Behavioural psychologists often deliberate on ways to create a happy society.
Personal development articles and books offer the secrets to happiness and I am no exception. Some people conclude that money plays a role in the pursuit of happiness. Yet, studies show people are no happier once their primary needs are met and they have a basic income.
In my experience, when life does not go according to plan there are ways to find happiness in the smallest details:
1. Expect Less
Studies show happy people value contentment as their primary motivation. If you are satisfied, you are likely to be happy. Working towards realistic goals is sure to cultivate happiness since you pursue that which brings you joy. This principle is espoused in author Loch Kelly’s book Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness: “Evidence shows that only 10 percent of our happiness is based on external success.” According to Killingsworth and Gilbert, as little as 4.6 percent of our happiness is derived from the specific activity that we’re doing. “To be happy, acknowledge what you have and cherish it.”
2. Enjoy Your Work
Happy people enjoy their work. They don’t pursue it for the money or fame but for the satisfaction it brings. Those stuck in an unfulfilled job that pays well, soon find it is not the way to happiness. Whilst it is rewarding being remunerated for your skills, money is just one aspect of job satisfaction. Pursue a job or career you enjoy. If you are not respected at work, find a satisfying job you enjoy; I assure you they exist. Many people waste their best years making money for their families while putting their passion on hold. However, your happiness is a priority too. Author Jonathan Fields states in How to Live a Good Life: “What about money? It matters. But not the way you might think. If you’re living in poverty and can’t cover your basics, every dollar earned increases happiness and life satisfaction. Once your living expenses are comfortably covered, though, more money has little, if any, effect on happiness.”
3. Live for Today
Avoid being fixated on your earlier failures. What’s gone is gone and to ruminate on the future only invites added stress and worry. You don’t know what will happen next, let alone predict your next step. So what is the point of worrying? Live in the present moment and enjoy it while you can. There is much to be gained with your focus on the present moment, such as taking in the beauty of life and reduced stress. The well acclaimed Buddhist author Ezra Bayda affirms this idea in his book The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear: “In short, happiness doesn’t come from making happiness the goal — it comes from being able to appreciate the journey, particularly the present-moment experience of our life.”
4. Choose Happiness
Step away to re-establish your goals and maintain a flexible approach. This requires an open mind and positive thinking. Choose happiness as your primary goal instead of allowing other competing areas to overshadow it. You are not defined by one perspective and can choose a positive attitude in any moment. You can accept failure, which does little to help you move towards happiness or develop a positive outlook. No matter your choice, there will be another day to reveal your best self since conditions are continually changing. Embrace change with an open mind and life will unfold better than you imagine. “Real happiness comes not when you choose to be happy, but when you discover the things that will make you happy and then do them,” affirms author Jonathan Fields.
5. Be Social
Humans are social creatures. It is wired into our DNA to connect with others. A region of the brain called mirror neurons allows us to recognise and mirror the behaviour of other people. That is why yawning is contagious because scientist believe it is a sign of unconscious social bonding. Happiness and love flourish in the company of others and are important for your health and well-being. If you isolate yourself, negative emotions are likely to arise. In this time of technological connectedness, people are more isolated and lonely than ever, giving rise to mental health issues. Cherish those important to you via regular social contact. For example, studies show that married people are happier than single people. This highlights that close connections are vital to your overall emotional wellbeing.
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” — Dalai Lama XI
6. Don’t Compare Yourself
Whilst it’s fine to be ambitious, envy will only make you unhappy. Comparison to others has its limitations. We can become too invested in the lives of others and lose track of our journey. Everyone’s circumstances differ. To compare yourself to others will lead you towards emptiness and misery. Whilst other people’s lives may look perfect from the outside, there is a hidden story we are unware of. Whilst it helps to learn from them, too much competition can ruin your peace of mind. Focus on your dreams and goals and enjoy your achievements and success. Savour them instead of being competitive.
7. Stop Worrying
Most people worry about something, yet 90% of your worries do not come to pass. You might worry about the future when the future is uncertain. Avoid fixating on the worst in a situation since it is detrimental to your health. Learn to live for today, instead of tomorrow. Similarly, avoid worrying about what others think of you because it doesn’t matter. Be your true self instead of hiding behind a façade to appease others. No matter what you do or who you are, you will never please everyone. If you please some people, you will offend others, so strive to be your best self. I enjoy author Mary O’Malley’s perspective in her book What’s in the Way Is the Way: A Practical Guide for Waking Up to Life: “If your happiness is dependent on Life being a particular way, it is a given that the flow of Life will eventually dissolve the circumstances that are bringing you happiness, just like the tide washes away your writing in the sand.”
8. Develop a Positive Outlook
Without a positive outlook, there is little happiness to circulate in our lives. To follow the advice mentioned above, develop an optimistic attitude. It requires work and frequent attention but the rewards are worth it. As I have seen from my life, everything happens for our highest good, even if we are unware of it. Have you recently been fired from a job? Maybe an exciting career awaits you beyond your current job? Add a twist of positivity to what transpires and your life will change for the better. Spiritual author and teacher Adyashanti touches on this principle in his book Falling into Grace: “Most of us don’t want to be bothered. We don’t want our search for happiness to have any difficulty in it. What we really want is to be given happiness on a platter. But to find what true happiness is, we must actually be willing to be disturbed, surprised, wrong in our assumptions—and cast into a very deep well of unknowing.”
I conclude by drawing on Adyashanti’s wisdom once more, which sums up this entire article: “There’s no way to become happy. We simply need to stop doing the things that make us unhappy.”