Ten Things You Need to Know Before Getting to Happy
Apparently, there’s no straight highway to Happiness Boulevard. The path to happiness is fraught with many detours, one ways, and cul-de-sacs, which can be both confusing and frustrating; but they all insist that persistence pays off, since all roads lead to Happiness Boulevard eventually.
So all consistently happy people realize a few things before finally reaching that “aha” moment. They are as follows:
1. You don’t really need much
While great cars, great houses, and other doodads are great, the happiness they provide is ever so fleeting. A Porsche is better than a Toyota, but you know what’s better than a Porsche? Having someone else drive you around in a limousine. The problem, however, is that if the news coverage of celebrities is accurate, those who get driven around in limos aren’t always happy. So what gives? The excitement wears off after a while. The happiness they bring passes quickly.
This is not to say that there’s something wrong with wanting Porsches and limousines, goodness no! But if you hanker after these things, believing they’ll lead to lasting happiness, well then, you clearly don’t read enough of OK! Magazine.
2. You have everything you need
On the topic of magazines, we keep being told that we need this or that, and that we have to look like this person or that one, or else we’re losers. Where magazines stop, radio, television, and the internet does the rest. It’s almost as if the words “happiness,” “satisfaction,” and “beauty” didn’t exist till the advent of modern technology.
Although we weren’t born with shelter, clothes, food, and education, it doesn’t mean we’re completely helpless and dependent on every product that wants to be bought. We are all born with innate intelligence and abilities that can take us far in life. Every invention, gizmo, and building around us originally existed as an idea in someone’s mind before it became manifest in the world. Our institutions, economic system, and ideology started life this way and continues to change because of our thoughts, will, and abilities.
3. Know what you really want
This is perhaps the hardest thing to grasp. It’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s excitement and standards, as well as in all the hype from industries that want our money. With all the messages about what we should want, it’s not surprising that most of us lose touch with what it is we really do want. And it’s not just the ads and fads, culture, religion, social background, family, and education also play a major role in telling us what we can and can’t be, what we should and shouldn’t want, and what we should and shouldn’t want to be.
Did you know that Bill Gates was a college dropout? Imagine if he’d listened to those people who said he’d never amount to much without a college degree. While his income and corporate success are admirable, not everyone really wants to be like him. Some are genuinely happy with a more modest business or career, as well as a more modest lifestyle. Unhappiness comes when they listen to others who say they have to want and do more.
4. Your beliefs make or break you
Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, once famously said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” Beliefs not only define how we view the world, but also how we function in it. People used to believe that the world was flat, and that if they sailed too far from the shore, they’d fall off the planet. Fortunately, we now understand how stupid that belief was.
Unfortunately, we don’t understand how stupid some of our own current beliefs are. It’ll take future generations to point them out to us. If a false belief can limit trade, travel, and the transmission of information by binding people to land, imagine what other beliefs we hold to be true actually limit us. Now consider what beliefs limit you.
5. There’s no such thing as perfection
Everyone says this, but it doesn’t stop people from trying to achieve it. Nor should it. But sometimes, the very pursuit of perfection can lead us on a very long detour away from Happiness Boulevard. And sometimes, the distance is so great that some people don’t make it at all, such as bulimics and those who commit suicide.
If you know anything about the fashion industry, however, then you’ll know they don’t choose models because they have perfect looks. What the modeling industry looks for are unusual quirks and traits—an eye that’s off center a little, a nose that’s a little crooked, etc. As for the rest, there’s Photoshop.
Those who do seek perfection and actually achieve it claim that they enjoyed the process more. In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to ever step foot on the summit of Mount Everest. When asked how they did it, both claimed that they focused on each step of the way till they found themselves at the top. Perfection was the motivating factor, but unless you actually enjoy the process, achieving perfection becomes an empty victory.
6. Forget the past and the future
An old saying goes: yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today’s all you’ve got. Our past may have had an influence on our lives, our education, our accent, and where we are, but it is not a tether that has to bind us in place. Herbert Hoover was orphaned at a young age and was so poor he had to skip high school. This didn’t stop him from educating himself, becoming a self-made millionaire, and our 31st president.
No one can know the future. All we can do is live in the moment as best we can, while trying to prepare for tomorrow. Sometimes, we are so focused on either the past or the future that we cease to live in the present.
7. Choose forgiveness over pain
Sometimes, we live in the past because we can’t forgive someone who hurt us. Despite the anguish, we prefer to chew on a past wrong, unable to let go because the anger fuels us, and in time, it defines us. Letting go would be to give up a part of ourselves, and who would willingly do that?
But as author Jonathan Lockwood Huie put it, “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” And sometimes, the best way to get over pain is to choose to just let it go.
8. You are not your thoughts
This one’s a doozy because it’s hard not to think. Unfortunately, we can’t always control what we think, especially when we think we’re crap. Or that other people are. Or that the world is. And remember how belief affects how we live and act in the world?
Our thoughts are not really ours, most of the time. They are the random noises our mind generates because of all the stuff it gets bombarded with every day. Deep within that noisy layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions is a quiet, thoughtful being waiting to be heard, if only we’d give it a chance.
9. Challenges are good
Without challenges, our species would still be single-celled creatures in the ocean. Challenges are therefore gifts which allow us to grow and reach our full potential. They allow us to test our limits and push past them. Not all see challenges in the same light, however. They see them as obstacles that keep them in place. But if you do what everyone else does, you’ll get what everyone else has. And if that makes you happy, then great. But if not, then that’s another matter entirely.
Surrender is not about giving up, it’s about letting go of obsessions and unhealthy attachments to people, things, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and expected outcomes. Have you ever pressed your nose to a book? Hard to make out the words, huh? Often, we get so close to things that we can no longer see the bigger picture, so we wander around in circles, frustrated by the fact that we’re going nowhere.
If life isn’t going your way, it could be that you’re the one going the wrong way. It’s like fighting an undercurrent in the sea or a river. Resisting will only exhaust you, because you can’t possibly fight a force of nature. To survive, you have to let go and let the current take you to calmer waters.
Wisdom comes in knowing when to rise to a challenge and when to surrender.
The Sixteen Critical Steps to Long-Lasting Happiness
To know that you should forgive, that you should persist, and that you shouldn’t buy into others’ expectations is one thing. To actually realize it and live accordingly is another. Once you do realize those things, however, you begin to understand that happiness is not just a state of mind. It is also an attitude that has to be maintained.
This is because Happiness Boulevard is quite long. It also has many roads that lead away from it. Fortunately for you, all roads lead back to it.
So let’s get back to those (scientifically proven) consistently happy people. According to them, being happy takes practice and constant effort. It requires making a conscious decision, every moment of every day, to do the following.
1. Be centered
Being centered is about not letting yourself get too caught up in the hype. It doesn’t matter if that hype is an ad campaign, what others say or do, or even if the world is crumbling around you. It is not about being devoid of emotion. Rather, it’s about listening to the calm quiet center that exists in all of us.
Those who find their center usually do so by surviving a traumatic experience. Others achieve the same thing through meditation. These people tend to be more thoughtful, introspective, and deliberate, because they are no longer so easily swayed by emotional ups and downs. They feel emotion. It’s just that their centers keep them sufficiently grounded so they don’t get too carried away.
2. Be present
This goes back to not living in the past and not thinking too much about the future. Don’t be like those tourists who go to a fabulous spot and spend their entire time taking pictures to show uninterested friends and family back home.
There are things to see and do at any given moment, but you’ll never enjoy them if you’re too distracted by the past or the future. Notice where you are and what’s around you this very moment as you read these words. The more present you can be, the less distracted you will be by past hurts or future worries.
3. Be accepting
The healing power of being present was extolled by Eckhart Tolle, a writer and spiritual teacher. He believes that the level of our emotional pain is a measure of our resistance to the present. There is no need to live in emotional anguish, but because it is at least something familiar, many refuse to let it go for fear of the unfamiliar.
Unless you’re now starving, being chased by wild animals, drowning, falling, in great pain, or in a burning building, it’s unlikely that you currently have anything to fear. Often, it is the fear of things (which either happened in the past or might happen in the future) that causes anguish. Isn’t it strange that in the case of how to avoid fear and pain, many choose to wallow in the thought of fear and pain?
4. Be authentic
Authenticity is about accepting who you are and what you have. No one is perfect. Most people project their expectations on others, and if they become disappointed by reality, the fault lies with those who do the projecting. We all have strengths and weaknesses, all of us.
No one can possibly be good at everything, be talented at everything, know everything, or even have everything. We can only do the best with who we are and with what we have. The more we can make peace with ourselves, the less we’ll be tempted to compare ourselves with others or try to live up to their unrealistic expectations.
5. Love yourself
The more you can accept who and what you are, the more you can learn to love yourself. We have all been taught the value of love, but most think of it as an emotion to project on others. We are taught that it’s good to love friends and family, that we should fall in love with someone, and that we should love our country, and so on.
We’re also taught to be confident, to stand up for ourselves, and to be self-sufficient. We’re taught not to be arrogant, selfish, or stuck-up. Finally, we’re taught to accept “valuable criticism” so well that we become good at doing it to ourselves. And so we stop associating love as a feeling to project upon ourselves. Just as you can love others despite their faults, you must learn to love yourself despite your own flaws.
6. Be optimistic
Although optimistic people can be annoying, did you know that they also tend to be healthier individuals and live longer? They do! Optimistic people’s brains tend to produce more of a neurochemical called GABA, also called the anti-anxiety molecule. Since anxiety is a proven contributor to heart disease and a host of other ills, the health benefits of GABA becomes apparent. But optimism also feels good, doesn’t it?
Optimism gives people a reason to live, a reason to get up in the morning, and a reason to go on with a hopeful and happy heart. Optimistic people see good in others, in the world, and in themselves—so they act accordingly. Even better, optimistic people inspire others. It’s like a virus, but a good one.
7. Be grateful
The sneaky thing about genuine gratitude is that it inspires others to give you more of something. Which probably explains why grateful people tend to be happier. Gratitude is also about living in the present and understanding that each moment can be a blessing, if we but take the time to notice and appreciate it. Genuine gratitude also fills us up with pleasure and joy, opening us up for even more good things.
8. Be deliberate
Being deliberate is about doing things while being centered, present, and authentic. No one can truly know their purpose in life, but they can live according to their ideals and values. A deliberate person may not necessarily subscribe to a moral code, but they do understand that every action has consequences to themselves and to others. So they try not to get too caught up in the heat of the moment, or they at least take a few deep breaths before giving in to the temptation of speaking and acting thoughtlessly.
9. Be in awe
We live in an awesome world. Unfortunately, we get so caught up in mundane things that it takes the Discovery Channel for us to realize it. It’s like those tourists who spend more time taking pictures of a place than they do actually experiencing it. Awe fills us with wonder, and in doing so, lifts us up from the mundane world. It also reminds us that there is far more to life than death, taxes, and the causes of our stress.
10. Seek a new perspective
We go back to the power of belief and how it shapes our lives. It’s easy to believe the stereotypes the media portrays of people, countries, and things… at least till we take the time and the effort to understand them better. The same can be said of our own ideas and pre-conceived notions.
A change of perspective can move us from fear to a sense of security, from hating someone to forgiving them, and from self-loathing to self-acceptance and self-love. It may be comforting to hold on to ignorance and prejudice, but letting go can be liberating, as it opens us up to new possibilities, experiences, knowledge, and even friendships.
11. Be compassionate
A change of perspective can also lead to compassion, a wonderful feeling in itself. Compassion stems not from a sense of pity, which is another emotion entirely. No, compassion is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. While you may not understand their situation, what they’re going through, or where they’re coming from, you can at least understand that they have feelings, just as you do.
Compassion, therefore, has the power to open us up to others, and gives them a chance to open themselves up to us. It allows us to put down the emotional barriers we work so hard to maintain and lets us establish a genuine connection with one another.
12. Be generous
Generosity isn’t just for the rich, nor is it just about giving away money. You can also be generous with your time and with your patience. Remember how genuinely grateful people tend to be happier? Well apparently, generous people feel the same thing, and it’s not just because it feels good to see people so happy at receiving something. Generous people seem to produce more levels of oxytocin, a hormone that’s associated with euphoria, trust, and loyalty. It’s another reason they call oxytocin the “bonding molecule.”
13. Live in balance
It can’t be all work or all play. Some high-powered executives like to work till they have a nervous breakdown, after which they spend a year gallivanting around the world. That’s not balance; nor is balance about splitting up your time 50-50, be it half with family and half with work, or half at work and half at play. Balance is about giving what attention you can without burning yourself out or extending yourself beyond what you can comfortably give.
14. Be playful
Being playful is not necessarily about going to the amusement park or playing video games all day. Being playful is about making opportunities to find joy and pleasure in something, be it mundane and tedious, or something more serious.
Factory workers in Victorian England used to work twelve hours a day or more. They did this six days a week for barely livable wages, under inhumane and often dangerous conditions. Serious injuries and death were therefore common. To make things bearable, those who worked at cotton and textile mills developed Clog Dancing, a type of tap dance whose steps mimicked the sound and movement of the machines they worked with.
To be playful is to understand that happiness can be found in even the smallest and most ordinary of things. With enough creativity and will, pleasure can even be pulled out of unpleasant situations, just like those Victorian workers did.
No, this isn’t about religion. You don’t have to be religious to practice meditation and reap its rewards. There’s more than enough information about its proven physical and mental health benefits. There’s also a lot of information out there which tells you how to do it.
Meditation is a way of slowing down and stilling the cacophony of your mind. If we accept the premise that happiness lies within, then it has to be there inside your head. The problem has to do with all the internal chatter that goes on in all of us. Unless you can put a stop to it, even for just a few minutes, you can never find that still, quiet center that’s always been there within you.
A smile doesn’t just make you look better, it also makes you feel better. Seriously! Research has shown that smiling releases serotonin into our system, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. It’s also infectious. The more you smile at others, the more likely they are to smile back at you. The next time you feel down, fake it till you make it by smiling.