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The Happiness Manifesto: Simple Steps to a Fulfilling Life

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FEELING
Louise Morgan via Getty Images

The meaning of life is LOVE. It is both our divine and our oh-so-human purpose on this fragile planet. It's our reason for being, our true calling and our highest truth. We are here on Earth to love: each other, the animals, the plants and flowers, the mountains, rainbows and oceans. We are here to learn to love ourselves.

When we tap into this awareness, everything becomes clear. Choices become simpler. Priorities align. Should I try to make it home from work an hour earlier to be with my children? Yes! Will I make a note in my calendar so that I always remember the birthdays and important events of my loved ones? Of course! Can't I get away with cheating on my partner just this once? Never!

We can take this message about love to an even deeper level, however, by going beyond just being adoring friends, partners, children, parents, and colleagues. True love is courageous. It means leading with our vulnerability, allowing others to see our flaws and insecurities. At the same time, it asks that we forgive and even embrace their shortcomings.

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Such a trusting and openhearted approach to love and relationships generally requires doing our personal growth work. Whether you choose yoga, mediation and spiritual retreats, psychotherapy, reading self-help books, journaling, going on solo backpacking adventures in the woods, attending church or any other form of self-analysis and self-improvement -- it doesn't matter. Whatever works.

The important point is that we come, through this self-examination and individuation process, to awareness of our own ultimate responsibility for our lives. That doesn't mean that we control everything that happens to us. On the contrary, accepting that many events are completely out of our control is one of the keys to happiness. Rather, we realize that we are responsible for our reactions to external conditions, both positive and negative.

Someone cuts you off on the freeway? Don't jam the horn and flip him the bird. Take a breath. Tap into that divine purpose, which is love. Can you feel compassion for that driver? "Man, he must be in a big rush and feel really stressed out right now," you might think. Instead of sending hateful energy his way, take a moment to send loving-kindness. Wish him a peaceful and relaxing day.

At the same time, we need to allow difficult emotions in. We don't want to become these ridiculous Pollyanna types who deny that anything bad ever happens in the world, or these New Age types who claim that anything bad that happens to us is our own fault because we "manifested" it. No. Bad stuff happens. That is part of life. And sometimes, we get really angry. We rage. Or we get depressed and cry for days.

Don't push these negative emotions under the carpet. As the Sufi poet Rumi put it: "This human being is a guest house." Open the front door and welcome it all in: what you judge as desirable and undesirable; what you imagine is good and bad. It all serves a purpose. Let your emotions have their way with you, for a little while anyway. Just don't get mired in them.

Eventually, it's time to move forward. We all have less control than we'd like, but more power than we know. No, you don't control your external environment. But you are in charge. You are the superhero of your own life. You can make it a wonderful, exciting adventure by taking risks, living fearlessly into the unknown, loving yourself and others deeply and courageously, and tapping into joy every single day.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Make a mental or physical list of at least five of your blessings every single day. Feeling grateful takes us out of our ruminating about the past and projecting neuroses into the future. It bring us smack into the here and now, which is, after all, reality in its purest form.

Once you have done your personal work to accept responsibility for your life and to fall in love with yourself (again, the way you were as a child), then put away the navel-gazing. Don't become a self-focused, narcissistic seeker. Remember that the whole point of doing our work is so that we can be our best self for others.

Now get back out into the world and give. Serve. Volunteer at your children's school. Take a vacation to a disaster area so that you can build schools. Start a community garden. Become a caretaker of an aging parent or sick friend. Tutor a neighbor. Get involved in politics. Feed the homeless. There are literally a million ways you can show your love to those around you. My friend Kate Atwood calls this "Living by Giving." The more you make your life about serving others, the more you will come to love yourself. Commit to making the world a better place, knowing that you can.

Here's the clever little secret in all this mumbo jumbo: When you put love first, when you make it your priority and purpose, your mission on this planet, you naturally find yourself exploding with compassion, generosity, joy, and forgiveness. And the more you offer these gifts to others, the more you will find them coming back to you. Before you know it, love will be expanding exponentially in your own heart. You will discover that you -- yes, YOU -- are shining a thousand-colored light into the darkness that surrounds us all.

So sit back and watch the fireworks explode. Smile knowing you made it happen.

This blog was initially posted on EatLiveLife.com.

Photo credit: Gem Yates

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