Life is so much better when you’re happy
After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, hundreds of disgruntled people filed lawsuits against the American government and against other citizens. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the American Declaration of Independence states that it’s a self-evident truth that everyone has certain inalienable rights, including the right to the pursuit of happiness.
In addition to spawning different interpretations of what exactly “the pursuit of happiness” meant, it also led people to attempt to legally claim what they thought was theirs: the happy life. This resulted in hundreds of discontented people suing the government, because they thought their happiness was protected by law.
Later, however, the prevailing belief was that everyone was on their own in the journey toward happiness. In response to the lawsuits, Benjamin Franklin argued that happiness was a right, but that it wasn’t simply handed to everyone. He instead instructed people to “catch it yourself.” Franklin believed everyone was responsible for realizing their own happiness, whatever that meant for them.
What could be more universal than the pursuit of happiness? Do you know anyone that opens their eyes in the morning and thinks, “I hope I have a miserable day”? Everyone’s striving in their own way to experience more happiness and less misery.
Some people believe they’ll be happier if they amass a billion-dollar fortune. Others believe they’ll achieve happiness by sacrificing every dollar in their bank account for those in need. There’s no one way to achieve happiness. Your pursuit of happiness is entirely dependent on your values and interpretation of the world.
Singer Bobby McFerrin had a monster hit in 1988 entitled Don’t Worry, Be Happy. The hypnotically perky, happy song hopped its way across the globe, magically lifting the spirits of listeners everywhere. The lyrics say: “In your life expect some trouble / When you worry you make it double / Don’t worry, be happy / Be happy now.”
What does it take to be happy?
What would it take to make you happy?
The purpose of this post is to share with you key strategies that you can learn and apply in order to create a life and mind that supports happiness.
The Ego And Happiness
The ego is a great tool for success and accomplishment — but it’s a lousy guide for happiness.
Satisfying the ego is a primary reason why we have such amazing technology, architecture, billionaires, great musicians, and all the other people in the world that have accomplished amazing things. Ego is a critical part of great accomplishments. But will accomplishments make you happy?
Without the need to: impress family; impress friends; prove to everyone it can be done; prove to themselves that they’re important; be the first; or be the best — there’d be a lot less accomplished in the world. Think about it.
Without any ego-based motivation, your life would be dramatically different.
Arguably, you’d accomplish fewer things that the average person considers impressive. Arguably, you’d be a lot happier too.
The trouble with ego-based motivation is that you eventually realize that no one cares for long. A few people may be impressed, but the thrill of impressing them doesn’t last. And some people think negatively about you just because of your accomplishments. You can’t win!
Even if you’re only trying to impress yourself, it’s a hollow victory. Now you have to do even more the next time to earn your own respect. This isn’t a recipe for happiness. It’s a recipe for suffering.
“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” — Martha Washington
Keep Your Ego Under Control
Everyone has an ego to some degree. And your ego is a significant barrier to happiness. You’ve been growing and shaping your ego for many years. It won’t go quietly.
If you can put yours on a shorter chain, you’ll discover that happiness is easier to find.
There are several common signs of an overactive ego:
If your ego is overactive, you’re too hard on yourself. You avoid taking risks because you fear being judged by others. Interestingly, if you’re worried about what others think, you probably spend too much time judging others and imagine that everyone else is the same.
Do you judge others? That’s another sign that your ego is running rampant. How, you ask? Because you believe that things, people, and situations, should be a certain way. Anything other than your perceived “right way” is offensive to you on some level.
Impatience is another form of judging. You believe that something should take less time than it actually does.
Complaining is also judging. The situation isn’t the way you think it should be, so you complain.
The other person is wrong. You’re right and you’re going to prove it to them. Arguing is a result of judging.
How many of these signs of an overactive ego do you see in yourself?
Tame your ego and create the possibility for happiness to enter your life:
Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous game, and one that you’ll always lose. We often compare our weaknesses to other’s strengths. Then we discount our own strengths.
- With so many people in the world, there’ll always be those that are better and those that are worse.
- Count your blessings and pay attention to what you already have.
Avoid spending too much time focused on the things you lack.
- The things you’re comparing may not matter anyway. Does the attractiveness of your friend’s spouse matter? Does it matter that someone has a nicer car than you do?
Ask yourself what you would do if no one would ever know about it.
Would you buy a Mercedes for your next car if no one would ever know you owned it or saw you drive it? Would you still want to climb Mount Everest if you had to keep your successful summit a secret?
This can be an effective way to measure your true motivations.
- Are you primarily motivated by doing it for others? Or do you have a more noble purpose?
Avoid taking criticism or compliments personally.
Plenty of people are fools. Consequently, their compliments shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than their criticism. Even if you receive a legitimate compliment about your artistic or athletic ability, it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.
- Compliments and criticism are often about your looks, dress, behavior, decisions, accomplishments, or lack thereof. None of these define you.
Give up the need to be right.
Is it important for someone to agree with you? Do you have to prove yourself to be correct and the other person to be wrong? That’s just your ego playing with your mind.
- You’ll save yourself a lot of pain and grief by speaking less and allowing others to have their opinions.
Get away from your ego by doing something for someone else. Volunteer your time to an organization or individual that needs your assistance.
Minimizing the impact your ego has on your life will be one of the hardest things you ever do. It will also be one of the most rewarding!
Your ego creates more turmoil and dissatisfaction in your life than you realize.
You don’t need to live in a temple in east Asia to tame your ego, but you do need to be persistent and patient.
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” — Denis Waitley
Obstacles To Happiness
A lack of resources.
You’re not unhappy because you don’t have a shiny, new Lamborghini. You may, however, be unhappy because you don’t have reliable transportation to and from work. The same goes for not having enough food, water, clothing, or love.
- If you lack resources necessary for survival, you have a good reason to be unhappy.
That unhappiness serves a purpose.
It can motivate you to do something to acquire those resources.
Distractions can be a big challenge. They make you feel better in the short-term but offer no long-term benefits. You’re not curing the cause of your discomfort, just hiding from it. Common distractions can include: food; alcohol; TV; electronic devices; shopping; and anything else that doesn’t address the root cause.
This emotion is a significant barrier to happiness. Fear is a sign that your mind believes something is wrong. This kind of unrest blocks the possibility of happiness. It’s important to address issues that cause feelings of fear and resolve them. There’s no room for happiness where fear resides.
A lack of progress.
When your life isn’t going well, a lack of progress can be disheartening. It gives the impression that the current situation may last for the rest of your life. Focus on making small changes and get excited about even the smallest amount of progress.
A lack of social contact.
As much as we might like to think of ourselves as individuals, we’re all social animals — we need others. Some of us need more time with people than others — but we all require human contact.
Too much thinking.
Some thinking is useful, such as learning from mistakes or making plans for the future. Most thinking is not, such as reliving arguments, grieving over choices made in the past, or dreading the future.
- Thinking can be addictive. We think because we either believe that it’s helpful in some way or we find it entertaining. We fantasize about owning a jet, throwing a winning touchdown, or spending time with the partner of our dreams. We relive our childhood drama and try to make sense of it or imagine a different ending.
- Spend more time doing and less time thinking.
A lack of purpose or meaning.
You don’t really have to have a reason for getting out of bed each morning in order to be happy, but it certainly helps. When you feel that your time, effort, and contribution to the world lack value, you’ll find happiness to be elusive.
Negative beliefs lead to negative thoughts. Negative thoughts result in negative feelings.
How you see the world influences how you experience the world.
Divorce, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, can make happiness a challenge. Any significant change can create stress that inhibits feelings of happiness and contentment.
The right people can add considerably to your happiness. The wrong people can have the opposite effect. Be selective regarding whom you allow in your life.
There are things that add to your happiness, and there are things that subtract from your happiness.
If you can eliminate the things that detract from your happiness, you’ve won half the battle.
“Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won’t have to hunt for happiness.” — William E. Gladstone
Creating A Life That Supports Happiness
You don’t need to do great things to be happy. However, the way you spend your average day can have a lot of influence over your happiness. Creating a life that supports happiness is important. It provides the necessary foundation for everything else you do.
Use these strategies to create a life that supports your happiness:
Acquire the resources you need.
It’s easier to attain and maintain a state of happiness if you have sufficient resources. These include:
- Financial resources — ensure that you have a sufficient income to pay your bills and satisfy your needs.
- Social resources — have enough friends that you can get out of the house and spend time with, and have someone to share a meaningful conversation with.
- Time resources — without enough free time, it’s impossible to take a break, engage in a hobby, or make use of your social resources.
Find a career that you enjoy.
It’s called work for a reason, so it might be too much to demand a job you love to do each day. On the other hand, if you despise your job, you’re going to be unhappy most of the time.
- How much money do you need? You might find a more enjoyable career that pays a little less.
- What type of work interests you?
- Is the problem your career or your company / boss? Perhaps you can keep your career but acquire new surroundings.
Choose your people wisely.
The right spouse can be a godsend — the wrong spouse can be your worst nightmare. To a lesser extent, your boss, coworkers, and even friends can have either a positive or negative influence on your life.
- It can be uncomfortable to remove people from your life — but sometimes it’s the only solution.
Life’s more enjoyable when you have a feeling of control.
- Have a plan for each day.
- Get your work done on time.
- Plan ahead. Start saving for Christmas during the summer. Do your taxes at least a month ahead of time.
- Avoid living a life that’s reactive.
The common hassles in life are predictable.
Take care of them before you’re forced to.
Take care of your health.
It’s not easy to be happy if you’re in hospital. Make your health a priority. Maybe your health should be your number one priority.
- Get regular exercise. You improve your fitness and appearance. More importantly, you feel better about yourself. Exercise also uplifts your mood.
These are the basics that provide the framework for a happy life. Without these components, happiness will be elusive. Spend some time ensuring that you’ve satisfied the items on this important list.
“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.” — Ayn Rand
Creating A Mind That Supports Happiness
It’s not only your environment and career that determine how happy you’ll be, but also the activity between your ears.
Fortunately, this aspect of happiness is 100% under your control.
You don’t need anyone or anything else to take control of your mind.
Control your thoughts and you can control your happiness:
It starts with positive thoughts.
Your thoughts are completely under your control. Some circumstances are distracting enough that you feel like you don’t have control, but you can consciously choose which thoughts are running through your mind.
- Monitor your thoughts. Notice when you have a thought that isn’t positive. Ask yourself if that thought is detrimental to your attitude and emotions. If so, change it. Choose a more supportive thought.
- Avoid underestimating the power of self-talk. You could have a constant companion that criticizes you and attacks your dreams all day long. On the other hand, your constant companion could, instead, uplift you and cheer you on all day. It’s your choice. Which companion do you want?
Examine your beliefs.
Do you believe that you can’t be happy until you’re making at least six figures a year? Do you believe that someone like you will never find the love of your life? Do you think that someone with your educational background is greatly limited? Do you believe that it’s too late for x, y, or z?
- Limiting and negative beliefs are like roadblocks, except they only reside in your mind.
Examine your beliefs and challenge those that don’t serve you.
- Install new beliefs. Repeat them to yourself each day. Find evidence to support them. Be persistent until they become second nature.
Focus on mindfulness.
Mindfulness is like a wonder drug for your emotional ills.
It’s being used to treat a wide variety of mental health issues, including many that are quite severe. It has been shown to have significant physical health benefits. It also enhances happiness.
- The dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
- In other words, keep your mind on your current task. And when thoughts arise, notice them without becoming involved in them.
Studies have shown that people are happier when they believe they’re needed and are contributing to the world in some way. You don’t have to be a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon to be relevant. You can help an old lady cross the street or volunteer with the Special Olympics.
- What do you consider to be important and meaningful? Get involved. Visit websites that list volunteer opportunities by city and interest to find an opportunity that interests you.
Plan a future that excites you.
It’s important to have something to look forward to if you want to be happy.
Make plans to accomplish your visions.
- Set goals. Then you can believe that you’ll actually achieve your vision for the future.
- Visualize your success each day.
- Plan a holiday overseas, sign up for classes or lessons on a topic or skill that interests you.
While it can feel comforting to blame others, it’s a trap. When someone else is responsible, you give yourself permission to sit back and be inactive.
You give up your power when you make someone else responsible.
When you’re responsible, you have the power to make changes.
Feeling that you have control over your life is pivotal to your happiness.
The more thankful you are, the happier you’ll feel. Keep a gratitude journal and list a few things each day that make you feel grateful. It might sound like a Pollyanna activity, but studies have shown that it’s effective at increasing your level of happiness.
Not an easy list of items to accomplish, but they have a powerful effect on the amount of happiness you experience. These items are really skills that can greatly increase your happiness even as you cultivate and develop them.
All people are striving for happiness.
It’s the fundamental drive in all humans.
Whether someone is chasing their first million, or working diligently to build an orphanage, the motivation is the same: happiness.
It’s important to define what happiness means to you.
Otherwise, you may find yourself chasing someone else’s idea of what it takes to be happy. Take the time to think about it. Your environment can influence what you believe is required to be happy. Rise above that tendency and decide for yourself.
Start by removing the things in your life that are making you miserable. Clean house with the people in your life. Build a supportive social circle. Generate sufficient income to take care of the necessities in life.
Build a life that supports happiness by finding a work environment related to your desires. Be proactive and avoid unnecessary challenges. Manage your health.
Finally, work on your mind. Your beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes can all impact your happiness.
Take control of your mind and make it work for you.
Failing to take control will result in your mind working against you. Control your thoughts and build a future that fills you with enthusiasm.
Remember that everyone around you is just trying to be happy. Be compassionate with them and yourself.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama