What's Your Strategy for Happiness?

Yes, we all need a roof over our head and food to eat. We all need love and some form of a relationship we can rely on. We all need the basics to sustain life, but YOUR happiness doesn't lie in attaining those basic needs. It lies in the details of who you are as a person.
09/30/2012 11:10 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2012

You've probably thought about a retirement strategy or a career strategy at some point in your life. You may have created a workout plan for yourself or started a new diet to look good for the summer; but how many of you have created a strategy for your happiness?

Yes, I know. It sounds funny at first. It's as if creating a strategy to find your happiness is the most absurd thing you have ever heard. But if you don't have one, how are you going to get there?

Everyone knows that if you want something in life, nobody's going to hand it to you on a platter. You have to be the one to get it, and your happiness does rank up high on the things you want in life, doesn't it? So, if you truly want to be happy, isn't it worth taking a few minutes to outline a strategy for how you're going to get there? If not, then you're pretty much resigning your life to one of trial and error when it comes to your happiness, error being the key direction your search will most likely take you.

I don't say this to be mean or nasty. I say this because trial and error is how we learn. We make mistakes and learn by them. While it may be fine for inventing a new light bulb, I don't think you really want to spend your life bouncing from one mistake to another. Your life is far too precious a commodity for that, especially when you can create a plan to get to your happiness sooner rather than later.

Start With the End in Mind

Creating a strategy for happiness is easier than you may think. It, like all successful strategies, starts with the end in mind. As Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you're going, you're never going to get there." That statement has never been truer than when creating your own happiness. You see, every one of you is different and each of you has a different definition for your happiness.

Yes, we all need a roof over our head and food to eat. We all need love and some form of a relationship we can rely on. We all need the basics to sustain life, but YOUR happiness doesn't lie in attaining those basic needs. It lies in the details of who you are as a person.

If asked what happiness is, you may give me a general answer of balance, comfort, calm. But I would challenge you to dig a little deeper to define what real happiness means to you. To do that you need to look at who YOU are, at recognizing your capabilities and your failings.

You were born with capabilities that can make you elated when you see them in action. You were also born with limitations that can lead to endless frustrations if you don't recognize them for what they are.

You have also experienced life differently from anybody else. Each of those life events has shaped the person you are today. It's why some of you find serenity in the ocean, while others find peace in the mountains. It's also why others find contentment in the bustle of the city.

There is no one single formula for finding happiness. The only constant is the need to be realistic about who you are, to identify your capabilities as well as your limitations. Only by being realistic of what is and is not possible can you end the frustrations, the anxiety and the stress in your life, so that you can be happy.

When I look at myself I realize I wasn't born with the body of an Olympic-class runner or an Olympic-class swimmer. That doesn't mean I can't go running every day and love every minute of it. That doesn't mean I can't swim in the ocean and dive like a dolphin. I can find happiness as I challenge myself to try and run a marathon or swim to a new harbor.

What this means is that to base my happiness on the idea of winning the Olympics is a surefire way to guarantee a life of frustration and misery. It does mean I have to take it all in stride and learn to enjoy the run, and not just the win.

So be realistic with yourself. Yes, challenge yourself and strive to be the best you can be at whatever it is you are doing, but be realistic with your own capabilities. Those will define your roadmap to happiness.

Their Idea of Happiness Is Not Yours

Kim Kardashian, Gucci, reality television, snarky blogs... they all feed on our primal fear of not fitting in and your desire to be accepted, liked and loved. But the messages each of those outlets send out is also what got most Americans into the financial problems they're now in. "If I just buy a new outfit, if I get another Botox treatment, if I drive a better car I'll be happy." "If" lasts for a few days, perhaps a few weeks, until that sense of contentment, that happiness, wears off.

To be truly happy, you have to ignore what the advertisers are telling you. You have to ignore what reality television and the snarky bloggers are pushing. YOU already know what happiness is for you. It's within you. You just have to shut off the noise that is all around you and listen to YOUR own message.

The problem for most people is that we have been trained to adopt someone else's definition for what it is to be happy, and that ideal is a moving target depending on whatever the advertisers want to sell at that moment. How many old outfits do you have in your closet? How many old toys or gimmicks litter your floor?

Don't let the media tell you what it is to be happy. If you do, you will have spent all your money buying their products while still living in misery.

The Secret to Finding Your Happiness

Before you go looking for happiness, take a moment to look back in your life. Find a few moments when you were truly happy. Not elated or ecstatic, but truly quiet and simply happy. Write down those moments and describe the setting, the people, and the things that made you happy.

This is the roadmap for what you are searching for. That moment, when everything was in balance, is a view of what happiness is for you. Don't try to recreate that exact moment, but look for the elements within it that will make you happy. Find those elements again, and you will find YOUR happiness.

Happiness Is YOUR Life in Balance

If you wrote down the moment of your happiness and took the time to write down the different elements that made it a happy moment, you will begin to understand that your happiness is not found in attaining any one thing. It is found when you bring the different elements of your life into balance in a way that support YOU.

Having all the money in the world will not make you happy if you are alone. Finding the love of your life will not make you happy if you are forced to live in oppression. Having a great career and job will not make you happy if your home life is miserable. So stop looking for "happiness" and instead focus on bringing the important elements of your life into balance.

Take a moment to think about how you feel about each of these elements, from body image to your finances, from your house to your spirituality. Identify which are important to your happiness and in what degree. You will quickly find that you don't need to be perfect in each of these areas you simply need to be content -- in other words, happy.

Be well.

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