If you ask ten different people how to achieve happiness, it's very likely you will receive ten different answers. Everyone has different views and thoughts about what makes them happy, and in some ways, it's definitely a uniquely personal journey. However, there are some universal keys and skills for living a truly happy life that can make all the difference.
Personally, I believe happiness should be a subject they teach in school, starting at an early age. It is, after all, one of our most important life skills, if not the most important. There are proven methods and techniques for being fundamentally happy which can be learned and practiced just like playing the piano. But, unfortunately, unlike piano lessons, happiness lessons aren't something we commonly engage in.
Growing up, we're misled to believe that happiness comes to us through success, material things, relationships, achievements, and other external sources. While these things can be wonderful and can contribute to a happy life, they're only bricks and are not part of the foundation of happiness.
Building a foundation for living a fundamentally happy life across the board takes deliberate effort, knowledge, practice, and the development of habits that support happiness from within, even through dark times.
Like so many, I spent years and years of my life as an achievement junkie, chasing happiness, finding it in small, temporary doses through external sources. While these things would bring temporary highs, I would always find myself returning to a basic setting of lack and emotional mediocrity.
It wasn't until my early thirties that I finally realized my strategy wasn't working. I finally changed course, turned within, and through dedicated practice and working with some wildly inspiring mentors, I discovered how to change my core emotional setting to one of overall happiness and peace. Since then, my life has drastically changed. I no longer go through long periods of darkness, there are more good days because I have learned to create them that way, and I have a much easier time bouncing back from setbacks and hard times.
While there are many elements to building a foundation for lasting happiness, including the practices of mindfulness, gratitude, self-acceptance, and love, there are three important truths about happiness that have stood out to me as things that often go unrecognized, but once understood, can change the way we think about and approach happiness.
The first is that being sad now and then is actually part of a happy, balanced life. It's a complete myth that truly happy people never feel depressed, defeated, or distraught. On top of this, we often tend to beat ourselves up for having these feelings instead of surrendering and allowing them to flow through. It's about learning to recognize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from any life situation, and knowing that underneath everything you are guided and loved. It's also about going within and feeling grateful for those opportunities, and learning how to deliberately find joy, even in the smallest doses, during the tough situations.
People often ask me how I am so damn happy all the time. The answer is I'm not, but I have leaned to find joy, peace, and lessons within the sad times, which helps me bounce back that much faster.
The second truth is that being happy is a way of life that takes deliberate hard work, concentration, and practice. Sometimes you even have to struggle and fight for it by defending personal boundaries and making hard decisions. The good news is that the more you work at it, the better you get and it will begin to come naturally. There are happiness muscles, and the more you work them and keep working them, the stronger they get and the more they will support you. This is a concept I wish I'd come to know much earlier in life.
You can learn to be a happier person just like you can lean to play a game of chess. In chess, you learn and develop skills and strategies for setting yourself up for success, deciding exactly what to do when pieces are lost, and how to bounce back when the going gets tough. Being happy works very much the same.
Finally, being happy is much more physical than you would think. It's true that it comes from within, but everything physical, from what you eat to physical activity to simple physical acts like cracking a smile affect energy levels and brain chemistry, directly impacting our level of happiness. Aristotle said, "Happiness is a state of activity." He was absolutely right. Happiness is not just something we feel, it's something we do.
Next time you feel down or anxiety ridden, think activity. Start working on a project you've been putting off, get some exercise, meditate, put on some music and do a happy dance, down some ultra healthy food, even just move around a bit and do some stretching. The results are immediate. Do these things daily and your level of overall happiness will increase drastically.
Take on the challenge of building yourself a solid foundation of happiness practices and skills that will be there to support you in living your happiest life. Ultimately, being happy is a conscious choice we must make on a daily (and sometimes even moment by moment) basis.
You can absolutely change your internal setting to one that idles regularly on happiness and joy, but it does take effort. Be willing. Make it a project. Start with small changes. Read books on how to be happy to see what resonates with you. Create practices in your life that make you feel happy, keep them up, and don't beat yourself up for not being perfect at it. We're all works in progress, which is part of what makes life a beautiful adventure.