In a previous post I outlined six ways in which someone could set themselves up for happiness. It included ways to think, perspectives to have and things to change, in order to stand the best chance of feeling happy nearly all the time.
Since the post was published I’ve received suggestions of other tried-and-tested ways to be happy, so here’s 7, 8 and 9.
7. Do the right thing, even if it’s hard
“The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for what is right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.” – Margaret C.S.
There’s often a difference between what is easy and what is right. Doing what is easy is… well… easy. Choosing the easy option means you don’t call a team member up for poor performance because you don’t want a difficult conversation; it’s easier to make excuses for them or do the work yourself. You don’t send back the food you’ve been served even though it’s not what you ordered; it’s easier to just eat it. Doing the easy thing instead of the right thing might seem like a path to happiness, but it’s short-sighted and only works in the short term. In the long term, doing the right thing lays far better foundations, for your work, relationships and mindset.
In the long term, doing the right thing lays far better foundations.
Joel Runyon of impossible X advises going one step further, by actively seeking out the hard things, to embrace them and overcome them. The happiness is found in realising that the hard thing was within your ability to solve. Ben Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs. In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Horowitz professes that there are no easy answers, so advises that people don’t plan for everything to be easy:
The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things.
How do you decide what is the right thing? How do you tackle the hard things? Go back to your morals, values and just being a decent human being, whilst having a commitment to excellence and being exceptional.
Similarly, the Dalai Lama XIV explains the following in The Art of Happiness:
“The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others.”
If you always do the right thing, even if it’s difficult, and stay true to your values, you will never worry about anyone’s opinion of you, you will never need to look over your shoulder, and you will sleep soundly. Happiness all round.
This concept is taken from a blog post by Derek Sivers, where he explains that the world pushes us to add and keep adding, but actually life can be improved by subtracting. Here, Sivers talks about successful people, but I think this applies to happiness too:
The least successful people I know run in conflicting directions, drawn to distractions, say yes to almost everything, and are chained to emotional obstacles.
The most successful people I know have a narrow focus, protect against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.
In practice, you can take a piece of paper and split it into four. At the top of each section write these headings: Start, stop, more, less. Then write down those things you want start, stop, do more of and do less of. Begin with ‘stop’ and ‘less’. Stop scrolling Instagram. Stop reacting to sensationalized headlines. Less fulfilling obligations you don’t want to. Less sitting in traffic. Less rushing. Fewer meetings. And so on.
Then you can move on to ‘start’ and ‘more’, with a new sense of clarity and freedom. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin links freeing up space to giving yourself better options, where she explains “I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want.”
Adapt your thinking so that you see blank space in your diary as a chance to reflect and get into deep work that really makes a difference or furthers your cause. Adapt your thinking so that a clean and clear room means clarity and simplicity, not bare or un-homely. You don’t need to; as Seneca puts it in his essay On The Shortness of Life, “hurry about town fulfilling pointless social obligations.”
You simply cannot best serve the needs of your company, family or friends without serving your own needs first. You can’t look after other people if you don’t look after yourself. Guard your diary fiercely and decide what goes into your metaphorical backpack. Avoid being so busy you never get to enjoy yourself.
Stop scrolling Instagram. Stop reacting to sensationalized headlines.
9. Be present.
There are two sides to this point. The first is about your mind and body being present in any situation, rather than your body being there but your mind being somewhere else.
Hedging between watching the fireworks and filming them on your phone isn’t happiness. Meeting a friend for dinner whilst worrying about tomorrow’s day at work isn’t happiness. At best you’ll appear distant and vacant. At worst you’ll lose a friend. Happiness is giving your complete undivided attention to given situation that you have chosen to be in. If you don’t want to be there, opt out all together. If you decide to show up, give it the energy it warrants.
The second side to this point is about being firmly in the present, not the past or the future. Seneca puts it best:
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
In the book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, he says, “the human being is the only animal that thinks about the future.” Worrying about what the future might bring isn’t happiness. Plan for the future, sure, but focus it on the actions that you can implement in the present. Revisiting conversations held in the past and reciting the better answers you could have given isn’t happiness. In the words of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, “let it go.”
Also from the Happiness Project, Rubin explains:
“When I find myself focusing overmuch on the anticipated future happiness of arriving at a certain goal, I remind myself to ‘Enjoy now’. If I can enjoy the present, I don’t need to count on the happiness that is (or isn’t) waiting for me in the future.”
Being present is key to happiness because the present is the only aspect of time that’s in your control. There’s nothing you can do about the past. Worrying about bad things that might happen in the future means you’re either wasting your time (if they don’t happen) or suffering twice (if they do). Being somewhere with your body whilst your mind is elsewhere means you might as well not be there. This also links back to point two: ‘get some perspective’. One day you won’t be here. Today might be your last day on earth. Might as well be present while you can.
The conclusion to the original article was that true happiness comes from knowing what is in your control and out of your control and acting accordingly, whilst being careful what you let into your inner sphere. It comes from watching your thoughts for those that are unhelpful or untrue, showing kindness wherever possible and, above everything else, remembering it’s all a game and we’re not going to live forever.
True happiness is also doing the right thing, even if it’s hard. It’s found when you look to subtract rather than add, and when you are firmly in the present at all times.