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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This line is the start of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of “the thirteen United States of America”. It is well-known to most Americans and serves as an inspiration to others around the world. However, the last four words are misunderstood in the 21st century. The Pursuit of Happiness did not mean chasing after the emotion or the feeling of being “happy”. To the Founders, this term meant living your life as you saw fit. It was about shaping your own destiny, instead of having that destiny shaped for you. That is a high ideal an imperfect nation does not always achieve for its people.
By many measures, Americans today report less happiness than in the past. Here we are most clearly talking about the emotion. There are those studies regarding happiness. One, for example, shows parents have less overall happiness than non-parents. Another one I like shows happiness drops in our mid-20s and then starts to go back up in our mid-50s. At 51, that sounds pretty good to me. Sorry for all you younger folks.
Many people focus on being unhappy. They are anxious and miserable. Social media does not help. We have often violated the Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Goods. This is even worse in a world of social media, where not only do we see the great house others live in, but we also get to see their fantastic vacations and lives that at least appear to be so much perfect than our own. This means that often we chase happiness by focusing on the acquisition of things, such as money, power, and material items. When we get that new car, we are happier than before. At least for a while. Then we get used to the car and the increased positive feelings fade away. Then it is on to the next thing. And then the next. The unhappy reality is that none of us can maintain a sense of happiness by chasing after things. We just get used to them.
What does work in life is the practice of gratitude. That is not saying, “You should be grateful”. No one can tell someone else how he or she should feel. The practice of gratitude is a practice of self-care. What science has shown is that by zeroing in on the positive things in our lives we experience more happiness and joy. What a concept! It is just that our brains tend to focus on the negative to keep us safe. It is difficult to practice gratitude.
So, how do we engage in this practice? That is surprisingly simple. One great way is to write down three things for which you are grateful. Just three, and you can even have repeats. Some of the biggies can be easy, such as family and health. But those of us living in the first world have all sorts of things to think about. Did you have a hot shower today in clean water? Did you have enough to eat today? Were you able to park far away from the store and be able to walk the distance instead of having to use that closer handicapped spot?
Each of us has so many positive things in our lives we can list. I promise you, if you can practice gratitude, you will have a greater sense of wellbeing.
It might even help in your Pursuit of Happiness.
Bryan is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and National Certified Counselor (NCC). He has been licensed since June 2000. He is also involved in training new therapists as a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor (CPCS) since 2011. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1992 from Florida Tech, and his Master of Arts in Psychology from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology in 1996. Bryan started as a case manager before becoming a therapist, working in community behavioral health, where he practiced as part of a multidisciplinary team consisting of other therapists, case managers, nurses, and doctors. It was in this environment where he learned to treat the large variety of issues brought to the clinic by a diverse population. Bryan currently has a private practice in Marietta Georgia, seeing adults.
This was originally published at www.TalkForward.comPublished in