Friday, 15 August 2014

How to be happier.

To some extent, happiness is a skill that you can learn.  Note: I do not claim to be an expert on happiness, but here it is:

1. Let go of perfection:  Life is imperfect; actually that's what makes it beautiful.  Give yourself permission to be imperfect, and to embrace the imperfections of life.  Things fall apart.  Entropy and chaos are part of life. Most people don't have life all figured out, and that's ok. 

Perfectionism will make you unhappy because perfection does not exist.  As a result, failure is inevitable since perfection is impossible to achieve.   It is in your best interest to strive for doing the best that you can with the tools that you have in front of you, instead of perfection.  That way you will be less stressed out, less judgmental of others and yourself, less afraid of mistakes, and you will have better self esteem.  You cannot be creative or effective if you are afraid of mistakes!  

2.  Take care of your mental health:  If you work on your mental health, it will vastly  improve all the other areas of your life.  Do you suffer from negative and distorted thought processes?  Be kind to yourself, because it's important to have good self-esteem. A book that helped me with this is Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns.  This award winning book is one of the most frequently recommended books by mental health professionals. This is one of those rare life changing books! Your thoughts and emotions are directly responsible for your mood and perspective, and vice versa.  It's like a mutual feedback loop.  Keep a journal for emotional self regulation and awareness.  See a therapist or take medication if you need to.  Your mental health is too important to ignore.  It's very difficult to be happy if you do not have good mental health.

3. Comparison is the thief of joy:  The only person you need to compete against is yourself.  Everyone has a different path, different circumstances,  and different hurdles to overcome.

4. Make a gratitude journal: It sounds cheesy but it's effective.  Write down anything in your life that you are grateful for.

5. Lower your expectations:  Mastery, prestige, and widespread acclamation are not required for enjoyment or happiness.  For example, you don't have to be a talented professional athlete to enjoy playing sports for recreation.  Talent, achievement, and admiration are not required to feel joy.   Strive for achievement and greatness, but remember that it's ok to be average, since most people are.  Being happy and enjoying life is not reserved for the superstars and the prodigies.   Again, life is not perfect and that's ok.

See: Aspirational TV is ruining your life on Youtube

6. let go of your ego and stop attaching your self worth to outside things: You are enough just the way that you are. Ambitious and successful people are certainly admirable, and it's important for everyone to strive for greatness.   However it's unhealthy to attach your self worth to your achievements, belongings, or status in life.  Remember that you are enough, just by virtue of existing.

7. Strive for equanimity:   "Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I'll feel peace.” Spirit says, “Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place.”  - Marianne Williamson.  A peaceful mind and attitude definitely contributes to happiness.  

8. Life is happening now.  If you wait for the perfect time to do something, it will never get done: Try to experience life in the moment.  Try not to leave your longings unattended for too long.  Don't wait until you have graduated from school, landed that promotion,  retired, or reached some other arbitrary goal, to begin living.  Life is happening now.   That sounds scary, doesn't it? It's because many of us are used to living in the past, the  future, putting off living,  or avoiding doing the hard things until the right time comes along.  Part of living a happy life is having the courage to be vulnerable, accept reality as it is now even if it's scary, and to just....try.  Try to experience love, joy, sadness and grief. Try to take the chances,  get messy and make mistakes.   You were made for this and you are strong enough.  You evolved over millions of years to be an expert at endurance.  We were designed to thrive in chaos.

You can  teach yourself to CHOOSE your perspective on life because perspective is subjective.   Your mind is free to choose which things in life are important and meaningful, and which ones aren't.

See:  The late author David Foster Wallace and the commencement speech  he gave at Kenyon College in 2005.  Youtube deletes it every once in a while, but it's worth the watch if you can find it.  It's called This is Water.

9. Have the courage to be vulnerable:     Having the equanimity to accept reality as it is will make you calmer, and actually give you the ability to seek out pragmatic solutions to life's problems.  Furthermore, emotional vulnerability is essential if you want to experience things like love, confidence, equanimity, creativity and happiness.

See: Brene Brown's TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability. This is one of my favourite TED talks!

10. Priorities:  People make life complicated when really, it can be simple.  Some things just  don't really matter.  Remove the excess from your life to create simplicity and focus.   “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are. ”- Fred Rogers

11. Know that fear, mistakes, struggle, setbacks, and uncertainty are normal and part of life:  Feels good to know that you're in the same boat as everyone else, doesn't it?  Try to actively forgive yourself for past mistakes so that you can move on without being held back by baggage.  

12. Put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time:  Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, advises readers to " content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime. “Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, from now until nightfall,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down. And this is all that life really means.”  Take one step at a time and you will see that the path will reveal itself as you go along.  Plan for the future, and learn from the past, but try to concentrate on the present.  I have found that trying to do this has contributed to my general happiness.

Another good quotation from Carnegie: 

 “...the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today's work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.” 

13. Cultivate empathy:  Be part of your community by volunteering or being part of a group.  Be a good neighbour.  Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. Go out of your way to do something good for someone or your community.  We are here on this earth to connect with and help each other. Our actions help to define us.

See: Volunteer Manitoba  or

14. Take joy in small things:  Did you enjoy a walk in the forest, cook a yummy meal, and see your friends today? Great, sounds like you had an awesome day!

15. Do something that you love or are passionate about:  It doesn't matter what it is, just find a hobby, cause, or passion.  If you don't know what your passion is, the TED talk below might be able to help you out.  In the video below, Adam Leipzig tells you how to find your life purpose in 5 minutes or less! Give it a watch, it works.

16. Do something tangible with your hands:  Building or creating something, especially something that will outlive you, is satisfying and therapeutic.  Also, completing a challenge and then seeing the physical results gives you satisfaction and  confidence.  Doing something with your hands will  give you a chance to live in the moment.

See:  the Instructables website

17. Be part of something larger than yourself.  I haven't figured this one out yet, but I feel that it is important.  It is seemingly human nature to have this compulsion and I think this is why people do things like have kids,  participate in organized  religion or volunteer for the Peace Corps etc.

18. Try new things and get out of your comfort zone.  It doesn't matter what it is.  Even taking a different route to work counts.  whether you succeed or fail at the 'new thing' is irrelevant.  If you succeed  you will give yourself more confidence.  If you fail you will gain humility, and the knowledge that its ok to fail.  Also, novelty makes your life seem longer. 

19.  "Of course you can do that.  You can do anything."  My grandfather used to tell me this.  Confidence and self esteem are essential for happiness (as long as it doesn't deteriorate into arrogance).  Believing in yourself can change outcomes and give your courage for the next time.  Having a limitless imagination leads to increased creativity and better problems solving.  If you can read and you have google, you can do almost anything.

20. Stop worrying about what others think of you: The amazing Dr Seuss said: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

21. Stop over thinking:  Thinking is essential to a well lived life, but over thinking will lead to rumination and negative thoughts.  If you begin over thinking, switch to another task, hang out with a friend, or find an activity to do.

22. Stop worrying so much. What's the worst that could happen?  Give yourself the tools to deal with triggers or emotions.   Take things to their logical conclusion; what's the worse that could happen? If it does happen, will it ruin your life? I think you'll find that in most cases, the answer is 'no'.  Most of time things turn out better than expected.  Most things that people worry about never happen.

See: Dale Carnegie's Banishing Worry Formula:

  1. Writing down precisely what I am worried about
  2. Writing down what I can do about it.
  3. Deciding what to do.
  4. Starting immediately to carry out that decision. 

23. Always be curious  about the world around you:  Always learn and do new things!! If you're bored, get lost in Wikipedia, explore your own city, or get to know a new person and what makes them do the things they do.  Did you know that some butterflies can see hundreds more colours than the human eye? Imagine that!  It makes you think about what other things exist that humans cannot perceive due to our limited five senses?  The universe is an amazing place.  Try making a bucket list.  Seeing and photographing the Aurora Borealis is on my bucket list, but I haven't yet completed it!

24. If you are feeling cranky, make sure it isn't a circumstantial problem:  For example, you need adequate food, shelter, health care, sleep, physical exercise, and mental health.  If you're feeling down, maybe you just haven't had your daily dose of endorphins from exercise and fresh air.  Perhaps you haven't cuddled your dog today.  Simply being over-tired can negatively change your whole perspective on life.

25. If possible, do things to objectively lift your quality of life:  Are you heels hurting your feet? Then stop wearing them so much.  Is your apartment neighbour noisy? Think about moving if possible.  Are you lonely? Join a group on or get a dog.  Life is full of things that you cannot control, but you can give yourself agency  by taking action on the things that you CAN control.

26.  Take care of your physical health:  Everyone knows that exercise makes you happy  by releasing endorphins, giving  you energy for your day, and giving you a sense of accomplishment.  Also, studies show that lifting weights or doing other types of strength training makes you healthier and more resilient in your golden years.  Exercising is a good way to clear your mind and stay in the moment.  Eating healthy foods gives you the right kind of fuel to feel at your best.

27. Be mindful:  Meditation and being mindful is gaining traction for a reason.  It's because it actually works!  The easiest type of meditation for beginners is called body scan meditation. Go outside and feel the sun and breeze on your face.  Look at the beauty of nature.  Experience the present moment.  If you're having trouble being mindful, practise it daily during one activity, such as whenever you have coffee.  You will realise that actually, much of life happens in your imagination.

According to the Mirriam Webster dictionary, mindfulness is:

the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; also:  such a state of awareness

28.  Do things that are therapeutic:  Experiment and find out what things are therapeutic for you.  Examples are: Listening to music, cooking a yummy meal, going for a jog, creating art, or interacting with animals.

29. Laugh:  Laughing is important because it's a coping mechanism that helps you to make light of the realities of life.  It releases endorphins and lowers your blood pressure.  Laugh with your friends or watch a comedy!  Reality has a way of slapping you in the face sometimes.   Life is real,  visceral, and  hard.  Paradoxically, it is simultaneously ridiculous, absurd, and trivial.  The fact that human beings even exist flies in the face of probability.  Scientists do not yet know of any other young planets who managed to create intelligent life from scratch.  Life is so, so precious and yet, when held up against the backdrop of time and space, everything seems so meaningless. Sometimes you just need to laugh. 

see: Dog Shaming for laughs.  Also, for some reason this Youtube video always makes me laugh!:

Change is difficult, and you will hate it because you brain will fight you every step of the way.  But it is worth it.   Just put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.  Happiness is a skill that you can learn over time.

No comments:

Post a Comment