We love a good “how-to” list, don’t we?
It makes our brains happy to see things laid out in a concise and orderly way. Especially when that neat and succinct list tells us that all we have to do is follow a few simple steps to achieve eternal bliss!
But life isn’t orderly and concise. It’s messy and complicated. Tending the messiness might look “simple” in list fashion, but the execution of such steps can be anything but easy.
Here are seven (or more) secrets to happiness:
1. Avoid step-by-step guides.
Yes, that’s right. I enticed you with a step-by-step guide, but I’m being cheeky. Anything as substantial and subjective as happiness probably won’t be achieved by following a list created by someone who’s never met you.
2. Don’t assume someone else is more of an expert than you are regarding your well-being (even if they do have a snazzy step-by-step guide).
A happy person is not automatically authorized to tell you how to achieve a happy life. I’m happy, but does that make me an expert? Does it mean I know what needs to change in your life for you to feel fulfilled?
It only means I’ve taken the time and effort to cultivate my life in a way that pleases me. We’re all on our own journeys here; my path won’t be your path and vice versa. You should heavily question anything I tell you. Maybe you need to release childhood trauma. Maybe you just need a good workout and a martini. I don’t know. It would be colossally arrogant of me to assume my happiness makes me an expert on everyone’s happiness. The best I (or anyone else) can do is share with you the things that got me here.
3. Consider that happiness might not be about adding anything to your life, but rather about removing a lot of old crap.
For me, happiness has been a process of undoing, not doing.
Undoing all the habits, thoughts, patterns, and beliefs that kept me stuck in smallness. Freedom from all of the mental/emotional/societal “you’re not good enough” garbage. To me, happiness is also gluten-free cheesecake.
Some of you will have just wrinkled your nose at the idea of cheesecake being gluten-free. See? Proof right there that one person’s path to happiness isn’t necessarily the same as another’s. One formula does not fit all. Thinking, and feeling, for oneself is paramount in the pursuit of happiness.
What sets you free?
4. Happy people don’t know a secret you aren’t privy to.
Happiness isn’t a secret; it’s a willingness. A willingness to assess what is and isn’t working in one’s life, and then acting on that information. Sounds simple in theory but can be so difficult in application.
I’m happy because I’ve worked my ass off for it. No big secret, just a fierce devotion to my well-being. I’ve made really hard choices. I’ve taken scary steps. I’ve prioritized my own needs (gasp!) over others’. I’ve learned how to have boundaries. I’ve learned not to feel guilty for having boundaries. (Maybe read that one again.) I’ve left relationships that were unhealthy for me and lost people that mattered to me because of those decisions.
And slow learner that I am, I learned most of this stuff the hard way. I didn’t learn to use my voice until cancer started growing in my throat. I didn’t leave the marriage that was drowning me until my heart started to fail from the stress. I did the work of learning to love and honor myself, and what lies on the other side of all that work is freedom, empowerment, and joy.
5. If you have identified what needs to change in your life but can’t bring yourself to take those steps yet, cut yourself some slack.
Four agonizing years passed from the moment I realized I needed to leave my marriage until I found the courage to actually do so. Knowing something is one thing; applying that knowledge is a whole different ball game. Some of the steps we need to take to find our happiness are really freaking challenging. It can take a while to get there—beating ourselves up about it isn’t helpful. Self-loathing will definitely not produce happiness. You’ll do what you need to do when you can. Until then…compassion.
6. External validation is to happiness what dementors are to wizards. (If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, the answer is soul-sucking).
Dependency on external validation will suck the life out of every last thing you love doing. Sadly, most of us have been conditioned to rely on external validation. The undoing of that conditioning alone will lead to so much empowerment and contentment.
One of the things I’ve learned about happiness is that it comes from doing what we enjoy and expressing ourselves authentically regardless of the outcomes, regardless of what others think.
My loves, I’ve blogged for years and never acquired more than 50 followers—my desire to write clearly isn’t motivated by external validation. I write because it soothes me, fills my cup, and it is the way my soul expresses itself in this physical world. In short, it makes me happy. Why on earth would I demand external validation from the thing I love?
Then it’s no longer love.
7. Let go of the belief that happiness will be achieved once you attain [insert any number of things here…money, a relationship, a better job, and so on].
What can be life-changing is believing that your life, right now, exactly as it is, has meaning and purpose and that who you are, right now, as you are, is enough.
Maybe things are tough, maybe things need to change for you to feel more joy, but even so, your life as you are currently living it is not meaningless. If you achieve all your dreams, what will likely happen is that a new brass ring will just replace the achieved brass ring, and the carrot of happiness will jump out in front of you again, just out of reach.
Happiness remains elusive as we strive for that ephemeral perfection.
It’s okay that we haven’t achieved the version of ourselves we strive for. We have lots of good stuff to offer right now. It’s okay if our life isn’t superstar perfect. Simplicity and mediocrity aren’t such bad things. Believing they are keeps us feeling stuck and unfulfilled.
8. Upgrade your dictionary.
Much of my happiness has come from redefining key words such as: worth, value, success, and love.
How we define such things mostly stems from internalized ideology that often isn’t even our own making. We’ve been told (or shown) what these things mean, for better or worse. Consider examining and revising some of these crucial terms. For example, if your personal dictionary defines “success” as having a partner, or worth as having wealth, perhaps some revisions are warranted. In the 50s, a woman’s happiness and success were defined as landing a good husband, having children, and pushing a Hoover around in heels and pearls. Thank the sweet heavens above that old paradigm shifted, just as whatever societal programming that was ingrained in us is shifting.
What rubbish have you been taught about the meaning of worth and value? Love? Success? Maybe it’s time to throw those old definitions out and cultivate your own.
Yes, there are eight steps to this seven-step list because, assuming I can tell anyone how to achieve deeply personal and transformational states of being by giving you a checklist is absurd, rendering this process silly and obsolete.
Also, part of my happiness comes from coloring outside of the lines.
My friend, I wish you all the happiness in the world. You deserve it.