at the core of some depression, anxiety and perfectionism.
2) Absence of Resentment: Really happy people seem to be more successful at forgiveness. In addition, they often haven't personalized the experience to the degree that others do. When you are good at letting things go - you don't drag the burden of resentment around with you. Those who hold onto anger or grudges towards others for long periods of time can experience internal emotional distress that leads to bitterness, frustration and often health problems. They can also struggle with depression and excessive anger.
3) Living their Passion: People who are doing work that is satisfying to them, whether they simply enjoy showing up every day - or is more rewarding on a deeper level - tend to be happier. The same applies to those who have found a hobby or cause that brings them joy, whether it's associated with work or not. Those who dislike their jobs and truly hate getting up every day to go to work tend to have an underlying baseline of life dissatisfaction that can lead to unhappiness. This is particularly true if they're not engaging in something outside of work that touches that energizing place inside of them - which could a at least partially offset the impact of their unrewarding job.
4) Dreams for future: Those who have hopes, plans and excitement for the future are typically happier. They believe they can carry out their dreams - and can actually visualize them coming true. People who struggle with imagining what their futures might hold often don't really believe that good things could actually happen for them. It's possible their past or present have been so dismal that they're unable to project positive things for the future. This is a very common belief of those struggling with depression. They may believe, “I can't, " or “I don't deserve. "
5) Connections to People: Happy people usually are connected to other people by supportive and loving relationships, no matter whether a few or many. There could be an argument that there are exceptions to this, but by and large, people need other people. From the time we are born, we seek to form attachments to our primary caregivers. Depending on the quality of these attachments, we will usually seek to form friendships and them intimate partnerships. I've found that many unhappy people feel disconnected in some way to others - which can be very painful. Sometimes they are afraid to connect and other times their behavior is disconnecting. Regardless, for those who believe they need other people - and feel alone - a deep sense of unhappiness is common.
Like I mentioned previously, no matter who or where we are in this world, one of the ties that binds us together is the desire for happiness. Many of us know someone who seems to be a truly happy person. There's something almost magical about them, their level of serenity, joy and state of “knowing" that everything will work out. And if doesn't, it will still eventually be ok. I imagine that this person likely has all of the 5 happiness qualities I mentioned above. There are so many things that influence our emotional and psychological development. I believe that barring environmental chaos, (war, poverty, etc) we all have the ability to be “happy. "
It can require a bit of work to tackle the things that might be blocking us from that very achievable goal - shame, resentment, lack of dreams, isolation and/or lack of a life passion. The great news is I've seen it done enough times in my work as a therapist to know - it's absolutely an achievable goal.
Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage and Family Therapist providing Individual and Couples Counseling in San Diego , California. She attributes her therapy effectiveness to her unique fusion of cognitive behavioral, attachment and family of origin theories - as well as her emphasis on “emotional safety" as it relates to a strong relationship foundation. Lisa's therapy style is compassionate, no nonsense and down-to earth. All of these things - combined with her clients’ willingness to “dig deep" - have led to great success in helping people resolve their individual issues and have more satisfying relationships
Lisa has written numerous articles on mental health and relationship topics which can be seen on her popular Therapy and Counseling Blog . She is also the creator of two new mental health and relationship resource blogs called, The Mental Health Place and The Healthy Relationships Place