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Sushama Kirtikar


By SUSHAMA KIRTIKAR - [email protected]

"Tell me how I can feel better, don't tell me what caused me to be unwell. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Clients are quick to come to the point. Honoring such requests, this year the theme of the Patchwork Quilt column shall be wellness.

Encased in the oyster of spiritual literature are countless pearls of wisdom about how to attain the state of happiness. In fact, there is no paucity of sage advice. It makes sense then that the field of psychology with its scientific bent also begins to embrace this very concept and serve it as evidence to the 'intellectuals' of the world.

For a decade now, the upbeat term 'Positive Psychology' has been gaining popularity. It is a way to put the lens on health rather than 'disease.' Dr. Edward Diener, psychologist at University of Illinois, examined 'life satisfaction.' Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at University of Pennsylvania, is the author of "Authentic Happiness." French psychiatrist Christopher Andr� has written about 'L'Art du Bonheur.' Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term 'flow' to describe the state of well being while engaged in a joyful activity.

In "The Art of Happiness," the Dalai Lama espouses, "The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness." What is happiness? Is it an abstract notion to be achieved or discovered? Once attained, is it to be grabbed and clutched? Is it to be quantified? Is it a state of being that is fluid and ephemeral or static and permanent?

What makes you and me happy? We all have our own happiness quotients. The popular abstractions of wealth, education, high IQ, youth and sunny days are but illusions as key ingredients to a recipe for happiness. Studies have shown that clearly. Being affluent, smart and young in a sunny climate leaves the souffl� flat so to speak. They do not appear to be the road to happiness, belying all those glossy magazine covers and high-definition commercials on TV.

Pleasure is a commonly known component of happiness. Yet the pursuit of pleasure seeking activities seems to trail in last on the list. Just engaging in a joy inducing activity is not enough. Engagement at a deeper level in one's work, family or hobby makes a person happy. It is the depth of involvement that makes the difference. In addition, finding meaning in your life by contributing to a larger good leads to higher levels of happiness. Seligman says, "Of those three roads to a happy, satisfied life, pleasure is the least consequential � It turns out that engagement and meaning are much more important."

Marriage seems to contribute moderately to being happy but more so personal faith and interpersonal ties with family and friends. Studies show that the latter two contribute greatly to happiness. 'Happiness boosters' are often prescribed like making a gratitude list, making a gratitude visit and doing an act of altruism such as volunteer work.

But then again these are all outward behaviors that affect our inner state of being. How is that possible? What about the cerebral functions of thinking, interpreting, and believing? Ah yes. Now we arrive at the meat of the matter. It is the state of mind and not external events that finally determines happiness. The elasticity of the mind is fascinating. It can be stretched to feel the depths of grief or the highs of ecstasy and it can rebound back to its normal state of well being, in time. It must, in order to survive.

Optimism and a positive outlook on life go a long way. A sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself are priceless. Adaptability and the ability to adjust to change can carry you the extra mile. These are all inner attributes that are either innate or can be learned.

Be content with the past, letting go without dwelling on the sorrows or holding on to nostalgia. Be hopeful of the best for the future, having confidence in the universe's design. Most importantly, be happy in the present moment. It is then that enduring happiness is possible. As is said, the past is history. The future is but a dream. The only reality is in the here and now. That is all we have got. Make the most of it. Experience this moment. Enjoy.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at [email protected]

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