- The cash and prizes we spend most of our time and effort to obtain are nothing more than window dressing. They don’t bring happiness.
- If we think negative thoughts, our outlook will reflect that. If we choose to think positive thoughts, that too will manifest.
- People who are grateful for what they have tend to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
In today’s world, many people get so focused on winning the proverbial rat race that they forget about the things that are truly important in life. First and foremost among the forgotten facets of life is happiness. We focus on money. We focus on status. We focus on dressing a certain way, driving a certain car, being seen in a certain social circle.
Unfortunately, the cash and prizes we spend most of our time and effort to obtain are nothing more than window dressing. They don’t bring happiness. In fact, they often distract from happiness, which is probably why so many seemingly high-functioning, highly successful people find themselves in therapy, addiction treatment, failing relationships, etc.
So what is the answer to all of this unhappiness? (The real answer, not the surface answer of looking good in the eyes of others.) The simple truth is that there is no single answer, but most people find the following suggestions helpful:
1. Accept Imperfection—in Yourself and Others
On the surface, our world seems to demand perfection. Unfortunately, no person is perfect. And who gets to define perfect, anyway? After all, each of us is unique, and each of us is doing the best we can. And that’s OK. When we’re at our best, great. When we’re not at our best, so be it. Everyone has flaws, everyone makes mistakes. So maybe we should stop beating ourselves and others up over it. Better yet, we might want to view our failings and mistakes as learning experiences that can help us grow and become better people. This is a mindset that embraces growth through the joy of learning, and it can serve us well in every aspect of life.
We need emotionally intimate connections with others. When we feel connected to others, we are healthier, more successful, and happier. So, reach out to others, even if you’re busy and all you do is send a quick text to let someone know you’re thinking about them. If you have more time, meet someone for coffee or lunch or a walk in the park. The more friendly, fun, mutually supportive social contact you have, the happier you’ll be.
3. Turn “Love” into an Action Word
When you love someone, your actions reflect that love. Sure, telling someone that you love them is nice, but actions speak louder than words. The good news is that you needn’t show love with extravagant gestures. In fact, little things tend to ultimately be more meaningful. So, listen to what someone says and try to really hear it. Remember the dates and events that are important to that person. If something is on their calendar, make sure it’s on your calendar, too. Most importantly, spend time with them. Do some things that they enjoy or help with tasks they don’t enjoy. And make sure you invite them to join in activities that you enjoy. It doesn’t matter what you do together if the other person understands that your goal is to spend time together.
4. Stop Judging Yourself and Others
Sadly, our society is highly judgmental. If you don’t believe me, just turn on the TV. The whole world is very busy telling us how we should look, how we should dress, how we should behave, and who we should be. Wouldn’t it be nice if that just stopped and we were free to be who we are? Well, for that to happen, we must start by giving ourselves a break because we are the worst offenders— mostly because we’re comparing our flawed interiors to other people’s airbrushed exteriors. And if we’re going to stop judging ourselves, shouldn’t we also stop judging others? Bonus: When we stop judging others, we send off positive vibes that others find highly attractive.
5. Choose Happiness over Negativity
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Lincoln’s words are as apt today as when they were first uttered. We are what we think. If we think negative thoughts, our outlook will reflect that. If we choose to think positive thoughts, that too will manifest. Affirmations can be a useful tool in this regard. Starting our day with three happiness affirmations can go a long way toward actual happiness. Try statements like, “I am a happy person,” and “I enjoy my life,” and “This life is a good life.” Stating these and similar affirmations aloud while looking in a mirror at least once per day can’t help but have a positive impact. Yes, I know it seems corny, but if you’re serious about happiness, you’ll give this a try.
6. Find and Express Gratitude
Many people state that beginning their day with a 10-item gratitude list is the key to their happiness. And there is actually quite a bit of research to back this up. For starters, Dr. Brené Brown has studied the roots of happiness by conducting thousands of in-depth interviews, and through this work she has identified one primary difference between happy people and unhappy people: Happy people are grateful for what they have, and unhappy people aren’t. So, if we can find ways to be grateful for what we have (instead of focusing on what we’ve lost or never had), there is a good chance we can find happiness. Further research on gratitude tells us that people who are grateful for what they have tend to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Thus, they are more hopeful, less stressed out, less likely to get stuck in shame and depression, and more likely to recover from serious life issues (e.g., illness, addiction). So gratitude is powerful medicine, no matter what ails us.