In our busy daily lives it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees and completely overlook some of the more obvious activities that can disproportionally affect our happiness levels. Luckily, we can go off more than just our intuition; there are lots of proven strategies that aim to create the right behavior that leads to a happier life. Below, we take a look at seven of the more actionable pieces of advice you can start implementing over the next week.
1. Find meaning in your work
Last week I interviewed a motel housekeeper in Miami Beach for a side project I’m working on. “Do you like your job?” I asked. To my surprise, she smiled from ear to ear and was breathless for a couple seconds. She finally collected herself and said, “I can’t believe how much I love my job! I get to make dozens of our guests happy every day and feed my two beautiful children at the same time.” Talk about a powerful perspective! Right?
A job is only just a job if you chose to see it as a job. But there’s so much more to it. All work is a chance to be of service. All work is a chance to express your gifts and talents. All work is a chance to be helpful to other people. All work is a chance to change the world. It’s up to you to find meaning in your work, whether you’re a house keeper, whether you’re a police officer, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re an astronaut, or an entrepreneur. You must find meaning in your work so that every day you feel like you’re on a purposeful mission.
So I today challenge you:
Love what you do, until you can do what you love. Love where you are, until you can be where you love. Love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most.
2. Embrace discomfort to gain mastery
Happy people generally have something known as a “signature strength” – at least one skillset they’ve become proficient at, even if the learning process made them feel somewhat uncomfortable at first.
Over the past decade we’ve coached thousands of people online and offline, and one lesson we’ve learned is that, yes, mastering a skill is just as stressful as you might think. However, this stress is positive. Although the process of becoming proficient at something takes its toll on people in the form of stress, people also admit that these same activities make them feel happy and satisfied when they look back on their days, weeks, months, and years as a whole. They see their progress and they feel great about it.
Truth be told, being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn. It’s better to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes growing, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running in place. You want to practice at the point where you are on the edge of your ability, stretching yourself over and over again, making mistakes, stumbling, learning from those mistakes and stretching yourself even farther. The rewards of becoming great in the long run far outweigh the short-term discomfort that’s felt in the process of earning your stripes.
3. Detach yourself from your failures and successes
Self-worth that’s attached to external merit can be quite fickle. For example, through our coaching, Angel and I have come to know that most university students who tie their self-worth to their schooling feel small boosts when they receive a good grade or graduate school acceptance letter, but feel harsh drops in self-worth when they don’t. What these students are forgetting is that failure is not something you are; it’s just something you experience. And the same is true for success.
So remember that happy, successful people are often happy and successful in the long run for one simple reason: they think about failure and success differently. They don’t take everything that goes wrong personally, and they don’t get a big head when everything goes right either. Follow in their footsteps. Do the best you can, and be a humble, life-long learner. Never let success get to your head and never let failure get to your heart.
4. Be productive, but not rushed
Being rushed puts you on the fast track to being miserable. Period. But on the flipside, having nothing to do can also take its toll (bad news for those who subscribe to the dream of doing nothing). The balance is just right when you’re living a productive life at a comfortable pace. Meaning, you should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel frenzied and out of control. Easier said than done, but certainly a positive state to strive towards.
One method of achieving this is to have “heavy lifting” and “light lifting” timeslots scheduled each day. During the “heavy lifting” times, you go at it full force, and then as soon as a “light lifting” timeslot arrives, you slow down. It’s simply a matter of scheduling time every day to not be overly busy. Have dedicated downtime – clear points in the day to reflect, rest, and recharge. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity.
Also, keep in mind that you can’t always be agreeable to everyone else’s requests and demands; that’s how people take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to set clear boundaries. We all have obligations, but a comfortable pace can only be found by properly managing your yeses. Be willing to say “No” to most things, so you are able to say “Yes” to the right things.
5. Give when you’re able
While giving is usually considered a selfless act, giving is often more beneficial for the giver than the receiver. In other words, providing social support of any kind can actually be more helpful to the bigger picture of our lives than receiving it. Intuitively I think we all know this, because it feels amazing to help someone who needs it. And that’s because lasting happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give – the experience of making a difference in the world.
The science behind this is simple…
Performing any act of kindness releases Serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a natural substance that has incredible health benefits, including making you feel more joyful. However, what’s even cooler about this is that not only will you feel better, but so will others watching your act of kindness transpire. That’s right; bystanders will be blessed with a release of Serotonin just by watching you give kindness. (And a side note is that the job of most anti-depressants is to release more Serotonin. Move over Pfizer, kindness is kicking butt and taking names!)
So just keep in mind that while you can’t give all of yourself all of the time, you can give some of yourself some of the time, and doing so will make all the difference.
6. Nurture your closest relationships
Finding Flow, an interesting psychology book on happiness, reveals national survey data showing that when someone claims to have a few close friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60% more likely to say they’re happy. Also, did you know studies have shown that average human mortality rates DOUBLE when we’re lonely? WHOA!
Good relationships really are worth their weight in gold. And the number of friends isn’t the important aspect here; it’s the effort you put into your relationships that matters. Although it’s harsh to think about, even the best relationships dissolve over time if they aren’t maintained; a closeness with someone is something you need to continually earn, so never treat it as a given. Every time you connect with those close to you, you further strengthen those bonds and you give yourself a little boost of happiness at the same time. Win-win.
And don’t wait around to make big plans with those you care about. Make your time together the plan. Communicate openly on a regular basis. Get together in the flesh as often as possible. Not because it’s convenient to do so, but because you know each other are worth the extra effort.
Just put down the smart phone, close the laptop and enjoy each other’s company, face to face, the old fashioned way. There are few joys in life that equal a good conversation, a genuine laugh, a long walk, a friendly dance, or a big hug shared by two people who care about each other. Sometimes the most ordinary things can be made extraordinary just by doing them with the right people. So choose to be around these people, and choose to make the most of your time together.
7. Be true to yourself
This one is more anecdotal than specific, but perhaps the most important point of them all.
When the Guardian asked a hospice nurse about the most common regrets of the dying, one of the prevalent answers was that people regretted not being true to themselves. As one patient put it, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
May that quote dwell in your mind and remind you to make your needs a priority.
Because ultimately, no matter how you live or how wonderful you are, someone else will be disappointed. So do your thing. Don’t hesitate and waste all your time with lots of explanations. Most people only hear what they want to hear anyway. Just because someone doesn’t understand your point of view, doesn’t mean a great explanation doesn’t exist.
Seriously, can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to everyone else and what they want. Stop living for other people and their opinions. Be true to yourself. You are the only person in charge of your life. The only question is: What do you want to do with the rest of it?
Start doing it!
As they say, there are seven days in the week, and “someday” isn’t one of them.