Ask any person and they can immediately tell you everything that is wrong with their lives right now, what they’d like to improve or change. We have a natural human focus on what’s wrong – in the old days this would have enabled us to be more aware of dangers and circumstances that could possibly have threatened our lives, but in today’s world it creates an unnecessary concentration on things that cause us dissatisfaction.
We’ve all heard the phrase “success leaves clues” and there have been many books written on studying the habits that successful people have in common. Well, happiness leaves clues too, and there are particular behaviours that content and happy people have in common with each other.
If we can develop these skills and habits we can live a more fulfilling life, and the good news is that none of them are particularly hard.
Do an emotional health check and see how well you currently do at practicing the following happiness habits:
1. Focus on gratitude
Learn to focus on what is right rather than what is wrong. Try this: for the next minute start listing in your head all the stuff in your life that is great, pretty good, or even just ok – all the things that you are grateful for, things that make your life peaceful or exciting or fulfilling or rich.
Start with simple stuff that you get to do every day like drink clean water, shower, eat good food. Add in environmental stuff like your privilege to live in a safe country, enjoy sunshine, have access to facilities and entertainment. Now look at your personal benefits – all the parts of you that are healthy, the use of your brain, your good qualities and strengths. Now just start throwing everything else in – family, friends, opportunities you have every day.
Pretty soon you’re going to be feeling somewhat blessed. When we learn to keep our focus mainly on all the great things we have going on rather than on that one thing that we don’t have, we start to feel exponentially happier and more satisfied.
Dissatisfaction tends to grow when we are focussed on ourselves too much. Humans have a fundamental need to contribute, add value and be valued. So learn to give. Look at what you do now to add to others’ lives, or to the environment, or to human or animal welfare.
If you don’t do any of these things now (even in a small way is good) then figure out where your interest in helping lies and start to do something in that direction. You’ll be amazed how good you’ll feel, and how valued. Contribution is the key to a meaningful life. A meaningful life is the key to happiness.
3. Journey to a meaningful purpose
We all need purpose but it’s one of the most elusive parts of life. Many people into their 40’s, 50’s and even further along have no idea what their purpose is, what they want to do with their lives. Well, take the pressure off yourself if you are one of those people – it’s normal. Purpose is not figured out sitting on the couch in our twenties, it comes on the journey.
Our individual journey can be quick or long, there are no rules to how long it takes you to find your purpose. The main thing is to BE on the journey, not sitting for it waiting to happen. Try stuff, experiment, learn from others, seek the horizon, find out what is meaningful to you.
4. Interpret the world to match what you desire
Unhappiness occurs when there is a gap between what we expect and what we get. Most people’s answer to this is to work to change what we get, but think for a minute how hard this is – trying to control and change your external world (and people) to fit your blueprint – your idea of how life “should be”.
What if we put just half of that energy into interpreting what we already have as what we want? What if you could learn to interpret what you have right now as being rich, or feeling loved?
5. Be present
I’ve left the best until last because it is quite simply the easiest and quickest way to find peace and happiness, and you can do it in this next second.
Be present in this moment. Not thinking about what you are going to do in the next ten minutes, not thinking of what happened yesterday. Just be. Sit still and notice everything around you. Experience everything around you. When you can just be present where you are with nothing to prove, there exists pure peace. Give it a go – it takes practice and I doubt that anyone can do it all of the time, but if you can just get a few of these moments into your day you will feel a lot more peaceful.
Happiness doesn’t just “happen” to people, it’s a choice. What are you choosing?