11 Steps toward a Happier You
First the good news. There’s a really, really good chance that we all can do things – make a few changes in our thinking and in our lives – to help us become a happier person. The realistic side of this though, is that some of us probably have the ability and even the opportunity, to be happier than others.
Let’s start with a simple definition of happiness: “A feeling of contentedness, delight, enjoyment or satisfaction”.(1) One more… “a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”.(2)
Can you see the problem here? Because we each have our own very special set of genetics and life experiences, our personal definition of happiness will not be the same as any other person on the planet. What makes me happy may or may not significantly contribute to your happiness. And speaking of genetics, there’s a really good chance that because our brains are wired differently and produce different levels of chemicals that influence our thought processes, some of us are going to have a more difficult time making a “happy connection”. It’s just the way it is.
It doesn’t take much thought either to understand that our outlook on life, including our tendency to be happy, has been strongly influenced by our parents and the folks that were around during our formative years. Simply, if your close relatives and friends were happy people, there’s an excellent chance that you will be too.
So where does that leave us? With the opportunity to at least try a few different things that might lead us to a happier and overall, a more enjoyable life. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
1. How we think – about ourselves, our situation and about the things that are happening around us – is probably the main determining factor in whether or not we’re happy. If we have a “positive approach” to life (a positive mental attitude), we’ve already taken a giant step toward happiness. Try to ignore or at least minimize the negative inputs from the media (doom and gloom stuff in the news), from the entertainment industry (songs, movies, TV shows), friends, relatives and acquaintances. Focus on the abundance of good things that are present in your world.
2. To help generate a more positive outlook, you might consider making a “gratitude check”. Make a list of the things in your life that you are thankful for. Start with whatever pops into your mind and add to it as you become aware of more things. Here’s a hint… the more you look for good things, the more you’ll find. Trust me…
3. In line with this, make a list of the good things – or the things you like – about you. We all have at least some good qualities. Write ‘em down. If you have a few habits or traits that you’re not too pleased with, do what you can to make the changes you think you need. None of us are perfect and never will be but if we’ll at least recognize that we each have some really good qualities to start with, it will be one more step up the happiness ladder. It’s a whole lot easier to be happy if you generally like the person you see in the mirror.
4. Focus on “now”. Even though the things that have happened to us in our lives so far have brought us to where we are today, they are all history. They are no longer real. It’s all stuff that is just sitting in our memory bank. So it doesn’t do any good to worry, or feel guilt or remorse over anything from our past. Wishing that things had been different or that we would have said or done some things differently can be major obstacles in our happy path. Let the past go and focus on the only thing that IS real… now.
Remember too, that the future is not real either. Even though planning is good, too much “what if’ing” especially when it comes to potentially negative situations accomplishes little other than to increase our stress level. We’re not psychic – we can not accurately predict the future. So yes, plan and prepare the best you can for the future, but do your best to live in the “now”.
5. Stay flexible. When you get right down to it, we have very little control over what happens in this old world. People do strange and unpredictable things. Nature plays by her own rules. Things break and wear out. Just expect it and be ready to make some adjustments in your own lifestyle or ways of thinking – without grumbling or complaining about how badly this new situation is affecting you. In the long run, there may actually be some benefits to your new circumstances. You never know…
6. Do things you actually enjoy doing. We all have tasks or chores to do that are boring or a pain in the butt. That’s the way life is. However, the more time we can spend doing the things we enjoy, the happier we’ll be. That just makes good sense. So…
Work at a job that interests you, that is fulfilling and even fun. I know… easier said than done. Sometimes we just need to survive. However, it is worth striving for so take some time to identify your interests (the work-type things you really enjoy), do your research, make plans and do whatever you need to do to make the transition to your personal “super job”. A quick note here… often, with just a bit of a change in thinking – adopting more of a positive approach – our present job can wind up being pretty darned good. You might want to try that approach first.
Spend at least some of your spare time doing fun things. It doesn’t make any difference what it is as long as you enjoy it. The problem is that many of us are so busy being busy that we don’t think we can allow ourselves the luxury of devoting any time at all to the fun stuff. Try this. Think about setting aside a half hour to an hour a day – or maybe three or four hours on the weekends – to do your “fun thing”. It will be a welcome break from your routine and will definitely be one more step down your happy path. (If you’re having trouble deciding what to do in your new spare time, you might consider volunteering your time to help others in some way. Giving of yourself is always a happiness bonus.)
7. Get better at what you do. Improving our abilities – at work, with our hobbies, or in raising a family – will not only give us a huge feeling of satisfaction, there’s a darned good chance it will even help make life easier for us. So read, research, attend classes, find a mentor or coach – and add another gold star to your happy chart.
8. Be with friends and family. There’s nothing better than a closely-knit support group that meshes with your interests and personality – and that you can truly have fun with – to boost your happiness factor by a couple of points. Emphasis on the words “that you can have fun with”. Unfortunately, some of us wind up with ahem… friends… and even family that are a major drag-me-down negative influence on our lives. If that’s the case, then it’s time to move on and find better, more positive folks to hang out with. There are all kinds of organizations and groups available so do a little snooping and see what is in your area that might suit your interests. And don’t forget the volunteering thing we mentioned in #6…
9. Take a “time out”. Set aside at least a few minutes – fifteen or thirty minutes if possible – for you every day. Any time of day. It doesn’t make any difference when. This will be YOUR time where you can let your brain wind down and you can just relax - away from whatever pressures or chaos that may exist in your daily routine. Make it quiet time without distractions. You can pray, meditate or just think about neat stuff. Short, relaxing walks can be refreshing. Observing nature – trees, plants, birds, critters – can be very relaxing. Pick what you enjoy. Recharge your batteries. Enjoy your “time out”!
10. Develop a spiritual connection. Accepting that we are all a part of a “bigger picture” and that each one of us has access to love, guidance, comfort, information, etc. from a “higher source” can help dramatically reduce the pressures and stress that we encounter in our daily lives. It can be through organized religious organizations, informal groups, or personal spiritual pursuits. It doesn’t make any difference. It all depends on what we are personally most comfortable with. It’s worth following up on…
11. Give yourself permission to be happy. Even though this may initially seem like a silly suggestion, it could be the most important one of all. There are many of us who are mentally and emotionally “paying for” events – things we have done and things that have happened to us – in the past. It’s time to stop doing that and focus on the present – the “now”. We’ve all made mistakes and displayed errors in judgment, but that doesn’t make us a bad person. We just had an “oops”. So let’s apply some of the preceding suggestions and as a good person, give ourselves permission to be happy. We really do deserve it, you know…
Note: If this suggestion (number 11) has turned out to be a giant boulder on your path to happiness because of your thoughts and feelings about past situations and events (guilt, regret, remorse, anger, etc.), it will likely take more than “happy thoughts” to help you get back on track. Don’t let depression, low self-esteem and similar feelings rob you of your happiness. Seek professional help. You really DO deserve to be happy!
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