Happiness 201: The Advanced Guide for How to be Happy Psychologically (Expectations, Practice, Choice, Purpose)

Aug 14, 2019 · 10 min read
Sloww Happiness 201 How to be Happy Psychologically
Sloww Happiness 201 How to be Happy Psychologically

This is the second post in the 3-part happiness series. Jump to the first or last post here:

In the first post, we covered the external factors for happiness. But, even the external factors are only “external” to a certain degree. What really takes place is on the inside.

This post goes deeper into how to be happy psychologically — happiness in the mind. After all, you are able to have much more control over yourself than anything in the external world.

The essence of philosophy…happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things. — Epictetus

People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say dependent on form. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. — Eckhart Tolle

Heads up: This is going to be a terrible post…

Just kidding (hopefully). Perhaps I just drastically lowered your expectations of what you’re about to read. With that, let’s dive into keeping expectations in check!

Happiness 201 Post Contents:

5. EXPECTATIONS: Happiness is about keeping expectations in check

6. PRACTICE: Happiness is a skill that can be learned and requires training and practicing

7. CHOICE: Happiness is a mindful choice

8. PURPOSE: Happiness is a byproduct of finding meaning and purpose

Sloww Hierarchy of Happiness How to be Happy
Sloww Hierarchy of Happiness How to be Happy

The Advanced Guide for How to be Happy Psychologically: Expectations, Practice, Choice, Purpose (& 30+ Happiness Quotes)

How to be Happy #5 (EXPECTATIONS): Happiness is about keeping expectations in check

The best example I’ve come across here is Mo Gawdat, an ex-Google executive who quit at age 51 to create an equation for happiness:

Sloww Mo Gawdat Happiness Equation
Sloww Mo Gawdat Happiness Equation
Source: SolveForHappy.com

Here are Mo’s tips for happiness:

The way we think about the events of our life and compare them to realistic expectations is what makes us happy or unhappy.

Happiness is very much like staying fit. You start with the decision that you are going to get fit, you find out how — but knowing that is not enough, you have to go to the gym to work out and eat healthily. To me the whole topic of happiness is exactly the same. First you understand that happiness is a choice, that you can actually achieve it and that there is a method to make it happen. Happiness is not a coincidence, it is not given to you by life, it’s entirely our responsibility.

Interesting perspective: Happiness is like fitness.

Let’s move on to that.

How to be Happy #6 (PRACTICE): Happiness is a skill that can be learned and requires training and practicing

Why do we assume we’ll all naturally be “good” at something like happiness?

I’d always believed that a life of quality, enjoyment, and wisdom were my human birthright…I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live…ways of seeing the world I had to master before I could awaken to a simple, happy, uncomplicated life. — Dan Millman

Almost everything in life requires some amount of practice and training — especially if you want to get better at it.

I have a friend who is 63 years old. He used to be a runner when he was young. He gave up running. Now a few years ago, he started again. He said, ‘When I started again, I could not run more than five minutes without panting for breath.’ Now last week, he ran the Montreal Marathon at 63. He had the potential, but it was useless until he actualized it. So the same potential we have for mind training, but if we don’t do anything, it’s not going to happen because we wish so. — Matthieu Ricard, Biochemist turned Buddhist monk often described as world’s happiest person

Practice until it becomes second nature:

In every moment, in everything that happens, you can look on the bright side of something. So I used to do that forcibly and then I trained it until it became second nature. — Naval Ravikant

How to be Happy #7 (CHOICE): Happiness is a mindful choice

This is one of the biggest pieces of happiness advice at the psychological level. Everyone seems to have covered it — from the Stoics to psychologists, and spiritual teachers to modern research.

It’s as simple as:

If you want to be happy, be. — Leo Tolstoy

It seems like such an easy choice:

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Realize that you hold the key to your own happiness handcuffs:

Behold the master key to our happiness in our own hands. Moment by moment, we can be grateful for this gift. — David Steindl-Rast, monk and interfaith scholar

Happiness is also a choice. If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t happy? How come you haven’t figured that out? That’s my challenge to all the people who think they’re so smart and so capable. — Naval Ravikant

I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me. — Sir Thomas Browne

Happiness is a choice. You are as happy as you choose to be. If you don’t know how to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy with more. — Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Let’s travel back in time:

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. — Marcus Aurelius

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. — Marcus Aurelius

Spiritual leaders have been teaching this forever:

People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple. Once you make that choice, your path through life becomes totally clear. — Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

The Blue Zones, locations on Earth where people live the longest, describe this as the Right Outlook:

Individuals who understand what brings them joy and happiness tend to have what we like to call the Right Outlook. They are engulfed in activities and communities that allow them to immerse themselves in a rewarding and gratifying environment.

Next up, we tackle another reason why people in the Blue Zones live longest: life purpose.

How to be Happy #8 (PURPOSE): Happiness is a byproduct of finding meaning and purpose

Of everything we’ve covered through the first two posts in this series, this point has been the most impactful in my own life. When I went through my existential crisis and started finding and creating purpose, I kept coming back to this quote:

I’ve learned that there is nothing more consistent with unhappiness than spending your time in a way that doesn’t serve who you are. And…there is no more profound source of fulfillment and happiness than knowing you are traveling your own path… — Scott Dinsmore

Aside from relationships, meaning may be most important:

According to some psychologists, happiness can be assessed with two simple questions. First, do you find meaning in your work? Second, do you have good relationships with those around you? — Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

‘Years of research on the psychology of well-being have demonstrated that often human beings are happiest when they are engaged in meaningful pursuits and virtuous activities.’ Indeed, when we are deeply engaged in an activity that is in accordance with our best self, we often report the highest levels of life satisfaction. — Scientific American¹

Traveling your own path is a universal human theme and the reason why concepts like the hero’s journey and books like The Alchemist resonate on a global level:

Very few follow the path laid out for them — the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon. (A shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep.) — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (Secret of Happiness story)

Happiness is simply the byproduct of meaning and purpose:

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation. — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself. — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering. — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

That’s the power of meaning. Happiness comes and goes. But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold on to. — Emily Esfahani Smith

The difference between happiness and fulfillment is the difference between liking something and loving something…Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it. — Simon Sinek, Find Your Why

Think of it like a system or process:

When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. — James Clear, Atomic Habits

Stop hoping for happiness tomorrow. Happiness is being engaged in the process. — Helen Morales

Instead of making happiness the goal, focus on meaning and purpose:

The happiest people I know found something they loved and went for it. — Dan Harris

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. — Helen Keller

When we link our purpose with greater happiness, then we’re in a state of unlimited happiness and permanent happiness. — Emma Slade, Banker turned Buddhist after being robbed at gunpoint

Our deepest happiness in life stems from fulfilling purpose. Doing the best we can, where we are, with what we’ve been given is the best way to live a life of meaning and significance. — Joshua Becker, author of Becoming Minimalist and Simplify

Yet again, the Blue Zones nail it. The concept of ikigai comes from the Blue Zone in Okinawa, Japan. After all my investigation and reflection on life purpose, I believe this evolution of ikigai is most effective for finding and creating purpose.

The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.​ — Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Healthy Life

Artists, for example, who carry the torch of their ikigai instead of retiring, have this power. Art, in all its forms, is an ikigai that can bring happiness and purpose to our days. Enjoying or creating beauty is free, and something all human beings have access to.​ — Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Healthy Life

Don’t forget the #1 most common regret of the dying: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”²

As an afterthought, it seems hardly proper to write of life without once mentioning happiness; so we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed? — Hunter S. Thompson

If how I spend today is how I spend the rest of my days, would I be happy? Would I be fulfilled and proud? Would I feel a sense of purpose? And at the very end when my cosmic day is done and I look back, will it have been a good life? Will it have been a meaningful life? — Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Purpose goes even further (and leads us to the third and final post in the series):

I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. — Dalai Lama

The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is. — Tao Te Ching

That wraps up the second post in the happiness series! What was most impactful to you? Please let me know in the comments and continue reading the series below. If you loved the post, please share socially!

Continue to the other posts:


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Awakening the Art of Living for Heroic Humans → Sloww.co • Lighter Living • Higher Purpose • Mental Wealth • Spiritual Growth • Full Aliveness • By @KyKow

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