- Give yourself permission to be human: Remember we all make mistakes, and we cannot be all things to all people. You must forgive yourself as you forgive others. To not forgive only forces you to harbor anger or ill feelings, none of which leads to happiness.
- Pleasure and meaning: It has been said that happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning. There is some truth to this. Think of the times when you did something that was both pleasurable and meaningful, for example, having a great day with someone you love, the birth of a child, your graduation from college, or that day you helped someone in desperate need and but for you a tragedy was averted. All are examples of brief moments of joy and happiness; nevertheless, all are quite powerful and if you sprinkle your life with such occurrences as often as possible, you will indeed create for yourself a very happy life.
- Money and your state of mind: Happiness is mostly dependent on your state of mind, not on the state of your bank account. Certainly economic security relieves stress and no one wants to worry about whether they will be able to feed their family or pay the rent. The trick is to keep your life simple, explore everything in moderation and manage your affairs. Once your needs and those of your loved ones are in order, then you can focus on your attitude and approach to life. In doing so, always try to remain kind, positive and optimistic. When you interact with life in this manner, good things happen.
- Count your blessings: There are few things in life that we are entitled to, hence most of what we receive should be thought of as gifts. Whether it’s a sunny day, a warm smile from a stranger, a phone call from a friend you have not heard from in sometime, or simply another day to appreciate being alive, you should be thankful if you go through life with this attitude, it is easier to feel fortunate and you are less likely to feel cheated, frustrated, jealous or angry about something you did not receive. These kinds of emotions only detract from happiness. So again, it’s your attitude and approach to life that’s very important.
- Remember the mind-body connection: Take care, exercise, eat right, and remain in touch with your body and mind. Few would disagree that being as healthy as possible has a direct relationship with what you can and cannot do, and how you experience the world and all those who are important in your life. It’s important also to try to alleviate stress, one way of doing that is by remaining active and healthy.
- Work at something you love: Work is such a big part of one’s life. In fact, it often occupies the majority of one’s waking hours. To choose a job or career that does not bring you some joy subtracts from the time you have in life to experience joy and happiness. Getting up and going to work should not be something you dread. Life is too short. Unfortunately, and as we all know, jobs that bring one joy are not always easy to come by. Nevertheless, we should see this as one of our goals in life, a goal to work towards. The first step in achieving that goal is to find out what your passion is, and then work backwards to sort out the way to get there.
- Avoid over-attachment, dependence or addictions: Life is ever changing. Those who may be in your life one day, may be gone the next. Children grow up, jobs change, people move or pass away. For those reasons it is important not to put all of your life’s joys in the hands of other people, places, objects or substances. To do so only risks great loss and sadness. Also, depending on others to safeguard your economic security or to bring you happiness is very dangerous for it leaves you at their whim, and before too long, you have lost control of your life. We must retain the ability to provide and protect ourselves. We must be able to brighten our own days, to be happy when we are all alone, and to sing even when no one hears us. Of course, this sometimes is very difficult, for it is so easy to yearn for those you have grown, but were very close to you. The trick is to learn to love your own company. Sometimes that’s all we have.
- Nurture your relationships: In spite of what has been said above, no one can deny that human beings are social animals. We receive much pleasure through our relationships with others, whether they be family, friends or lovers. It is more difficult to be happy if you have no one in your life, and in fact, many have said that happiness is best when it is shared. I do believe this is true. With this in mind, spend sometime developing friendships and keeping those you care for involved in your life.
- Plan for the future: The notion of planning for the future and its relationship to happiness has been met with some skepticism. In fact, some would say that putting too much time and effort into what tomorrow may bring, not only may be a waste of time, but also may detract from one’s ability to “live in the moment.” Certainly, it doesn’t make sense to spoil your ability to enjoy today with worries about tomorrow, particularly when those concerns are about something you may not be able to change. Hence, to at least this extent, “living in the moment” is very important. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you should not plan for the future. The truth is that most of us will live a long life and it is in living your life that you will learn what brings you joy. So whether it’s family, friends, your work, a quiet place to live or simply some time to read, travel, help others, or play with grandchildren, make sure that you ensure that these aspects of life will be available to you as you transition from your youth to your old age. This requires planning and sometimes advice from others. Don’t forget to take care of this while you are young. Too many of the world’s elderly never planned for their future and end up forgotten with little joy in their lives. Don’t let this happen to you.
An additional note about the relationship between wealth and happiness: Over the years many studies have been done on the relationship between wealth, or the acquisition of material goods, and happiness. Most studies have found that although there are some correlations, the relationship is at best, weak. There are two things, however, that these studies have discovered:
One, that if the elements that go into the making of happiness were divided up into two categories, the first being social values (namely, love, family and friends) and the second being material values (economic security and “success”) the former outranks the latter in terms of importance. This is not to say that one’s economic security is not important, but above a certain level of income and comfort, material things seem to stop giving us the kind of satisfaction that the material world would sometimes like us to believe.
Two, when people have been asked what makes them happy, they have said what they really want out of life is: autonomy and control over their life; good self-esteem; warm family relationships; tension-free days; leisure time, close and intimate friends; as well as romance and love. So when pursuing happiness in life, be sure to think hard about the choices you make.
Finally, remember there are few lives that have been lived long that have not experienced some disappointment, sadness, sorrow and even suffering. The above is not meant as an attempt to immunize one from such human experiences, but only to lessen them in frequency and severity. The good news is that we can all learn from difficult times and become stronger and smarter for them, and it’s because of the rainy days that we appreciate the sunny days all the more.