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Excelling at the School of Happiness

We are ultimately in charge of deciding if our lives are going well.

Key points

  • Each individual is responsible for determining whether their own life is going well.
  • A happy life looks different depending on the person, often involving a combination of self-improvement, helping others, and seeking happiness.
  • People tend to be happier when they let go of unrealistic expectations about how life should be and focus on the things they can control.
 LinkedIn Sales Solutions/Unsplash
Source: LinkedIn Sales Solutions/Unsplash

The school of happiness is not like other schools. There is no real way to apply, no clear-cut programs or homework to complete, and no graduation date. The school of happiness is a program that spans over the course of our entire lives. It doesn’t matter if we live to be 10 or 100 years old—we’ll never finish learning.

Most of us associate school with good grades, shiny accolades, and awards. However, the school of happiness is not about success because if it were, successful people would automatically be happy. But there are plenty of people who are very successful and are also unhappy.

Perhaps doing well at the school of happiness is about dedicating your life to helping people and being of service to others. We know that this isn’t the case either because there are plenty of people who have dedicated their lives to serving others, and they are still deeply unhappy.

Well, maybe it’s about the number of people who think highly of us—the more people who admire us, the better we’ll do at the school of happiness! Unfortunately, this also is not the case. In fact, many people who are loved by many succumb to their own darkness through suicide or drugs.

So what is the school of happiness, and how can we excel?

External things are not the best measure of happiness. We are ultimately in charge of deciding if our lives are going well. The best part about this school is we’re the students and the teachers because we are responsible for our "grades." These grades can be a tad complicated—our grades don’t come from a performance average, meaning one day you had an A day, and the next you had a C day, so you average a B grade.

We perform well at the school of happiness if we focus on improving ourselves every day and finding new ways to fill ourselves with peace and happiness. The folks who don’t perform well struggle through life and may find ways to numb themselves from the pain. This happens more frequently than we think because life can present many challenges.

My belief is that no matter the challenges we face, we can still perform well at the school of happiness. There are people who breeze through life, and they’re still not happy, while there are people who have lived through tragedies and have come out very happy and full of peace. Take Hellen Keller or Stephen Hawking, for example—they had very challenging lives but were still able to find happiness. We’re capable of doing this too, but it might take some work. The people who sometimes perform the best at the school of happiness are those who have suffered the most. This is because they have developed resilience and are now able to overcome any challenges that come their way.

Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t perform well at the school of happiness. In the famous words of Henry Thoreau, “Most people live lives of quiet desperation.” I believe that the purpose of life is to live well while we’re here. This belief spans across any religion—the meaning of life is to end each day and say, “That was a good day,” so we can string our many days together to say we lived a good life.

Since we’ll all be students in the school of happiness until our last breath, why not do exceptionally well while we’re here? We can all achieve this! Before we review how to do well, let’s look at how to do poorly.

We receive messages all day long through the media telling us that in order to be happy, we need the shiniest and newest thing. If only we had more beauty, fame, etc., then we’d finally be happy with ourselves. These messages can instill a false sense of what it takes to fulfill our lives. If we’re able to look past these messages and focus on what really matters, then we’re able to receive validation and happiness from within, not from external things. However, if we give in to these messages, we’ll start seeking happiness from the wrong places.

Now let’s take a look at what we can do to be excellent students in the school of happiness.

First, it’s important to start each day and say, “I’m going to make this a good day, and the way I’m going to do this is by focusing on the things I can control and accepting the things I can’t.” This may mean that just for today, you choose to accept certain things that make you uncomfortable—loneliness, lack of fulfillment at work, heartache, etc. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow you’ll have to accept them, too, because all we’re focused on is today. If we’re able to accept feeling uncomfortable and let go of our expectations of things being a certain way, we can achieve peace, even during the most difficult times.

Some of us don’t excel at the school of happiness because we hold on too tightly to our expectations and then feel disappointed when things turn out differently than we envisioned. This is not to be confused with wanting to improve things in our lives. It’s the belief that when we can’t, we can choose to let go of our expectations so that we may realize it feels good to save our energy only for the things within our control.

The focus is not necessarily on feeling good all of the time but rather on feeling peaceful during tumultuous times. Once we’re able to do this, we can be at peace or happy regardless of what we’re feeling. For example, a top athlete can be in a lot of physical pain, but not mind it because they’re a top athlete.

Life can be like this too. Certain things can cause us to both suffer and feel happy. Think of a mother giving birth—the experience is both brutally painful and extremely joyous at the same time.

We can learn to suffer less, even when we endure loss. Suffering is something we experience when we want things to be different. The key is to accept things within our control rather than fight things outside of our control. This gives us the opportunity to focus on the things that bring joy into our lives. And this doesn’t mean that we can’t grieve loss; in fact, grieving can be very helpful. It teaches us that no matter what life throws at us, life can still be good and beautiful as long as we don’t give up.

The main reason I created the Happiness Podcast is to provide anyone with the tools to overcome the toughest of times. My hope is that you’ll use these tools to overcome future challenges that come your way. When we refuse to give up, we can get through anything. We may not solve our problems today, but if we keep chipping away, things that were once big and overwhelming become less noticeable. The school of happiness is about learning to overcome challenges, to do well in life, and to live one day at a time, so that when you take your last breath, you can say, “I did well.”