By Dr. Elia Gourgouris PhD
Best-selling author of the book: 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”
Aristotle, 384 BC-322 BC
The great Greek philosopher Aristotle, over 2,500 years ago said the following: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” WOW! Think about that statement for a minute! Although I believe that Happiness is a choice, it is also a skill set that we can all develop, if we do certain things consistently.
As a happiness and wellness expert, I have the opportunity to speak all over the world about the subject of happiness which I’m totally passionate about. Before I begin any Keynote address, I ask the audience(s) the following question. “If you were to ask any parent, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation (or not), socio-economic status, gender and so on, “What would you like for your children, what is the answer to that question?” Then I say “I just want them to be…” and then I turn the mike to the audience, who ALWAYS yells back “HAPPY!” There you have it, happiness, that’s what life is all about, period.
Aristotle lived in ancient Greece which of course is part of the Mediterranean, set the stage and planted the seeds for living a happy life by also saying “Everything in moderation.” So how can we achieve happiness, even in the midst of all this chaos, uncertainty, and fear that seems to be sweeping our world? Is it even possible to be facing all these challenges in the post-pandemic world, where depression, anxiety and stress related symptoms are at an all time high, globally? The answer is a definitive “yes we can” but it takes some work on our end. Here are 5 paths to begin our road to happiness and wellness.
We start by practicing massive Self-care, meaning how well we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I created a Personal Health Assessment (scan QR Code) that has been used by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. It takes about two minutes to do but will give you a blueprint of what areas you’re succeeding at, which ones you’re doing ok and which ones you’re completely neglecting as part of your self-care.
Pay attention to the last category because those definitely have an impact on the overall health and happiness of an individual. Part of practicing self-care is enjoying the beauty of nature that the Mediterranean area provides. The sun-drenched beaches and the sounds and smells of the sea. The amazingly healthy food that has become a worldwide phenomenon known as the Mediterranean diet (although I prefer not to use the word diet, since it has the word die in it). Those of us who call the Med our home are truly blessed just from these two areas: food and nature at its best. My gratitude for this part of the world is endless!
Which leads us to the second path, Gratitude. We know that a person cannot be in a state of gratitude and feel depressed at the same time. That is physiologically impossible! Now it’s rather easy to be grateful when all is well in life, the gratitude list is truly endless. However I believe we are ALL graduates from the University of Adversity, and the older we get the higher the degree. So can we still be grateful in the midst of adversity? The great Nelson Mandela answered this question by saying that in life either we win or we learn! I love that statement because in essence he is saying that as long as we learn from every experience, especially through adversity, then we’re good to move forward. The most important lessons in my life have not come from all my successes but what at the time seemed like serious setbacks. Sometimes they were so painful but when I have looked back at those dark events, I can see the gifts/lessons that came about, and those gifts have and continue to bless my life.
Ghandi once said “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” and to me Self-forgiveness is the attribute which leads to personal peace and happiness. When I was a Clinical Psychologist in private practice many years ago, I saw hundreds and hundreds of patients. Without exception they all struggled with lack of self-forgiveness. They were SO hard on themselves, oftentimes to the point of self-loathing. As I worked with and taught them the art of self-forgiveness, a miracle happened. Their overall negative state of mind was replaced with self-love, inner peace and a profound sense of wellness and happiness.
It does take a deliberate and conscious decision to forgive self and others and the process sometimes is hard work. So what areas of your life have you not forgiven yourself? Who else are you withholding forgiveness from and what price are you paying by holding on to those resentments, anger and hurt? If you’re ready to forgive, make a list today of who still needs to be forgiven, including what needs to be forgiven within yourself. Find someone who can help you through it, a trusted advisor, counselor, coach or even a friend. It’s a powerful exercise that will bear the sweetest fruit because forgiveness equals freedom.
Kindness is the fourth attribute of happy people. The beauty of performing acts of service and kindness towards others is that it benefits both the giver and the receiver. I have the following saying hanging on one of the walls in my office that I look and think of every single day: “Blessed are those who Give & Forget. Blessed are those who Receive & Remember.” Happy people perform acts of kindness all the time because their own batteries are full (by practicing all of the above). On the flip side, when we perform an act of service, something happens to us, mentally and emotionally that makes us feel better. I can’t tell you how many times in my life when I was feeling down or stressed or frustrated with myself, I decided to go and help someone else. Every single time I felt so much better afterwards. Sometimes losing ourselves in the service of others is the best antidote! I know that happiness and kindness are interrelated. You can’t have one without the other.
The fifth and last path is creating Healthy Relationships in our lives. If you consistently practice self-care, are grateful and forgiving and do acts of service but surround yourself with toxic people that by itself could undermine everything else you are trying to accomplish. Many years ago I made a very mindful and conscious decision to eliminate any toxic people from my life, and I did! But when I share that with others I often get incredulous looks of disbelief and people actually doubting what I said to them. Too often I’ve had people say “Dr. Elia, are you seriously saying you have no toxic relationships at all in your life?” My response is simple: Yup! Of course this leads to a follow up question: “How is that possible, what if they are members of your family?” To which I reply, that it’s actually easier than you might imagine.
It all starts with how we show up in our relationships. If I treat everyone I meet with love, kindness and respect, then I have EVERY right to expect that they in turn need to treat me with love, kindness and respect. If they don’t then we have what I would describe as a H.O.T. conversation: meaning Honest, Open & Transparent. I typically ask them first, if they feel I treat them with love, kindness and respect. Assuming they say yes, then I share with them that I expect them to treat me the same way and if they continue to treat me with anything less, then our relationship will come to an end. Or it will be suspended until they are able to consistently treat me with love, kindness and respect. It takes a certain amount of courage to have these HOT conversations but the results are totally worth it. Imagine a life with no toxicity, put downs, manipulation, anger, abuse and negativity. Imagine being surrounded with joy, laughter, peace, positivity and happiness!
You can have it and you deserve it.
In the meantime, here’s my biggest take away from the last few difficult years that have literally impacted all of us on this earth.
Do not procrastinate your happiness. Live your best life now.
Love yourself and others deeply and profoundly. Have fun.
Enjoy each and every moment. Life can be SO good!
The article was first published in the Issue 20