When I ask people what they want most in life, many tell me “I just want to be happy”. This struck me as odd because I would not have given this reply to the question myself. Then I realised why – I am already happy.
My journey to happiness
I started thinking about what changes I had made in my own life that got me to this place. I wasn’t born a happy person, not that I remember anyway. In fact, in the early years of my adult life, I remember being miserable quite often and making those around me miserable too. Finding happiness was a long, hard journey.
Let me clarify that being happy does not mean that I am never sad. My heart often aches when I see the suffering around me. Some days I’m crabby and irritable, or wallow in a mood.
Being happy simply means that I don’t have to think about being happy any more. It means that there’s no underlying unhappiness bothering me and making me wish my life were different. It allows me to live in the present instead of looking forward to a ‘better’ tomorrow.
Here are the three key steps of my journey to happiness, in case you want to try them out and see if they work for you:
- Let go
- Take control
- Practise gratitude
First step to be happy: Let go
I remember feeling physically lighter the first time I succeeded in really letting go of the things that were making me unhappy. Letting go is not easy but for me this is the key secret of being happy most of the time. There are three areas in which I am learning to let go:
- Expectations: The single most important step on my journey to happiness was learning to let go of expectations. Expectations – of ourselves and other people – set us up for disappointment, frustration and misery. Freeing yourself and the people you love from the burden of expectations is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.
- Outcomes: Besides releasing expectations of people, learning to go with the flow by detaching from desired outcomes is also useful in achieving a happy medium. As a task-oriented person who pays attention to detail, this was challenging but worthwhile because I’m more able to take life as it comes these days.
- Possessions: The third thing I learnt to let go of was our need to possess. Thinking that we own things makes us susceptible to the fear of loss, and a life lived in fear is not a happy one. My aim now is to be able to store all my essential worldly possessions in just one suitcase.
Second step: Take control
This sounds like a contradiction of the first step, which is letting go. The difference is that we can let go of the things we cannot control, while taking charge of the things we can. Here are four main areas I worked on that added up to an overall feeling of joy, or at least long-term contentment.
- Finances: Stabilising my finances removed one of the major sources of worry and unhappiness in most people’s lives. I learnt to manage my money, increase cashflow and wealth using a simple spreadsheet, operate on a weekly cash budget, and studied ways to create multiple sources of income.
- Time: Reclaiming my time contributed a great deal to being happy, since work – life balance is key to loving both work and life. Finding time to do the things that are most important to me made a huge difference.
- Health: I used to have bad eating habits and had to learn to control bingeing and cut down sugar intake. Over time I managed an acceptable balance between enjoying sinful foods while limiting their impact. I also learnt simple ways to walk a lot more and get natural exercise in my daily routine.
- Relationships: The younger me was rather difficult to get along with, which obviously made nobody happy including myself. I had to work on being kind and speaking gently. Thanks to good mentors, I learnt to praise instead of criticise. Today I am grateful for strong and easy relationships with friends and family.
Third step to be happy: Practise gratitude
It is impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. So one of the easiest ways to be happy is to be grateful. While letting go and taking control involve work and time, being grateful can happen in the space of a single thought. Here are three ways to practise gratitude:
- Journal: Probably the second best thing I did on my path to happiness was to start a gratitude journal. Write down five things you are grateful for each day, either at the end of the day or first thing the next morning. You can repeat points, since you’ll be grateful for your biggest blessings on many days.
- Carpe diem: An attitude that helped me to be grateful everyday was living like you’ll die tomorrow. Thinking like this helps you to make the most of each day realising this could be your last chance, and then the happy days start piling up in a virtuous circle – you’re happy to be living, and your way of living makes you happy.
- Judge not: As I gained some perspective in life, I came to see that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are illusions. Things will happen in life – accidents, deaths, poor health, separations. You’ll be much happier when you stop judging these things as good or bad, but accept that things just are. Be grateful for the experience and smile because it happened.
“I Want to Be Happy”
Today I am generally happy and grateful. Many of my readers are also happy people though, and I’m glad for your company. You are proof that I’m not living in some fairy tale world of my own.
Still, it’s probably an understatement that not everybody is happy. If you know anyone who might say “I want to be happy”, I would be grateful if you could forward this post to them.