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The best way to understand what happiness is is to understand what it isn’t.
“We are taught that happiness is an imaginary place free of disappointment, regret, insecurity or any other uncomfortable emotion,” explains Fleur Chambers, an award-winning meditation teacher and author of new book Ten Pathways: A Framework for Redefining Happiness. “And so for many of us, we get in the habit of chasing this feel-good place — and consequently, being hard on ourselves when we don’t magically arrive.”
The truth is, challenges are a natural part of the human experience, says Chambers. We will all experience pain in our lives — physical, emotional, mental or spiritual — and so we need to embrace a more real and relevant definition of happiness, one that’s less about life looking perfect and more about our ability to walk wholeheartedly alongside our challenges and more about growing through our adversities.
Now that we know what happiness isn’t, what actually is it? Well, instead of it being the absence of pain, it’s the willingness to meet painful experiences with such a level of curiosity, courage and compassion that they transform into great teachers, explains Chambers.
“When we cultivate our capacity to be with and learn from our challenges, we are rewarded with a life that appears to be in high definition,” she says.
Ahead, Chambers shares 10 science-backed and spiritually-informed pathways that form a roadmap for cultivating happiness that lasts, along with how to practice them.
“We spend most of our days in the trance of busyness or distraction. We replay past conversations or situations. We plan or worry about the future. Cultivating awareness includes learning to notice when your mind has become distracted, and taking steps to return to the peace and safety of the present moment. We do this by learning to connect with our breath and our senses.”
“For many of us, our inner dialogue is filled with self-criticism and judgment, thoughts like ‘I should have done better’ or ‘I’m not good enough’ flooding our minds. Walking the pathway of compassion involves getting to know these repetitive thinking habits and learning to respond to them — time and time again — with a voice that is more compassionate, friendly and supportive.”
“When we are busy, stressed or overscheduled, our perspective narrows. We hold on tightly to our ideas of right or wrong and find it difficult to creatively problem solve and to acknowledge the opinions and perspectives of others. Walking the perspective pathway includes learning to see your life, relationships and challenges from a larger vantage point. We do this by learning to ask different questions.”
“When we prioritise achievement over experience, productivity over pleasure, we experience low-level stress. The pathway of gratitude shifts our outlook from expectation to appreciation. This pathway teaches us how to linger in moments of gratitude long enough for them to change who we are.”
“When we are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed there is nothing more annoying than someone telling you to ‘calm down’. So instead, this pathway teaches you how to enjoy learning to sooth your nervous system. When we can learn to interact with life from the green zone (not the red) we are more able to respond rather than react.”
“Many of us think that if we can control our lives then we will be happy and safe. The connection pathway allows us to shift from controlling to cherishing. When we learn to connect to nature, the changing seasons, and the idea that nothing lasts forever, we soften and surrender into the mystery of life.”
”Our purpose isn’t something we can write on a Post It Note and stick on our computer screen. We get closer to our purpose by opening to all life. At its deepest level, purpose is presence. The type of presence that feels expansive, creative, full of possibility and delight. Connecting to the things you loved as a child, being in flow, choosing love over fear and noticing the synchronicities in your life will allow you to feel more purposeful.”
“Vitality isn’t about being able to master a headstand, climb a mountain or complete a triathlon. If you want to feel more alive, pay attention to the opportunities to contribute to the world and feel joyful. The vitality pathway teaches you how to get clear on your values and the different ways you can contribute to the world.”
“Amazingly, it’s the challenges we face, be it physical, mental or emotional — that can be a help, not a hindrance to our confidence. Real inner confidence isn’t about being the life of the party, speaking up at work meetings or always having an opinion. It’s more about cultivating the belief that you are worthy and enough just as you are. It includes moving from comparison to compassion and reminding yourself every day that there is enough – success, love, money, fun – for us all.”
“We spend most of our days resisting ourselves or our lives, wishing we were different, or that our circumstances were different. The acceptance pathway allows you to let go of all the heaviness that comes from resistance. It helps you to experience the peace and ease that comes from accepting yourself, and your life — even if just for a moment at a time.”
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