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 is how the United States Declaration of Independence, proclaimed on 4 July 1776 starts.
It’s great line. But how does one pursue happiness? What can one do to be happier? The US declaration of independence doesn’t answer that question, so I have resolved to do so myself. And while there are many, many, ways to pursue happiness, I think they ultimately boil down to three strategies.
The first strategy to be happier is dedication. If you want, you can dedicate your life to pursuing happiness. The best example is the book under the name ‘The Happiness Project’, by author Gretchen Rubin. It’s quite a thing: one day she decided that she wasn’t happy, and that she wanted to be happier. So, she made a plan.
Her plan was to dedicate one year of life to being happier. In doing so, she identified twelve topics to work on, for instance Marriage, Work, Family Relations, Reading, Spirituality, and so on.
Every month she undertook different projects. In January, she worked on her energy, and started by… cleaning and keeping the house in order. In June, she worked on friendship, and made sure to remember her friends’ birthdays. In July, she worked on money, firstly reducing her dependence on happiness, but also going on a major spending spree. I’ve been told it can be great to buy a new dress.
The dedication strategy is great if you’re a programmatic person. But if you’re not, or if you don’t believe you can plan and organise your way to happiness, you may prefer the awareness strategy.
A simpler strategy in the pursuit of happiness is awareness. This strategy I based on the simple assumption that all of us have happy moments. But sometimes we’re just simply too busy to realise our moments of happiness. Life is great, but sometimes we need to slow down to be aware of that.
That’s what the awareness strategy to the pursuit of happiness is based on: registering moments of happiness we all experience. That can be done by journaling, or by a tool called ‘Three Good Things’.
The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley and the grass roots organisation Action for Happiness both promote ‘Three Good Things’ as, in the term positive psychology puts it, an ‘intervention’. The idea is that if you write down three things during the day that made you happy. It’s the best to do it every day ebfore you go sleep. Maybe you sat down for a coffee with a friend. You enjoyed a walk in the sun. And you favourite football team won. It can be very banal. But that’s happiness.
Either way, it will help you to remember and be aware. And it will also focus your spirit the next day. You’ll register moments during the day and think: this will go in my three good things today!
Again, the awareness strategy requires you to put aside some time every day. The third strategy is less time bound. I call it Curiosity. This strategy is based on the idea that we are curious people. Even when we don’t dedicate ourselves to happiness all day, or ensure we’re aware every day, we can develop happiness by being curious.
The idea that by learning about happiness, you can also absorb some of these lessons, and be happier, is one of the ideas behind my blog For A State of Happiness. There are plenty of places where you can learn about happiness.
For instance, there is a great course in the Science of Happiness on the online courses site EDx (enrollment is open!)
Another place to be curious is to read blogs. Of course you can try For A State of Happiness! But there are many. Gretchen Rubin, from the Happiness Project under the Dedication strategy, has a blog. There is a blog of the Minimalists, blogging how a life with less stuff makes them happier. And Action for Happiness shares all kind of happiness facts and tools on their site.
Which strategy works for you?
The US Founding Father’s put it nicely when they stated that the Pursuit of Happiness is our unalienable right. But happiness is so personal. We all pursue happiness in our very own ways. Whether your pursuit resembles the Dedication, Awareness or Curiosity strategy is irrelevant. In either case, I’ll wish you luck on the way to a state of happiness.