Thought Catalog

If You Want To Feel Happier In Life, Try Using This Checklist

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image - Flickr / M Reza Faisal
image – Flickr / M Reza Faisal

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What comprises a responsibility checklist for having a good life? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.


I’m not quite certain what to make of “responsibility” but here is what makes for a good life in a 3 x 3 checklist format.


3 goals to achieve happiness:

  • [ ] Stay organized. This is by far the easiest way to save time and money.
  • [ ] Have integrity. Be the better person.
  • [ ] Gain competence. Become the better professional.
  • Result: Happiness through accomplishment.

3 skills to protect happiness:

  • [ ] Forgiveness. Let go, be indifferent, be on your way. Let bygones be bygones.
  • [ ] Detachment. You will inevitably emotionally attach yourself to things that matter, but often times we overestimate what matters. Don’t emotionally invest too much into the past or into the future. Don’t let mistakes move you. Have faith in what you are doing.
  • [ ] Honesty. We cannot always be honest with others, but we sometimes have the hardest time with ourselves. If anything, be blatantly honest with yourself. Nothing good will come of messing with your own head.
  • Result: Happiness with persistence.

3 steps to create happiness:

  1. [ ] Define happiness (think). If you cannot define it, you don’t know it. And defining is not describing. Yes, choose your definition. It’s about you.
  2. [ ] Do happiness (act). Thinking is not doing. What you do is the difference you make. To make a difference for the better, one must act.
  3. [ ] Build happiness (invest). Doing is not building. Be it a home, a family, a work environment, an entertainment system, happiness stacks. Invest in your stack. Engineer your life so it’s how you want it. Plant flowers that make you smile.  Find a pet that helps you forget. Embed joy into every wall. Manufacture happiness.
  • Result: Happiness by design.

To complement the above here are 7 insights into the human condition and the nature of happiness for your consideration:

  • Without intent, we mostly treat others how we treat ourselves. It all begins with being kind and thoughtful to yourself, and being comfortable with your own presence. You are stuck with you, so learn to get along. You are always in the room with yourself. If you enjoy your own company, it’ll make you a warmer and fuzzier person, and it will make other warm and fuzzy people want to join the party. Both happiness and misery are contagious. Be with happy people and stay away from people who enjoy being miserable. There is no need to confront them either.
  • We are who we tell ourselves we are. What we wear, eat, watch and listen to, all contribute to our self narrative. If you begin to tell yourself you are unhappy or undeserving, it’s a sign you just became unhappy and undeserving. Do what makes you happy, but read what you’re doing and listen to what you tell yourself so you know when you are actually sad. In other words, do what makes you describe to yourself and others as being happy.
  • Feelings are not opinions. They are facts. Never argue with your emotions or those of others. Emotions make us who we are. Words cannot change that. Thinking cannot change that. Emotions are real from the very beginning. They lead us places both good and bad, but let them be your guide, and never attempt to guide your emotions. At best, it is being dishonest with yourself. One must be blatantly honest with thy self to understand one’s happiness.
  • The sum of progress is greater than any moment of accomplishment. It’s not gain, as much as it is anticipation. It’s not the goal, as much as it is the journey to get there. Place events in the future that you cannot wait for.  Plan journeys that are enjoyable, regardless of their destination. Contribute to what we inevitably spend most of our time doing: waiting and traveling.  There is prolonged happiness in waiting for what is good, as there is in knowing you are heading somewhere wonderful. Life is a journey. Thinking of it in terms of events and destinations will lead you to waste most of it.
  • Happiness is here and now. If you are not happy now, you might as well admit you are not happy. Happiness is not in the past, sometime in the future, or at the end of any road. It can’t be obtained through reasoning  or acquired through thought. It can only be felt in this exact moment where you are standing. The distance between you and happiness is 0. You’re either happy or you’re not. It’s easy to time travel in our heads, and go places where we are not, but we are also often too smart for our own good. Too many of us spend most of our lives planning for happiness, when we could have been happy instead! Focus on the current moment. Make some sacrifices. If something isn’t making you happy, there is a good chance you have overestimated its value. You are here, and life is now. There are no exceptions.
  • Gratification is physical. All anyone needs to do is push the right buttons. Whether it’s a gourmet meal, your favorite sport, being with the right company, or walking down the beach on a bright sunny day, letting the tip of the waves gently caress your bare ankles, our body physically reacts when certain buttons are pushed. One of them will even give you an orgasm. So find your buttons. They are part of your architecture as a human being, and are scattered all over your body and mind. It’s all about accurately understanding your nature. If you’re confused, maybe you either: a) haven’t been honest with yourself, b) keep ignoring the signals your body gives you, c) let someone tell you how you should feel, or d) have been thinking too much without actually pushing anything. Pushing requires action. Understanding comes with experimentation. Study your buttons.
  • Happiness emerges. The buttons that gratify us emerge and evolve with us, physically, mentally, and circumstantially. There will be a time when cotton candy alone will make you giddy. There will be a time when holding hands on a date is heaven on Earth. There will be a time when the birth of your child will make you cry uncontrollably. Happiness is a fast moving target. Emergence is tricky because it is a spontaneous appearance. Thinking and analyzing works for what you are aware of, but for whatever it is that is yet to come, one can only be observant and prepared. It may take some effort if you’re starting from “miserable”, but the seeds of happiness are everywhere, and they will continue to pop up with every evolving moment. Happiness is a game of Whac-A-Mole. Feel free to use both hands.

For those who already seek happiness, this may feel redundant, but for anyone still conflicted here is what I think might be the biggest catch, and the most common misconception about happiness ever: That you need to be happy.

Nope. You don’t. No one can force a good life on anyone, not even you on yourself. There are many things we can live without. Happiness is one of them. No one has ever died from not being happy. It takes far more than that to commit suicide. Hence many of us are somewhere between okay and not bad, and we are totally okay with that. Happiness can wait. We are quick to sacrifice our own happiness and the happiness of others because we know this as a fact.We trade happiness for other things that we want, and many of those things do not make us happy.

We tell ourselves things like “I cannot eat this because it will make me fat,” or “I’m not worthy, because I’m ugly,” or “If I fail, my life is over,” or even, “This sucks, but it’s for my family,” or “It’s for my country.” These are the things that are only true if you want them to be. And they can lead to a life of feeling content in your own misery. Misery when justified can be very satisfying. We’d rather be miserable but have it make sense, rather than be happy for no reason. 

Even if you’re miserable, never feel miserable about not being as happy as you think you should be. That will make you more miserable than the sum of your problems.

Happiness is a luxury. It is a matter of preference, priority, and discipline. It is acquired through skill and habit, which can often be traced to one’s upbringing and social habitat. Happiness is about core values and one’s approach to life. Happiness must be sought. Hence, before you define happiness, you must define a good life and have it include happiness. Only then can a checklist of any sort be put to real use. Only then can you focus on understanding your own happiness and the happiness of others, and make it all work. If you’ve come to desire, you’ve made it half way.


In this day and age, those of us who value happiness are mostly happy, and even those who usually aren’t can be happy for the moments we value it. Let the miserable people be miserable. If they claim they’d rather be happy, just ask what they’ve sacrificed lately. That list will most likely include their happiness.  Happiness can be traced easily, as can misery.

A good life is not difficult. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Those people do not share your values, and will rob you of your happiness.

Go gettem! TC mark

This comment originally appeared at Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge.

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