From an early age, many of us were taught that to achieve happiness, we need to get a good job, buy a house, find a partner, and settle down.
The only problem is, even after all of these puzzle pieces are in order, we still seem to be missing something. We’re stressed, anxious, and unfulfilled. And, worst of all, our discontent sometimes spills over into frustration and hurts those we love.
The thing is, happiness doesn’t work the way most of us were taught. Afterall, the lot of us were taught by people who weren’t even happy to begin with. I think you can see the problem.
There is no way to happiness — happiness is the way.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but after a few thousand hours of reading and studying and hundreds of thousands of words written in an effort to discover the truth about happiness, there are a few things I’ve discovered that no one ever told me about happiness.
1. Stop looking for happiness in the future and start finding it in the now
Growing up, we’re convinced that there is some magical pot of happiness at the end of the rainbow, the rainbow symbolizing the path we must take to get there.
The only problem? The rainbow is more like a never-ending maze that convinces you you’re getting somewhere when you’re really not.
You won’t find happiness always looking to the future because it’s not there. Sure, planning for the future is important, but you need to ground yourself in the present moment.
The more you do that, you’ll find all kinds of things that will bring you joy, often simple things you never noticed before because you were always fixated on worries and frustrations about the future.
“Happily ever after” is one of the most damaging misconceptions about happiness that’s ever existed. Most of us believe that happiness is something which, once found, we’ll have forever. That’s just not the case.
This comes mostly from the misconception that happiness is a thing. However, happiness is more of a state of being than it is an object outside of yourself. Happiness is always there as potential within us, it’s up to you to nurture that potential on a daily basis.
Exercise, eating well, meditating, and cultivating healthy relationships, are all ways to do this.
3. Find something you have a passion for and pursue it with all your heart
This might sound like an obvious point to some, however, growing up, no one ever told me how important this was. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized this is really one of the two major sources of happiness for us as human beings.
We’ll talk about the happiness of progress in a bit, however, when you pursue something you have a passion for, your life is filled with a sense of meaning and purpose that is infectious. As you work towards improving your craft and pursuing what you love, you’re filled with an energy for life that is powerful and fulfilling.
So, if you haven’t already, start asking yourself, ‘What do I love?” so you can find what fills you with a sense of energy and joy.
4. Do everything in your power to maintain strong relationships with those you love
You might have heard that relationships are important. That’s common sense, right?
However, I’ve found that very few people that believe this actually follow through with nurturing those relationships. It’s as if most people believe that, while important, relationships will just maintain themselves. This is a dangerous belief that can, and likely will, hurt you eventually.
Relationships take work. You need to think of the other person from time to time. Make sure they’re feeling appreciated, provide value, and be supportive when necessary.
To put it simply, maintaining strong relationships takes intentional effort from you on a regular basis. It’s sort of intangible, so it might be the kind of thing you’ll need to push yourself to do at first. However, with time, you’ll see what a big difference it makes and how much happier it makes you (and your loved ones).
Most of us develop a habit of pushing away or hiding from our problems. There are a lot of reasons this happens, however, whatever the case is for you, doing so will only cause you pain. In order to be happy, you need to face these demons.
For the most part, this refers to facing your inner dialogue. As we go about our life, our experiences cause us to develop beliefs about ourselves that creates a sort of script that our subconscious mind plays on repeat. This dialogue influences what we do on a daily basis and can either make us happier and more successful or unhappy and consistently discouraged.
Take some time to be with yourself in silence each day and listen to what arises from your mind. Being kind and compassionate with yourself is vitally important to “curing” this damaging self-talk. If you do this, you can transform it over time.
6. Beware the illusion of happiness found in material things
According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, who specializes in studying the relationship between money, material items, and happiness, “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
The “happiness of things” is a dangerous illusion. While material goods do in fact make us feel a shallow kind of temporary happiness, we’re then convinced that we just need to get more things to be happier. This leads to a very unhealthy pattern of behavior where we’re constantly searching for our next fix.
Sure, if you grew up never having enough, then getting yourself to the point where you do can make you happier consistently. However, don’t confuse that with money or material items having provided you happiness. Continue to search deeper once you get to that point.
The happiness found in things is all but an illusion, keep that in mind as you go about your life and don’t be fooled by it.
7. Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparisons create completely unrealistic and often unreachable standards that keep happiness dangling in front of you like a carrot on a stick.
Everyone is different, so while one person might be able to do something or be somewhere, you might not be able to yet. That isn’t necessarily because of talent or skill, though, it might just be because you’re different. Perhaps doing things differently works better for you.
At the beginning of an endeavor, copying others around you who are more developed or advanced can be very productive. However, quickly you need to start carving your own path and stop chasing the unrealistic mental image of others.
They might do great as a square, but if you’re a circle all you’re going to do is kill yourself trying to conform to a way of living and being that doesn’t fit your strengths and preferences as a circle.
Not to be confused with the never-ending rainbow, creating a vision gives your life a sense of purpose. It’s less about getting somewhere and more about creating the optimal environment for cultivating happiness in the present, while working towards a vision for the future, which gives you one of the most powerful gifts of all: happiness through progress.
When we’re making progress and improving on a regular basis we feel great, like our life has meaning. Just make sure you remember the most important point of all: that happiness is about how you live your life now, not about acquiring something in the future.