Looking for Joy: The Happy Side Effects of Community and Connection

We all want to be happy. As Mel Robbins would say, “simple, but not easy.” Are you happy? Overall? Most of the time? What Mel is referring to is the fact that most of how you experience your life is within your control. It’s not complicated to choose happiness, it’s just that it takes effort. That effort begins with the awareness that you cannot directly aim for happiness. Instead, happiness is the natural byproduct of living a life you love to live. The control you have is in identifying what and how you love and then doing/creating/living those things.

In her book, “The How of Happiness”, Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” The two parts of that definition refer first to a transient state of joy, one that comes from doing things you love to do like a hobby, or, if you're lucky, your work. More importantly, however, the joy is supported by a more lasting general sense of living a meaningful and worthwhile life. So how does that happen? I believe that creating a meaningful life comes from living with purpose and in connection to others; to family, friends, work, community, and to the world or universe at large.

Developing deep, personal relationships comes from being willing to share your vulnerability, time, love and understanding. Again, simple, but not easy. How open are you? How willing are you to just sit with the pain or needs of those in your life? Can you share in the good fortune and happiness of others when it doesn’t have anything to do directly with you? This can be scary stuff, but the commitment to making yourself fully available is what helps those relationships become deeply meaningful, and, promotes a sense of belonging and security. Both necessary in fostering feelings of happiness.

Recognizing the needs of your greater community and being willing to help also contributes to a lasting sense of belonging, accomplishment, and can help deepen your sense of gratitude for the gifts you have in your own life. Do you have a cause that means something to you? Do you volunteer your time? Do you participate in any organized club, religious organization, or community activities? I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: when you help others you get back more than you give. People used to routinely thank me for volunteering in my children’s school and marvel at how selfless I must be. I always corrected them and said that volunteering is selfish! I always left feeling challenged (in the best ways), useful, satisfied, and especially, happy. That was a definite win-win!

People have struggled for centuries trying to understand (wo)man’s place in the universe. As an intellectual pursuit it can be endlessly interesting. However, I prefer to just recognize that on some mystical level, and in a million infinite ways, we are all part of the same cosmic dance. This brings me great comfort and helps me to feel a shared responsibility for this world we all inhabit. Tapping into universal feelings of love and hope help to feed my sense that in the most profound ways, I am not alone, I belong, I deserve to feel amazing, welcomed, worthwhile, and most importantly, happy.