How do we heighten our happiness? There are many ways and one size does not fit all. Below I discuss what has worked for me and those closest to me – how a small group of us went from downbeat and drained to a happy and hopeful in a few short years.
- Look for happiness in the right places. – When we’re young we look for happiness in drugs, sex, alcohol, parties, fast cars, extreme sports, etc. Then when we get a little older, we look for happiness in more ‘mature’ ways – a stable partner, romantic getaways, walks along the beach, jazz music, a night at the bar with some friends. Do they work? Do these things make us happy? Sure they do. They raise our happiness temporarily. But people have a baseline of inner happiness. Certain events and possessions, like an unexpected windfall, might raise or lower our happiness momentarily, but soon we return to our inner baseline. The key is to gradually raise this baseline. Enjoy the moment, but don’t completely ignore long-term goals. What will you be proud to have accomplished, or disappointed that you didn’t do, five years from now? Read The Happiness Project.
- Acknowledge the lesson is every situation. – Everything is a life lesson. Everyone you meet, everything you encounter, etc. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way. If you don’t get a job that you wanted or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting. And the lesson you just learned is the first step towards it.
- Be authentic. Be true to yourself. – Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else.” Live by this statement. There is no such thing as living in someone else’s shoes. The only shoes you can occupy are your own. If you aren’t being yourself, you aren’t truly living – you’re merely existing.
- Move your thoughts beyond obstacles. – Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To different minds, the same world is a hell and a heaven.” Put in an effort to both seek out happiness-boosting experiences and learn to appreciate what you find. There will always be negative obstacles. This will never change. If you focus on them, your world will become Emerson’s hell. The real trick is to learn how to keep moving amidst these obstacles – acknowledging that they’re simply a part of life – and continually seek out or construct experiences that make you happy.
- Focus on what’s right. – How you view yourself and your world are conscious choices. The lens you choose to view everything through determines how you feel about yourself and the world around you. Everything that happens in life is neither good nor bad. It just depends on your perspective. And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should. Either you succeed or you learn something. So stay positive, appreciate the pleasant outcomes, and learn from the rest.
- Be a part of something you believe in. – This could be anything. Some people take an active role in their local city council, some find refuge in religious faith, some join social clubs supporting causes they believe in, and others find passion in their careers. In each case the psychological outcome is the same. They engage themselves in something they strongly believe in. This engagement brings happiness and meaning into their lives.
- Use personal strengths to get things done. – Everyone possesses unique personal strengths. We all have different talents and skill sets. Emotional happiness comes naturally to those who use their strengths to get things done. The state of completion always creates a sense of achievement. If this achievement is based exclusively on your personal ability to get the job done, the psychological rewards are priceless.
- Focus on quality over quantity. – An excess of things may seem wonderful when you imagine them, but when you actually get them they lose the magic you imagined. Quality and moderation often bring more joy than an excess. The first five pieces of candy always taste better than the rest. And if you eat the whole bag of candy you wind up feeling a bit nauseous. One awesome gadget or tool is often better than five mediocre ones. One great looking shirt often brings more joy than ten from the clearance rack.
- Avoid negativity and negative people. – Don’t belittle yourself and don’t put up with people who try to belittle you.
- Appreciate the things you already have. – The road to happiness isn’t difficult. Happiness is not dependent on amassing a certain amount of wealth or notoriety. If you’re always striving for something bigger and better, without stopping to appreciate what you currently have, happiness will remain slightly out of reach. Your current situation may be far from perfect, but if you can detach from your own negative views and appreciate the simple aspects of each moment, happiness becomes easier to cultivate.
- Instead of searching for passion, live passionately now. – Sometimes we get so wrapped up in ‘finding ourselves’ or ‘finding our passion’ that we forget how this discovery is actually made: By living passionately now. In other words, if you want to find out where your true passions lies, stop looking and simply start living each day with passion and zeal. If you do, self-discovery will come naturally.
- Savor the joy of simple pleasures. – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best things in life are free. They come in the form of simple pleasures and they appear right in front of you at various locations and arbitrary times. They are governed by Mother Nature and situational circumstance and captured by mindful awareness. It’s all about taking a moment to notice the orange and pink sunset reflecting off the pond water as you hold hands with someone you love. Noticing these moments and taking part in them regularly will bring unpredictable bursts of happiness into your life.
- Exploit the resources you DO have access to. – The average person is usually astonished when they see a physically handicap person show intense signs of emotional happiness. How could someone in such a restricted physical state be so happy? The answer rests in how they use the resources they do have. Stevie Wonder couldn’t see, so he exploited his sense of hearing into a passion for music, and he now has 25 Grammy Awards to prove it. Get it?
- Help others when you’re able. – In life, you get what you put in. When you make a positive impact in someone else’s life, you also make a positive impact in your own life. Do something that’s greater than you – something that helps someone else to be happy or to suffer less.
- Live debt-free. – Financial debt causes stress and heart ache. Live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one. Do not spend to impress others. Do not live life trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects. Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you. Always live well below your means. Read The Millionaire Next Door.
- Share time with people you love and experience life together. – The quality of our personal relationships correlates directly with our overall sense of worth and happiness. Sometimes in the midst of life’s chaos we forget to do the little things that remind us we’re part of something greater than ourselves. We need a certain amount of meaningful contact with other people to feel fully alive. There are few things more satisfying than recounting the greatest moments of your life with your family and closest friends who lived these moments alongside you. And remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
- Be faithful to your significant other. – Sustained fidelity in a long-term intimate relationship creates a healthy foundation for everything else you do.
- Resolve conflicts with others. – Always forgive people and move on, even if they never ask for your forgiveness. Don’t do it for them – do it for yourself. Get that unnecessary stress out of your life.
- Perform random acts of kindness on a regular basis. – Pay for a stranger’s coffee in line at Starbucks. Buy the office receptionist flowers just to say, “Thank you.” Help an elderly lady with her groceries. There’s nothing more rewarding than putting smiles on the faces around you. Check out Makes Me Think.
- Smile more often. – A genuine smile makes you and everyone around you feel better. The simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And when you’re happy, your body pumps out all kinds of feel-good endorphins. This reaction has been studied since the 1980’s and has been proven a number of times. Bottom line: Smiling actually makes you happier.
- Be self-sufficient. – Freedom is the greatest gift. Self-sufficiency is the greatest freedom. It’s nice to have close friends and family you can count on, but it lifts a huge weight off your shoulders when you know that you could survive on your own if you had to.
- Invest time, energy and money in yourself every day. – Happiness comes as a side-effect of learning new skills and challenging yourself. Read, listen, adapt and stretch to accommodate new ideas and new information. When you invest in yourself, you can never lose, and over time you will change the trajectory of your life. You are simply the product of what you know. The more time, energy and money you spend acquiring pertinent knowledge, the more control you have over your life.
- Use your body as it was designed to be used. – Walk, jog, run, stretch, throw things, and lift things. Jump around! Dance! Exercise in the gym is good, but so is making love, exchanging back rubs, or cutting firewood. Your body is an incredible machine and it can be either a source of joy, or a source of aches and pains. It just depends on what you do and how you treat it.
- Compete only with yourself to be the best you can be. – When you catch yourself comparing yourself to a colleague, neighbor, friend, or someone famous, stop! Realize that you are different, with different strengths – strengths these other people don’t possess. Take a moment to reflect on all the awesome abilities you have and to be grateful for all the good things in your life.
- Accept things when they are less than perfect. – If you find yourself at a point of intense decision making where you’re caught in a spiral of over-analysis and you’re making no progress, take a deep breath, break the spiral, make an educated guess on the next logical step, and take it. Even if you get it wrong you’ve learned something, which is better than doing nothing. Your failures along the road to your goals are simply opportunities to learn and grow. Remember, the real world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards people who get things done.
- Make time for fun. – Fun is way underrated. With all of our responsibilities, fun seems like an indulgence. It shouldn’t be. It should be a requirement. Ponder what you did to have fun when you were younger and go do it again. Leave the yard un-mowed for a weekend and get out on the town. When you’re older, you will remember the fun, not the freshly mowed yard.
- Take full responsibility for your life. – Either you take responsibility for your life or someone else will. And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own. You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life. And no, it won’t always be easy. Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them. You must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles. Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.
And remember, life always takes place in the present. You never know what the future holds – whether or not you and your loved ones will still have good health or even be alive. The opportunity to enjoy life is now. Make time to do so.
Photo by: Alex