Most of us probably wish they had been offered a class in high school on the rules to have a happy life. Sadly, there is usually no such thing. You finish high school, perhaps college, and then are launched into the world to start your “real life” and pursue your happiness. What then? Get the great job, house, car, wife, kids, travel, friends, fame, health and money and you’ll be happy forever? It’s not that simple for most of us.
Sadly, many people strive so hard to achieve “success” and end up miserable. If worldly success brought happiness, then why have so many successful people committed suicide? Happiness is a state of mind, not an achievement or thing.
The Root of the Problem
When you really look at it, the root of the problem is when we allow our minds to be programmed to measure happiness according to people and companies that don’t have our best interest in mind. Most sources of information that come to us from those who want something from us. They want us to do things that benefit them, not us. Media constantly shows images and videos of things crafted by expert marketers that know how to plant the seeds of desire in your mind. We are subtly programmed without our awareness. An image of a happy person in a certain new type of car may create mental associations between happiness and that car, which may not be true at all.
Secondly, friends and family may be programmed as well and influence us towards things that don’t actually make us happy, or things that only serve their own interests.
Life Creates Happiness, not Things
It can be helpful to remember that a “thing” by itself rarely creates happiness. It’s the life activities and interaction surrounding that “thing”. To use the car as an example again, a car just sitting there doing nothing isn’t going to give much happiness. It’s the moving from one place to another, the scenery during the trip, the companionship while together, the music you may play. It can help to shift your mental focus on the life experiences that truly make you happy, not the things your mind has been programmed to think do that.
Enjoy the Ride
As you shift your focus to understand that happiness is the life experiences not the things, you can then learn to savor those life experiences. How? Be more present. Stop focusing so much on destination or goal as being when you’ll be happy. Achieving that goal will likely give you momentary joy and then perhaps you feel let down. If you’re in school, yes you are eager to graduate and get a good job. But school itself is a wonderful life experience- learning and socializing. Embrace it, appreciate it, and be the best you can be while in school. In the great book Letters from a Stoic, Seneca says “When one is busy and absorbed ion one’s work, the very absorption creates great delight; but when one has withdrawn one’s hand from the completed masterpiece, the pleasure is not too keen.
Fill Your Mind
Always be feeding your mind with knowledge and ideas. One of my favorite teachers Jim Rohn put it this way: “If you want to live a top shelf life then you need to stand on the books you have read. Never stop learning, never stop growing”. All you really need is one good new idea every so often. Taking on too many at once is counterproductive.
There is no one size fits all rules for happiness. You are unique. Don’t let someone else tell you what will make you happy. However, do let people share ideas that will bring you more success and happiness. All you need is at least ONE new idea to work on.
For example I was recently looking at a free e-book I got from a Personal Growth website that lists 67 ideas. One I resonated with (being older) was the “It is never too late to start trying” which cited how Colonel Sanders founded KFC in his late fifties. Just that one idea is a great seed to plant in my mind, that possibilities stay open no matter how old you are. Find a good idea for personal development and happiness, whether on the Internet for free, a book, an audio, or a seminar and find one idea that really resonates with you. Work on it. Write it on a post-it note and put it on your bathroom mirror. Make it part of you. It’s not only the idea itself, it’s the life experience of growth and change.
What Has Made You Happy Before?
Sometimes ponder when you have been happy in the past. Think back on your life about those moments. Contemplate what was happening, and what it was about it that made you happy. It may take some deep thought to get to the root of what exactly about it made you happy. If you can identify those things, then ask yourself if you are actively working to create those same situations. Ask yourself if your current goals are leading you to those types of situations, or are your goals being programmed and are empty of happiness?
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