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Who better to answer the question, “How to live a happy life” than from someone who has been looking decades for answers.
Now that I’ve just celebrated my 56th birthday, the secrets of living a happy life are becoming more crystalline. Like Thomas Edison before he found his “holy grail,” I’ve found 10,000 ways to fail at my quest before the lifting of the unhappy clouds.
I can’t go through the long laundry list of personality traits and decisions that have kept me in a fog for years. Suffice to point out that my insatiable need to please others, my bent leaning towards perfectionism, the critical inner voice, and the expectation of negative outcomes are just some factors that relegated me to the “glass half empty” guy.
But certain recent experiences, and the accompanying shift of mindset, has me seeing life in a clearer way, and I’m now in a much better position of providing a blueprint of living the happy life.
I’m also a dad who wants to live a meaningful legacy to his kids. And if I remain clueless on how to live a happy life, there is a strong likelihood that my kids will grapple with the same question.
So here goes. Here is my prescription for a happy life.
And you must know that the intention to really want to create a happy life … or at least a happier life … is a great start!
Table of Contents
Believe That You Can be Happy
'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.' - Eleanor RooseveltClick To Tweet
I have a friend who always says, “I’ll never be happy.” Talk about a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
But for most of my life, I was under the same impression: In my self-talk and dialogue with others, I declared that unhappiness ruled my existence — a predetermined fate. I felt powerless to change this “doom and gloom” mindset.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that pessimism was not only making me feel miserable in the present moment I was living, but was dashing any hope for a brighter future.
I was looking for “lack,” or all the tangibles and intangibles of life that I felt I did not possess: I was not as financially successful as my counterparts; I had trouble feeling comfortable with people; I did not have many close friends; and I doubted the sincerity of any compliment because I did not feel that I possessed value.
This incessant focus on lack, or the feeling of not being good enough, made it impossible to see a better tomorrow.
The pivotal moment of change began when I finally realized that I could control these unhealthy thoughts. I could finally embrace my dad’s view that the “pendulum of life could swing in a favorable direction.”
It’s impossible to live a happy life if you feel it’s an impossibility to create.
Tame the Inner Critic' If you gave your inner genius as much credence as your inner critic, you would be light years ahead of where you now stand.' - Alan CohenClick To Tweet
The most important conversations you have is with yourself, in the privacy of your mind, and in the absence of others’ feedback and judgments.
What are you telling yourself?
Are your self-reflections unforgiving and harsh? In contrast, are they supportive and loving?
If your exercising a “I’m not good enough” inner voice, you’re probably staying within your comfort zone, afraid to take risks. The inner critic is also making you feel more self-conscious and uncomfortable in your own skin.
The unpleasant monologue sabotages your spirit, and leaves you forever doubting yourself — even when successes come your way.
The recipe to live a happy life starts with silencing the inner critic. It means you have to see yourself more realistically, and refrain from judging yourself in extremes.
You did not get that coveted job? It may have had little to do with your interview performance. There are many factors that go into hiring decisions.
And even if you did flub that interview, it does not equate to the conclusion that you’re not articulate, can never handle stress, or possess too many personal weaknesses to overcome.
The interview is but one snapshot in time, and instead of berating yourself because you deem your performance poor, applaud your effort and learn from possible mistakes you committed.
“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” – Shirley MacLaine
We punish ourselves mercilessly by ruminating over every failure. We lambast ourselves for perceived weaknesses and limitations.
My half-life to ruminate over deemed failures could be months, depending on the severity of the failure and what is at stake. Alright, admittedly, I’m still perseverating over failures that happened decades ago, but I’m gradually letting such fixations go.
However, the half-life to dwell on successes is short-lived for most of us. The inner critic is never satisfied, and asks “What have you done for me lately?”
One way to live a happy life, even with depression, is to refuse to ruminate over what goes wrong in your life.
Positive affirmations can help. One friend taught me the following: “I love myself unconditionally and forgive myself completely.” This is a powerful affirmation that can help break the negative rumination habit.
Another idea when you’re obsessed with an unfavorable outcome: Purposely and purposefully distract yourself. Listen to a funny video, go for a meditative walk, call up a good friend … anything to train your brain to concentrate on something more beneficial.
View Mistakes and Regrets as Opportunities for Growth' Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely. ' - Henry FordClick To Tweet
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford
In your quest to live a happy life, you’re going to go one step above the decision to quit ruminating. You’re now going to view mistakes and regrets as learning opportunities.
In the example above, you can learn from an interview that did not turn out well. Perhaps you were too quick to answer the questions instead of thoughtfully pondering them first
You may not have been ready to answer some challenging questions. Now with experience, you’re better prepared and can appropriately respond to them should they be asked in the future.
Dwelling on failure and regret can easily deter progress. Acting with self-compassion and understanding, enables such failures and regrets to help us forge the path towards self-improvement.
But you have to harness the power of intention. You must say and believe that you’re going to bounce back — even if you’re uncertain about the steps necessary to bounce back.
To get a clearer perspective, think about what contributed to the downfall of a given project or campaign. Once you weigh in on some of the miscalculations, you’re not as likely to make the same mistakes going forward.
For example, I’ve spent countless hours working on other websites that have been unable to garner the attention I feel they deserve. But instead of saying, “Look how much time I’ve wasted,” I now aver, “Look how much I’ve learned.”
And so I can now capitalize on my investment of blogging time, by making this site successful (with your help, of course).
Stop Judging and Looking for Perfection in Others' If I stop judging other people, I free myself from being judged, and I can dance! ' - Patti DighClick To Tweet
We mere mortals judge ourselves constantly, looking for glorious perfection. Simultaneously, we judge others and hold their feet to the fire if they fall short of our expectations.
If you’re intent on living a happier life, you have to discard the practice of judgment. A judgmental frame of reference serves as a divisive element in our society. Here, we focus on differences, instead of commonalities, in an effort to feel better about ourselves.
Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation teacher, provides an insightful perspective on the act of judging:
Imagine walking through the woods where you see a cute dog on a path. You gravitate towards the dog, simply wanting to pet her. Unexpectedly, the dog lashes out and tries to bite you.
Your immediate reaction is of disdain, and you want nothing more to do with this dog. You’re ready to leave the scene when you notice the dog’s leg is firmly caught in a trap.
Your anger transforms to compassion as you realize the dog is acting out because of her pain.
So many people, in the words of David Thoreau are living “lives of quiet desperation.” We don’t know what battles other people confront and the crosses that they bear. Perhaps we would refrain from judging and disgust if we did.
But if you feel that rendering judgment is part of the human experience, just take a quick pulse on how it’s making your feel.
You may gossip about someone and feel that you’re intrinsically a better person than that individual. However, such elevation of self-esteem is short-lived, and your overall mood can easily sour.
You’re dwelling on the negative and it’s bound to make you feel negative. Moreover, as you judge others for their miscues, you’re even more likely to be self-critical about your shortcomings.
Here, the prescription to a happy life is to realize and accept that we’re all imperfect creatures. And most of us are doing the best we can under trying circumstances.
Empathy and understanding will elevate your mood, while criticizing will be a joy-killer.
Widening your social circle, too, will enhance the quality (and quantity) of your life. Although you should seriously consider who to become friends with, none of them will be perfect (just like you).
Make Other People Happy' Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver. ' - Barbara de AngelisClick To Tweet
Another way to live a happy life, or at least be happy go lucky, is to add to other folks’ reservoir of joy.
You don’t necessarily have to volunteer although helping others offers so many benefits to you.
You feel all the following:
- more socially engaged as you interact with others
- greater self-confidence, knowing you’re using your skills to support others
- a strong sense of fulfillment and achievement
- self-satisfaction knowing you’re making the proverbial difference
But you don’t just have to volunteer to bring a smile to others’ faces and your own.
You can write a testimonial on someone’s behalf; you can write a favorable review about a company online; perform a task that someone else does not want to do; compliment a coworker or stranger; accommodate a request that you don’t find too burdensome; or simply conduct yourself in a friendly manner with ample smiling.
In a Journal of Social Psychology study conducted in Great Britain, a group of people were divided into 3 groups. (1) Group A was instructed to perform a random act of kindness each day for 10 days. Group B participants were told to do something new each day for that time duration. Those in Group C were not provided with any instructions.
After the time elapsed, a life satisfaction survey indicated that those performing random acts of kindness (Group A) and those performing novel acts (Group B) far outpaced their counterparts (Group C) when it came to life satisfaction.
The takeaway: Happiness comes to those who make other people happy.
Lead a Healthier Lifestyle'Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory' - Albert SchweitzerClick To Tweet
Alright, we’re already working on our mind to become happier in life. Now we have to work on our lifestyle, too.
There is no way someone can be happy when thoughts become sabotaging. Happiness remains elusive when we feel stressed out and worried all the time.
Similarly, happiness (which may be derived from actions, and not just feelings) cannot be attained when our lifestyle is unhealthy. Working around the clock, skipping meals, eating taboo foods,and leading a sedentary lifestyle will compromise the degree of happiness you feel.
I used to have a colleague who was a workaholic. He worked late at night (each night), on the weekends, and even holidays. By his own admission, he did not even enjoy this type of work. ( Workaholism is often a type of escape from life.)
After years of this type of work fixation and grueling schedule, he looked so much older than his years. Moreover, he was miserable.
Studies have been conducted proving that happiness can positively improve health and well-being. (2)
The converse is also true: a healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your mindset and disposition.
As my Grandmother used to say, “Everything in moderation.”
Any extreme, especially manifesting poor mind and body health choices will prevent you from becoming happy in life.
Knowing these how-to-get-happy tips is only half the battle. Now you have to implement them in your everyday life.
Will you finally believe that you can be happy, and give yourself a break when inevitable failures arise? Will you concentrate your energies on making others happy?
But whatever you decide to do, don’t just wish for happiness. See and act on the changes you can make so that you can be happy, or at least happier, in your life.