“All happiness depends on courage and work.”
―Honoré de Balzac
“This morning my best friend, Karl, confided in me that he’s having trouble playing a depressed character in our school’s end of the semester play. ‘Call me one of the lucky ones,’ he said. ‘But I just have no emotional tie to the role, and I know it’s hurting the quality of the character I’m trying to portray.’ The kicker, Karl is one of the kids, just like me, who constantly gets picked on by the popular jocks at our school. We’re always being called names, but Karl never lets it bother him. He loves who he is, and he’s happy.”
Those are the opening lines to an email I received this morning from a reader named Darin. The remainder of Darin’s email discusses his personal struggle with finding happiness. “I feel like I’ve given up too much in the pursuit of happiness,” he says. “And it’s only recently that Karl has helped me come to grips with the fact that there are some things I should NOT have to give up to be happy – like giving up my time and energy worrying about the hollow words of teenage bullies.”
Darrin’s words hit home with me, not only because I once let a high school bully get the best of me, but because I know all of us, in all walks of life, have taken a wrong turn in the pursuit of happiness a time or two. And all of us could use a bit more of Karl’s innate self-confidence and poise.
So my hope is that this post helps serve as a reminder: Although sacrifices must be made, you should not have to give up…
1. Your God-given truth.
There will always be people who refuse to respect you – the way you look, the way you talk, the things you say, the styles you enjoy, your beliefs, your interests, your loves, etc. In other words, they won’t support you in being true to yourself. The good news is, it’s up to you if you want to let them mess with your character, or if you would rather stand up for yourself and accept yourself just the way you are. I beg you to choose the latter.
Do your best to be as good as you can be, and if that’s not enough for someone, it surely will be for someone else. You are not here to please everyone, and you are certainly not here to please them at the expense of your own truth. So care less about what they say and smile more about what you know is true. Live your life and be happy with yourself, without their judgments.
2. Responsibility for your own life.
Sigmund Freud once said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” Don’t let this be you. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you surrender power over that part of your life.
Make no mistake, in the end, the price of happiness IS responsibility. As soon as you stop making everyone and everything else responsible for your happiness, the happier you’ll be. If you’re unhappy now, it’s not someone else’s fault.
Ultimately, your happiness depends on your self-reliance – your unshakable willingness to take responsibility for your life from this moment forward, regardless of who had a hand in making it the way it is now. It’s about taking control of your present circumstances, finding your true self by thinking for yourself, and making a firm choice to live YOUR way. It’s about being the hero of your life, not the victim. (Read A New Earth.)
3. Love that comes naturally to you.
When you love openly and honestly, you always strive to become better than you are. When you strive to become better than you are, everything around you becomes better too. There is never a perfect time or place for love like this either. It happens naturally and accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, fluttering instant in time.
As Robert Frost once said, “We love the things we love for what they are.” And this is precisely what gives life it’s magic. Where there is true love, there is true life.
Don’t let anything stop you from loving. Don’t let anything stop you from living.
4. Your curiosity.
Joy comes easy to us in our youth because we haven’t become set too firmly in our ways. Our willingness to curiously assess new situations and varying perspectives allows us to experience flashes of insight and beauty wherever we go. Those of us who fight the draw of our comfort zones as we age, who sustain our curiosity into our later years, learn a lot more and experience far more happiness in the long run.
Curiosity, after all, is the foundation of lifelong growth. It allows us to retain a beginner’s mind even as our wisdom expands. In this way, an enduring curiosity permits our hearts and minds to grow younger, not older every day.
So always remain curious and teachable. Keep an open mind and do not stop questioning and learning. Look forward, open new doors and experience new things. Do so because you’re curious, and because you know that today’s journey is always just beginning.
5. Your ability to make progress.
Happiness isn’t possession. It’s progress. It’s seeing your efforts create outcomes.
So don’t let the fantasy of an easy life imprison you. Short-term discomfort and failure are two of the surest stepping-stones to long-term happiness and success. Find the strength to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who are patient… while working hard for what they want most in life.
Remember, every day you may make progress – every step may be rewarding – and yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to a place where there is nothing left to experience and learn. But this, in a surprising way, only adds to the joy and glory of your journey. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
6. Meaningful dreams and goals.
If you’re bored with life – if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things – you haven’t set the right goals, and you aren’t doing enough with your dreams. You’re on the wrong path to happiness.
Every morning you have the same two choices:
- Continue to sleep with your dreams.
- Wake up and do something that brings them to reality.
When a dream matters enough to a person, that person will find a way to achieve what at first seemed impossible. You know this is true. You know what you need to do. Do it. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Put in the effort and live the life you’ve imagined. The only thing that can truly stop you, is YOU.
7. Your patience.
Patience does not mean waiting and doing nothing. Patience involves productive activity. It means doing your very best with the resources available to you, while understanding that the results you seek are worth the required time and effort, and not available elsewhere for any less time and effort.
In other words, patience is the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard on the activities and goals that bring you happiness.
Ultimately, the two hardest tests on the road to personal growth are the patience to wait for what you want and the courage not to be disappointed when it doesn’t arrive as soon as you had expected. Patience can be bitter, but the seeds you plant now will bear sweet fruit. And these fruits are worth waiting for. There’s no point in hurrying through life and never tasting their sweetness. (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
8. All your present contentment.
Sometimes we avoid experiencing exactly where we are because we have developed a belief, based on past experiences, that it is not where we should be or want to be. But the truth is, where you are now is exactly where you need to be to get to where you want to go tomorrow. So appreciate where you are.
Happiness is a mindset that can only be designed into the present. It’s not a point in the future or a moment from the past; yet sadly, this misconception hurts the masses. So many young people seem to think all their happiness awaits them in the years ahead, while so many older people believe their best moments are behind them.
Don’t let the past, or the future, steal your present contentment. Stop over-thinking and worrying about every other time and place, every waking minute. Worry and rumination are the worst enemies to living happily in the present. Do what you need to do now, and value the process of doing so. Pay attention. Experience it. Life is too short for anything less.
9. Good times shared with good friends.
Although happiness is a journey that requires effort and progress, it must also be shared. If you attempt to do it all alone, you will not succeed as a human being. Your heart will wither if it does not occasionally answer another heart. Your mind will shrink away if it hears only the echoes of your own thoughts, and finds no other inspiration or relevant conversation.
Any bit of happiness unshared can scarcely be called happiness in the long run; it lacks substance and taste. So whatever it is that makes you happy, do it and share it. Don’t hide it and hoard it.
What did I miss? What should we never have to give up in life? Where do we sometimes take a wrong turn in the pursuit of happiness? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Tiqs