Happiness is one of those words that seems to be everywhere in our lexicon today. People study it, many books are being written about it, and in fact, one of my favourite podcasts is Happier with Gretchen Rubin.
I like the podcast because while it does have it's more philosophical moments, it also offers practical tools to move towards happiness. Through the podcast, I also had an Aha! moment in terms of my personality type (I'm an Upholder). For a long while, I could see only the negatives of this personality type (I can be fairly rigid, for example), but it also helped me realize I can know my tendencies and work with them instead of just feeling bad about myself. (Take the quiz here).
This is the key: somehow along the way, I had started a cycle of thinking that said that because I was this way or that way, or because of this or that, or because I had or did not have this or that, or because, because, because, I didn't deserve to be happy. This went on to the extent that I felt guilt over who I was and where I lived in the world and the privileges I have most moments of every waking day.
Guilt, of course, didn't serve anyone else and didn't serve me. Change -- whether directed at yourself or at contributing somehow in the world -- doesn't work very well if it comes from a place of guilt, which is a state that draws energy towards the self instead of extending it outwards.
Better, say the Buddhists, to direct love toward the self and extend it outward in an ever-widening circle after that. So, for the past 6 months, I've been doing a Loving Kindness meditation every morning (here's a guided example).
Has it made me happier? Yes, but not in any grand way. I think the McHappy Quest we all seem to be pushed toward these days is a bit of a myth. I'm not floating around in a state of equanimity and joy all day. Not all parts of my life are singing in a harmonious chorus (though I would like them to be!). But it has, like all practices, helped me to extend little moments of love towards myself, towards those I love, and towards those I don't like very much at all. I think this has made generosity easier for me -- I genuinely want to do things that help others in small ways, which doesn't come from a guilty feeling.
It has helped, in little ways, for me to see bits of beauty every day. Even if I forget them 10 minutes later, even if when the kids get home, I get grouchy and annoyed, at least I've known a bit of gratitude, which I'm hoping gradually builds into more equanimity.
Every single person deserves these little moments. Everyone -- even you, even me.