I often tell people that happiness does not come from external things, but that it comes from within you. You have to develop it. And their reaction is always the same: TELL ME HOW!
My first book, Winning the Fight to Be Happy, talks about this process in depth, but here’s a list of what to do:
- First of all, accept the fact that external things will never give you long-term happiness. The new car, the promotion – their effect on your happiness is temporary. Never base your happiness on a thing or even a person.
- Choose a positive perspective: As the old adage goes, you can look at the glass half-empty or half-full, i.e. negatively or positively. That is entirely up to you. Many people don’t realize that they have the power to make this choice between being positive or negative. Don’t let life decide it for you — make that choice yourself.
- Accept the things that you cannot change: Many of these things vary from person to person. Nonetheless, one thing that all people cannot change is the Past. Accept that the past has happened, and that it is over.
- Focus on the things that you can control, rather than those you cannot. Most things in life are out of our control, but the few things that are include being positive, being punctual, exercising, eating well, always trying to learn more, being polite, working hard, and not indulging in harmful habits or substances.
- Avoid comparisons with others: One of our biggest challenges here is social media. You can scroll on Facebook and think that everyone except you is on an expensive vacation, eating grand meals, and having wonderful things happen to them. The more friends you have on Facebook, the more of this “news” you see, and the more jealous you become. And then you become worried that your life is not “cool”, successful, or impressive. A few things to be aware of here: everyone has hardships in life, no matter how blissful their lives may look. No one’s life is perfect. Secondly, not everyone’s lives progress at the same speed. Third, no one is forcing you to compare yourself to others — ultimately, that decision is up to you. And finally, is it really worth your time to be looking at other people’s lives and seeing if you measure up? Our time on this earth is limited: focus on being the best person you can be, for no one knows when his time is up.
- Be thankful for the good things in your life, and express this gratitude every day. I thank God every day for all of the good things in my life, and it reinforces my positive energy while also reminding me how fortunate I am. It’s called the “Attitude of Gratitude”, and it is not hard to have. Anyone who is reading this can already be thankful for having eyesight, the ability to read (which means at least a decent education), a computer or smartphone (probably both), clothes, shelter, and food. Imagine not having one of those things, let alone all of them, and you’ll realize how thankful you should be. Add to that all the other wonderful things you probably have, like friends, a family, a job, hobbies, and health. Think of as many good things as you can, and be thankful for them, every day.
- Pursue serenity and peace of mind: This is not simply sitting in a field and meditating, but rather, having the characteristics of a serene person: self-control, a disciplined life, an appreciation for patience, an acceptance of change, a strong regard for Reason and nature. I’ve written more about this in two other articles: http://www.tommckinley.com/on-developing-peace-of-mind-part-one/, http://www.tommckinley.com/on-developing-peace-of-mind-part-two/).
- Simplify your life: Get rid of things that clutter your mind, such as whether you are wearing the right clothes or going to the right places. Don’t let your social life run you around, and don’t let other people’s opinions of you overpower your opinion of yourself. Evaluate your commitments and see if they add value to your life or if they are just a drain. Pay less attention to the things that have no effect on your life, which you cannot control, and which put you in an unpleasant mood, like politics or news.
- Fight the notion that life is all about achievements: Many of us, especially Americans, seem to live by the notion that “Man is the sum of his achievements”. This all fine and good until you fail at something. And we all fail at something, sooner or later. Having goals is good for giving your life more meaning, and preventing you from being bored, but to base your happiness exclusively on achieving goals is to invite depression. No one succeeds at everything, certainly not in the short-term.
- Give to others. The purpose, and indeed the challenge, of life is to be unselfish. I spent many years of my life going to party after party, only to wake up the next morning and find myself no happier than I’d been the day before. And then I did my first charity project, and felt better and happier than I did after all those parties combined. We don’t find long-term happiness through what we get; we find it through what we give – and what we give is ourselves. Who Gives Wins.
Does that list seem long? Well, no one ever said that being happy was easy. Certainly not me! But if you want to boil that list down to two points, here you go: While happiness is a combination of all of the things mentioned above, most fundamentally it is found by combining peace of mind with choosing to have a positive perspective.
Finally, understand that happiness is not a constant state, but rather an approach to life. Life throws too many rocks at us for us to be happy 24 hours a day. Bad things happen to us no matter how happy we try to be, whether they be natural disasters, sickness, adversity, or the death of a loved one. But with the approach to life recommended above – developing happiness through the points I mention — you will have a reservoir of happiness to reinforce yourself through external troubles and the right foundation for being a happier person.
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