Today we’re talking about the Holy Grail of personal development, if not life in general: Happiness.
We all want to be happier.
(Well, there are those among us who truly want to pout and be miserable, but I’m guessing they’re not reading this today – they’re probably off reading the Life Sucks Times.)
I’ve always thought if you’re happy, you really, truly have it all.
When I was a little kid, I remember thinking even if you’re dying as long as you were happy, it was ok.
In my mind, happiness is more important than being healthy. (After all, how many perfectly healthy miserable people do you know?)
– Oh, and no comments about what a weird kid I was. I know already.
Anyway, that reasoning still makes sense to me.
Happiness is Key
You’ve got to be happy above everything else or nothing else really matters.
You can’t take in the beauty around you, or enjoy a bazillion dollars if you had it, or be grateful for perfect health or true love.
So of all the other things you could choose to spend your time on, optimizing happiness seems to offer a lot of bang for your buck, if you will.
Dr. Martin Seligman a pioneer in positive psychology has estimated that 60% of your happiness is determined by genetics, while the other 40% is within our control.
So it seems we have some work to do, people.
Moving the needle on that 40% should be a major goal for all of us.
How to Increase 40% of Your Happiness
There’s been a lot written on how to be happier, and much of it has merit.
But I think there are certain things that if left unaddressed, make everything else like putting a bandaid on a stab wound. It just doesn’t make much of a difference until you cure what’s festering under the surface.
These ways to take control of your happiness are designed to get at the root of the problem. Then, things like gratitude and smiling more often have a chance of making an impact.
Ready? Here they are:
How To Be Happier: 6 Ways
1. Fix what’s not working for you.
“Mom, my tummy hurts.” says my 2 year-old.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“Then let’s have a snack.” I suggest.
“Ok.” she says.
Sometimes we get crazy about throwing every trick in the book at a problem instead of just solving the problem. When my 2 year-old’s tummy hurts, she’s probably hungry and I feed her.
When you feel unhappy there’s probably a reason, and if you can ferret it out and solve the problem, that actually works much better than healing crystals and mantras.
The thing is you sometimes have to check in with yourself to understand what you’re feeling, or you have to stay with the feeling for a while while you solve a problem that’s trickier than getting a box of Goldfish from the second shelf.
2. Stop betraying yourself.
Every time you lie to yourself you betray your own trust.
When you do something that kills you slowly inside, like decide you’re going to stay with your sucky job just six more months until the job market improves, or stay with your partner who treats you like dirt because it’s too scary to be on your own, you tell yourself (with actions, not words) that you’re not worth it.
And when you treat yourself like that you not only begin to believe it, you also begin to hate yourself for treating you like that.
I get it that life’s not perfect and compromises have to be made at times. I understand (completely) about being scared out of your wits to do or not do something.
But when you make choices, the most basic starting point is that you need to treat yourself with the love and respect you deserve, and then proceed from there.
It’s the ground rule for any relationship including the one you have with yourself.
3. Do something constructive when you get bored with life.
We all get stuck in a rut sometimes.
There, I said it.
It doesn’t have to be some big, scary deal, you guys. Seriously.
I think that we all worry that being stuck in a rut means that we’re getting depressed, or we’re having a mid-life crisis, or we’re actually a little bit crazy and we don’t know what the heck has been happening to us for the last 10 years or so.
When in fact, you’re just stuck in a rut.
There’s a lot you can do to get out of it, but the bottom line is that life needs you to shake it up a little, in a constructive way.
Don’t go getting all Walter White on me and start making choices that turn your bad day into a nation-wide man-hunt and a car-wash business that’s really only interested in cleaning cash.
The point is, don’t make a bad situation worse by straining relationships or other foundations in your life that you’d really rather keep intact.
4. Create a resilience safety net.
Create a what?!
Now before you go Googling that term, you should know that I completely made it up just now.
You can call it whatever you’d like. Basically, it’s your safety net for when the shit hits the fan.
And in life, it always does.
Whatever you need in order to bounce back from a difficult situation should already be in place before you need it. It might be a strong network of family and friends, a cultivated meditation practice, a regular exercise routine or a rainy day fund.
Knowing it’s there will give you peace of mind, and if you end up using your safety net, you won’t have as far to fall.
5. Stop fighting what IS.
I can’t pretend I’ve given up the struggle. I fight against what IS too. But acceptance can make us all happier. The best wisdom I have to offer here is to try to remember not to struggle. Breathe, and allow life to be what it is. Let go.
(Remind me when I’m freaking out, K?)
6. Stop living for pleasure, and start living for meaning and engagement.
Martin Seligman (the positive psychologist we met earlier) has said that while pursing pleasure in life might bring positive feelings, enduring happiness only comes from pursing meaning.
And meaning comes from using your strengths and talents to pursue something that is bigger than you.
We’ve long known that stuff doesn’t make us happier in the long term, but the temporary rush from new bling of any sort feels easier to obtain than happiness acquired from the long-term efforts from building meaning.
It’s easier to pursue the rush of pseudo-happiness than to work hard for real happiness.
But instead of striving toward that next vacation, thrilling experience or gadget (or in addition to striving for that) make sure you’re putting yourself into goals that you feel make the world a better place to be. (Like work you love!)
That’s what creates true, enduring happiness.
Here’s the part where I tell you to try out these ways to take control of your happiness – and good luck! Have a nice day!
Except I’m not going to do that.
Because here’s the thing: your happiness is a serious deal.
It’s not about rainbows and unicorn poop.
It’s about whether you enjoy this one life you get to live or not.
As seriously as I take happiness, you’d better believe that I think deserves serious attention.
You need to tend to your own happiness like you’d tend to your health if you had a medical condition or you’d tend to your child.
It needs care, it needs space (don’t just forget about it), and it needs work – especially when things aren’t going quite according to plan.
As I said earlier, much of what is written on happiness has merit, but I believe we owe it to ourselves to take our happiness more seriously and to plan for caring for and growing it – in other words, exercising our considerable control to increase our own happiness.
What do you think?
How seriously have you been taking your happiness? How much do you think your happiness could increase by giving it more care and attention? Or do we spend too much time on our own personal happiness already?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.