Somewhere along the way, we adopted the notion that the pursuit of happiness is a lofty, unrealistic, selfish ideal. Instead of being immersed in things that bring us joy or strategically surrounding ourselves with people who lead genuinely happy lives, we are passing the time with folks who are busily faking it.
To be fair, many of us don’t even own a personal definition of happiness or even know what truly brings us joy. We are living lives that were designed for us, but not by us.
Sometimes you marry the guy that everyone else wants you to marry. Sometimes you pursue the job that everyone insists will provide a great income and the best bet for a stable future.
We also have a tendency to pursue things because they give us a sense of security and minimize our potential for fear that grows out of uncertainty. The person from a nice family, the job with a 401k, the position that will allow you to retire comfortably in the next 20-25 years are all things that we believe should make everyone happy.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with these things or even wanting these things. The problem occurs when these things aren’t your things and you spend all of your minutes chasing stuff you never wanted anyway.
We fall victim to the idea that there is only one way to do things, only one type of life that will bring you joy, and then we feel the pressure of conquering the checklist:
go to college
get a good job
buy a house
go to lots of soccer practices
have dinner parties
We also might have a warped sense of what truly makes a person happy. We look to others, observe, and think: I need what they have to be happy. Guess what? You came fully loaded with all the features and you are already equipped with everything you need.
You do not have to go outside of yourself to find joy. Sure, you should absolutely use the universe and the people in it to inspire you. Beautiful things, people, food, ideas, places, and art light us up from within. But, you have exactly what it takes to allow these things to enrich your life and fill it with joy.
If you are relying on someone or something outside of yourself to provide you with happiness you are headed down the wrong path. Happiness is inner work and your sole responsibility.
Here’s how to get started:
- Decide that you want to be happy. Neil Pasricha, the author of “The Happiness Equation,” writes about what he believes to be the 9 secrets to achieving happiness. He suggests that the path to happiness starts with: being happy first.
On the surface, this seems, if not utterly confusing, overly simplified. But think about this: Do you know someone that no matter what the situation is, they believe that the entire world is conspiring against them? They are also incredibly skilled in finding just about anything to complain about: the food is too hot, the food is too cold, there is too much food, the food is too flavorful, the food is too fancy, or maybe the food is touching.
Do you ever think to yourself, that they could enjoy life a little bit more if they would stop complaining? The act of “stopping” is a decision. A decision that could change how they view their experiences and how you view them.
Being happy is also a decision. Once you make the declaration to be happy, with your life, right where you are, a magical shift occurs.
You start to deeply evaluate your life. You start to take action to improve the things you aren’t crazy about or you learn how to let them go. You start to think of creative ways to make the most out of any situation.
Let’s say for instance, that your job is killing you softly (or maybe more intensely than that). You can’t leave quite yet, because you have responsibilities. But, you have made the decision to be happy. So, you start believing that maybe there is something better out there.
Of course there is! The world vast!
You then become motivated to start the search for a new opportunity.
You suddenly realize that taking action, makes your job suck a little less already. Before you were trapped because your forgot that life was full of possibilities. Now, you understand that you always have options.
In the meantime, you are eager to discover more ways to hate your current job a little less, while you are formulating your plan to move on. You decide to fix your attitude, start smiling, and change the type of energy you are contributing to the work place. You become more focused and productive during the day because you are eager to get to your lunch break or your time at home to continue to search for your next career adventure.
Then when the change that you are seeking, takes more effort or time than you hoped, your decision to be happy stops you from thoughts that limit you. If you hit a rough patch, you remember to be grateful for where you are right now, in this moment. You begin to feel that even though, you desire something else you are grateful for the income, the experience you are gaining right now, and the people you occasionally have lunch with.
Deciding to be happy creates a beautifully relentless cycle of discovery and gratitude.
- Believe it is within your reach. When I was a little girl, I was once told that I thought that real-life was supposed to be like life on TV. They were basically telling me that my head was in the clouds and that my expectations of life were unrealistic. They believed they were saving me from my naivety and the inevitable disappointments of life. For a very, very, long time, it made me feel like the things that I wanted for myself were out of my reach.
Here is the thing…if everything on TV was happy and without conflict, people wouldn’t get into it. Some of the best sitcoms begin on the heels of human suffering: parents abandoning their children in the park, death after a battle with illness or an accident, an unexpected financial crisis, betrayal of a loved one, and learning how to survive within racist and oppressive conditions.
By the time we meet them, we are watching how they navigate their daily challenges, preserve, survive, move on and heal.
These people aren’t without hardships. These people decided to make the best of their lives in spite of them.
You have to believe, that regardless of where you are right now in this moment, that you can find a sliver of joy, even if it is just a warm cup of coffee, a conversation with a neighbor, or sharing a laugh with a friend.
I know you hear this all the time, but everyone has a story. Everyone has or will have something happen that has/had the potential to derail their entire lives.
You have to believe that circumstances can change. You have to believe that a personal tragedy isn’t the end of the story and that your heart will light up again. Life is filled with opportunities to laugh again, to smile again, and heal. Isn’t that amazing?
- Believe that you are worthy. Some of us are born into difficult circumstances. As children, we may have had experience after experience that caused us to mistrust or to make us feel that we don’t deserve love or happiness.
I have a friend, who was raised by parents who treated her in a way that made her feel unwanted. Later in life, she found out that they even initially left her at the hospital unnamed until a relative picked her up. She worked hard to overcome the damage caused by being subjected to this sort of treatment.
She had to learn to believe that she was worthy.
Unfortunately, our self-esteem and self-worth can become collateral damage as a result of another person’s battle through life. Even the smallest and most fleeting interactions and moments have the potential to make us feel this way.
Your best defense: believe that you are worthy. Believe that you deserve to laugh all night. Believe that you deserve to have work that you are passionate about. Believe that you deserve a supportive and loving partner; simply just believe.
When you believe that you deserve something, you become less tolerant of someone else’s ridiculousness and you learn to show them where the exit doors are (the closest ones might be behind you).
You become attuned to how situations make you feel and you learn to change course when things don’t feel right.
You become a seeker of things and people that bring out the best in you. You learn to surround yourself with joy.
- Stop feeling guilty. Full disclosure, I am not a parent, but I had parents and one thing I know for sure is that kids watch everything you do.
Your actions and/or inactions model for your children their possibilities and limitations. If you take care of yourself, chase your dreams, reframe your challenges, and show them that life has endless potential, you are giving them permission to do the same.
Stop feeling like happiness is a selfish act. Sure, you have responsibilities and you should take care of them, but remember that includes taking care of you.
Mothers, fathers, leaders, and mentors sometimes believe they are more effective in their positions if they neglect their needs for the sake of others. They often believe that if they do less or give less to themselves, they are able to give more to others.
It sounds like a recipe for burn out to me.
Maybe you feel guilty because there are people around you that aren’t happy or the problems of the world have got you down. Do you know what will make the world a better place? People living meaningful lives filled with joy. Do you know the types of folks that are more generous, more kind, and more creative? People living meaningful lives filled with joy.
What kind of people do you want to work with, to live in your neighborhood, run the government, or lead your place of worship? I suspect it is people living meaningful lives filled with joy.
These things aren’t always easy to do, but they are simple. Simple and within your power and control to complete.
Just think, you could begin the journey of having a joyous more meaningful life before you go to bed tonight. Try the first step and everything else will follow.