How to be happy? It’s a question many seek the answer to. Happiness is the holy grail that as humans we naturally all seek. It is an emotional state of well-being that brings with it feelings of contentment, at times intense joy, security, love and fulfilment. It is a powerful and intoxicating place in which to dwell and when we are happy, life feels easier, we handle things better and our self belief and positivity sores. We feel optimistic about the future and our confidence levels rise. Who would not want to feel like that? However, there is a difference between actually being happy and simply chasing happiness. ‘Chasing’ happiness can be equated to searching for the end of a rainbow – the harder we pursue it, the more out of reach it becomes.
So is there such a thing as a formula for happiness? How as individuals can we improve our happiness levels, in order to live more abundantly in life? Mixing research with my own thoughts and opinions, here are what I believe are 7 important steps towards ‘How to be Happy’.
Happiness Happens on the Way to Fulfilment
I was recently reflecting on a time in my life when I had from the outside every reason to be happy. I had the three beautiful children I had always wanted, a lovely family home, friends, marriage, health and really no obvious problems to talk of. Yet the reality was, I wasn’t happy. I felt lonely. My youngest was under the age of two, I spent most of my time alone in my house and often my only face to face conversation happened fleetingly on the school run or during the few coffee dates I’d arranged that week. Due to the demands of the house and children (particularly my youngest who was not yet in pre-school), I had little to no time to work on my business and my blogging days had ground to a halt…
The one thing that was lacking in my life was a sense of fulfilment. I was grateful for all I had yet my feelings of self worth and the isolation I felt left me feeling lack lustre and disconnected with the world. I knew I had so much potential but I just didn’t know how to turn things around.
Then ‘life’ as they say, dealt me a curve ball. My marriage ended unexpectedly and I was suddenly thrown into a no mans land. This was my rock bottom but it was also my begin again. My life had changed and there was no going back. It forced me to really sit back and take a look at my life and address all the things that were lacking. It was with a new found sense of determination and spirit that I picked up the first brick and began rebuilding a new version of myself, a stronger, wiser and more hopeful self that refused to give in and who chose to accept that despite the pain that comes with any birth, it would inevitably be worth the transition.
With a bigger sense of purpose in life, I became accepting of the fact that sadness and happiness can exist and live alongside each other within us, while we find our way to fulfilment. As our journey to fulfilment progresses, we realise that the former no longer plays such a dominant role in our life.
This is what happened to me. My life changed, I met someone wonderful and I began a new journey. As my youngest started pre-school, I re-embraced my love for writing, worked on building my photography business and bought a new home. As a result my fulfilment levels have slowly soared and so in turn has my happiness.
Live Life with Purpose and Passion
Leading a life with purpose means we don’t simply drift through life until it reaches its inevitable conclusion but we recognise that as individuals we each have the power and choice to bring something different and important to the world. All of our journeys bring with them something to share. Having a purpose in life, is our reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Whether it be to raise our children, build on our career, make a difference in the lives of others, or to pursue our dreams, without purpose and direction, we are simply ships at the mercy of the wind.
People with purpose, tend to have core beliefs and values that they use to guide them through life. Earning the trust and respect of others is important to them but they use their own strong inner voice to ultimately lead them in life rather than be overly influenced by others. Living a life of purpose also means appreciating the journey and cherishing the moments.
Even people who have achieved success beyond their wildest dreams, can feel empty if they lose their sense of purpose in the world. It is also about recognising therefore, that if you have lost your way, as we all sometimes do, then you must do something to change your direction. Find a new purpose that will lead you back on the road to fulfilment.
If you are lucky enough to have something you feel passionate about in life then enjoy it for all it’s worth but remember life is also about balance. I have seen people follow their passions to such an extent that they lose other things along the way as a result. Maybe its time with their family or time to relax. Be passionate but also try and create balance where possible.
Don’t Live Inside Your Own Head So Much
I think it’s fair to say that most people spend a lot of time living inside their own heads which is unsurprising given we experience thousands of thoughts every day. So great, if we have huge amounts of self belief and a friendly inner voice but many of us are also our own worse critic. The voice that’s ready to put us down, tell us we’re not good enough or not as good as that person, that we won’t succeed, that we’ll fail.
When we’re anxious or insecure about something, it presents us with the worse case scenario and taunts us, taking our minds to miserable places. We all have it, some of us more than others and the danger is that if you spend too much time living inside your own head, you start to believe what it has to say. It’s what actually prompted me to write the post ‘How to Control Your Critical Inner Voice‘ because I know I’m not alone when I talk about this.
I am lucky because I have developed a really strong and healthy relationship with myself that means overall, I have much fewer negative thoughts, but there have been times when I have because I have doubted myself and have worried too much about things.
My partner by comparison is the most laid back person I know! He doesn’t ‘do’ stress and is the most positive and upbeat guy you could meet. He has a really healthy mindset and strong self belief which I really admire and has helped me with my own outlook on life. With him, the sky’s the limit!
If you can recognise that you spend too much time locked in your thoughts then try taking some time out of them to give your mind a rest. Practice mindfulness. Take time to live in the moment and truly appreciate it. Be mentally present and see what is around you. Observe, record and relax…
Material Things Aren’t The Key to Happiness!
Really, I hear you cry?! This is a debate I’ve had many times in the past. Buying new things certainly makes me feel happy after all! However, if we look deeper at the meaning of this statement it’s important to distinguish between what is real happiness and what is actually just pleasure which is in itself temporary or illusory.
As Madonna once sang, ‘We are living in a material world and I am a material girl.’ I hold my hands up to this one. I like nice things and love having a home I’m proud of but are these really the things that bring me happiness? I think not. What makes me happy are the memories I am making with my children and family and the relationships I have with my loved ones and friends. If ever I feel down or sad, it is this that I turn to for comfort, not the new dress hanging in my wardrobe.
In the past, I admit, I would look at people with more money and wish I had more myself. I wished I had a bigger house and a flashier car and the money to go on luxury holidays with the children. However, I have realised that comparing yourself to others is a fruitless waste of time.
I have known people who had all of those things yet were deeply unhappy with their life because their relationships were failing or they felt lonely or lacking in fulfilment. I have known such people to walk away from all of these things in pursuit of happiness and have achieved it with much less to show for materially.
How to be happy, is about recognising that if we try to chase happiness in material things alone, our pursuit will in itself never end. When we are at the end of our lives, we are unlikely after all to think of the things we bought but of the relationships we had with those who were important to us and how that made us feel. If we are not happy in this area of our lives, our material wealth is unlikely to fulfil us instead.
Be At Peace With Yourself
Learning to be at peace with ourselves, is about facing what torments us and putting an end to our inner turmoil. We all make mistakes, we are all imperfect. Learn to accept that and learn to let go of the things we cannot change but move forward with wisdom instead. Setting yourself free from the past is key to your future happiness.
When bad things happen we spend much of our time replaying events, imagining different outcomes and tormenting ourselves. The truth is, we cannot go back, only forward. Some of us bring with us heavy loads, bags of emotional negativity from our past, that weigh us down in our present.
I read a great blog post recently on a website called Tiny Budda in which the author said this: “You create your state of mind by the things you do, and you cement that by the things you tell yourself.” I couldn’t agree more. What you do and say, has a direct impact on how you feel and how you make others feel. No matter what has happened in your past, learn to move forward by living life with integrity and sincereity.
I have picked up a few pearls of wisdom over the years including “Don’t judge people by your own standards.” and “It’s not what you say about people that counts, it’s about how those words make you feel that is important.”
Being at peace with yourself is about stopping negativity from ruling your thoughts. Instead, use your past experiences as a way to become a better version of yourself, now and in the future.
I had an experience recently that made me think about how ‘being giving’ makes you feel. I was walking along a very wet and cold Champs Elysees in Paris in January when a man tapped me on the shoulder to tell me I had a 5 Euro note sticking precariously out of my back pocket. I hadn’t even realised it was there. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness in telling me and continued to walk.
As I walked further, I noticed a young homeless couple, sat on the ground in a doorway, shielding themselves from the rain wrapped in blankets. Sat quietly on the mother’s knee was a young boy, no older than 5 years old, looking blankly out at the world in front of him as people passed them by. It was in such stark contrast to my own little boy of the same age, who is so full of spirit of and life, that my heart broke with sadness. I walked over to them and handed them the only change I had, the 5 Euro note, the man only moments before had told me existed. Maybe they weren’t really homeless, or maybe they were, but in that moment I became aware of how different their lives were from my own and although 5 Euros wasn’t going to change their lives, it was at least a small token to help them through that day.
I walked a few more minutes before reaching the metro, only to find that there was just one machine working. I attempted to pay with a card but the man waiting next to me informed me it was only taking cash and then on realising I had none and without saying a word, bought two tickets and handed me one! I felt so surprised by his act of generosity and so grateful that I didn’t have to venture back out into the bitter cold and rain again in the hope of finding a cash machine, that I almost hugged him! He simply smiled and continued on his journey.
As I sat on the train, I contemplated the series of events that had just happened with a warm glow. It felt like such a positive circle of karma! Thanks to the man telling me about my 5 Euros, I was able to give something to the people who needed it and thanks to the man in the metro station, I was able to make it to my destination on time and without stress. It made me smile to think that each had been an act of spontaneous giving and kindness which had ultimately made me feel warm inside and happy.
The biggest testament to the power of giving is when we see the outpouring of support people give others in the wake of a natural disaster or tragedy. It is a time when humanity unites to help those in need. Why do we give? Put simply, because it makes us feel good. Seeing the look on the face of a loved one or a child as they rip the wrapping off a present we have given them, makes us feel great too! However, giving isn’t all about spending money on others. Giving someone a hug, a compliment or even just a smile, helping without being asked, or simply giving our time to people or our children, when there are always a hundred other things we need to do. These are all little acts, that not only make the person who is the receiver feel good, it also makes us feel happier too!
Live Life with Gratitude.
I am constantly grateful for all that I have in life. I am not talking about the material things I have (although I am grateful for those too!) but the relationships and love I have with my children, partner, family and friends and the opportunities that are open to me. I am grateful that I have been born with creativity which has given me the voice to write and the vision as a photographer. I am grateful for my health. I have so many things to be grateful for and I try every day to live life with gratitude because I am acutely aware that there are so many people worse off than me in the world and that I am blessed for all I have.
When life gets us down, we can lose sight of what there is to be grateful for because nothing feels positive, but even on the most basic level at some point in our lives there will be something we can feel grateful for. Thinking about the things we have in our lives is humbling. There will always be people who seem to have more, more beauty, more money, more success than us etc, but rather than focussing on the negatives of what we perceive we don’t have, by feeling gratitude for the things that we do have, we can create a more positive mindset.
Even our darkest moments are an opportunity to learn and grow from. We may not recognise it at the time but by opening our minds to the concept of living a life with gratitude will help us heal from our hurt that little bit easier. I will leave you with an exert from a gratitude prayer I found in a post by Zen Habits on Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy. For the full post, click the link above!
Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.
GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.
~ Author Unknown ~
I hope you enjoyed this post and would love to know if you have your own happiness formula on ‘how to be happy’ that you would like to share!