Saying yes to happiness means learning to say no to the desires that drain you.
They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. I don’t think anything could be closer to the truth, and yet all too often we find ways of complicating things for ourselves. We look for happiness where it does not exist – in shallow goals and desires – in possessions, quick thrills, and impressing the wrong people.
Angel and I were recently reminded of this when we met a family of six staying at a hotel in near our home. We saw them hanging around outside the lobby, sharing stories and laughing hysterically. As we walked by, Angel and I said hello to them and asked where they were from. “Oh, we’re from here,” the mother said. “Our house burned down to the ground yesterday, but miraculously, all of us made it out safely. And that makes today a day worth smiling about.”
Talk about a wake-up call. Some people might say they had lost everything, and yet this family knew better – they knew they had it all. Because there really is nothing like joyful tears and deep breaths after a long, hard laugh with the people you love – nothing in the whole world like a sore stomach for the right reasons and a grateful heart to back it up. That’s a situation where true happiness is surely found.
And there are many other sources of true happiness as well. But as I’ve said, there are also lots of common traps – goals and desires that we think will bring us happiness, but actually do the exact opposite. Recognizing these traps is the key. In fact, I believe one of the best feelings comes when you realize that you can be perfectly happy without the things you once thought you needed.
With this in mind, consider the ten goals and desires (traps) below and how they may be holding you back. Each of them is popular in our culture, and thus common in our lives, but rather than contributing to our happiness, they rob us of it.
So say it out loud with me:
“To be happier, I do NOT need…”
- To please everyone – Be careful not to give so much of yourself to others that you end up completely losing yourself. When you go around pleasing everyone but yourself, you are the one that gets hurt in the end. The late and great Herbert Bayard Swope said it like this: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” That is spot on advice if you ask me. Because truthfully, you are never going to please everyone anyway. At some point you will hold an unpopular opinion – one that gives you meaning and makes you feel alive. And when you do, you ought to hold on tight, tune out the noise, and make it count.
- Everything to be easy – You have to do hard things to be happy in life. The things no one else is doing. The things that frighten you. The things others can’t do for you. The things that make you question how much longer you can hold on and push forward. Because those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between existing and living – between knowing the path and walking the path – between a life of mediocrity and a life filled with happiness and success.
- Certainty and guarantees – Some people build too many walls in their lives and not enough bridges. It sounds crazy, but they would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take chances. Run free. To accomplish amazing things, you must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe. Be a dreamer, a believer, and a courageous and cheerful thinker. Be a positive motivator, a productive doer, and a go-getter who keeps her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground. Let the spirit of passion and possibility ignite a fire within you to do something worthwhile today and every day, and don’t forget to spread your enthusiasm to those around you. (Read Daring Greatly.)
- To be better than others – The size of our universe shrinks dramatically when we place ourselves at the center – when we think everyone is our competition – when we think we have to be richer, smarter, and more attractive than the person sitting next to us. Such a goal just keeps a person alienated and tirelessly running in place. Now, on the flip-side, take someone who doesn’t keep score, who’s not looking to be richer, or smarter, or more attractive, who has not the slightest interest even in being better than anyone else: she’s free. Bottom line: Compete with yourself only.
- More control over everything and everyone – Sometimes we put too much interest into trying to control every tiny aspect of our lives. Learn to relax and ride the path that life takes you sometimes. Incredible change will happen in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you do not. Freeing yourself from trying to control the insignificant and uncontrollable things lets you experience more of the goodness around you. In fact, the greatest joys are often the unexpected surprises that arrive when you are flexible and open to life’s twists and turns.
- Immense moments of glory – Graduations, wedding days, lavish vacations – these times are often fun-filled and deeply celebrated, but these times pass, because time passes. This is something we rarely grasp at first. True, lasting happiness is found in the appreciation of all the small things. For me, there are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to our home, ironing the seams flat on a dress shirt, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the sun rising over the Austin skyline, hearing a giggle from my son who’s playing in the other room – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true happiness: arbitrary moments of sudden, throbbing appreciation for a life I feel privileged to lead. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Other people to constantly validate me – Relationships are essential, but happiness originates from within. It is not exclusively dependent on external validation or on other people. You become vulnerable and can be easily hurt when your feelings of security and happiness depend entirely on the behavior and actions of others. Keep this in mind. Never give all your power to anyone else. Until you make complete peace with who you are, you’ll never be content with what you have or who you’re with. Learn to love and respect yourself first, before loving the idea of other people loving and respecting you.
- Perfect harmony in all relationships at all times – Harmony in relationships is nice when it’s sincere, but too often we try to fake it. Effective communication is king. You have to talk it out sometimes. After all, the only way to be happy in life is to live with integrity. This means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Being clear and asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create occasional tension. Behaving in ways that are in agreement with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not just what others believe. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Boundaries & Expectations” chapter of our BRAND NEW BOOK, 1,000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships.)
- A superior time and place – The reason many people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be. The key, of course, is to do the opposite. Appreciate your past without reliving it, handle your present with confidence, and face your future without fear. Life is simply too short to spend at war with yourself. Letting go of the past and future is your first step to happiness and peace in the present. Realize that you are today where your thoughts and actions have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts and actions today take you. Bottom line: You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to live is to press play, and dance.
- Happiness 24/7 – Absolutely no one is happy all of the time. Because you simply can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes. This is a harsh truth, I know. Just keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal to experience considerable fluctuations in your level of happiness from day to day, month to month, and even year to year. Believing and expecting otherwise will only lead to disillusionment. But even when life is less than blissful, you are still in charge of how you respond. Choose positivity, always. The greatest act of faith some days is to simply get up and face the day, with a smile.
And let me leave you with this to think about: According to a recent scientific study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, overall levels of happiness decline from one’s teens until one’s 40s and then pick up again until they peak in one’s early 70s. So the chances are that your happiest days are yet to come. Hopefully that gives you something to smile about today.
Just keep doing your best by taking life moment by moment, complaining very little, and being grateful for the little things that mean a lot.
So, which of the points in this post do you resonate with the most? What do you sometimes forget you do NOT need to be happier in life? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: SuperDewa