3 Strategies I Use to Be Happier
Nothing brings me more joy than making people laugh.
I love seeing a person’s face light up after a joke because, in those seconds, it is undeniable, they are happy. Laughter brings people together. It pushes all the negativity out of the room, if for only a moment.
My attraction to humor has always been my way of shining light in a world that is, unfortunately, inhabited with a lot of unhappy people.
I’ve been told on occasion that I have a fun attitude towards life. But I don’t believe I was born with a smile. My life, like any, has had its ups and downs, with plenty of dark moments that I’ve had to dig myself out of.
As I’ve gotten older and studied the evasive nature of happiness, I’ve adopted three key strategies to keep good spirits in the comings and goings of life’s good fortunes.
The Pains Of Swimming Upstream
Fate brought a magnificent golden retriever, Ottie, into my life for more than a decade. He was one of my greatest blessings.
I’ve always felt drawn to golden retrievers. They are lovable. They are loyal. They have an eager-to-please stupidity about them. And they are always, always, almost always, in a good mood. Every day is sunny when you are a golden retriever.
There were only 3 routine instances where my dog was unhappy.
- He was getting stir-crazy and needed a walk.
- He was hungry.
- He was tired.
Do you know why a dog, that is programmed to be perpetually happy, is unhappy in virtually every one of those instances?
Because he, like us, is at the mercy of his basic needs.
No aspirational thinking or motivational quotes will overcome a discrepancy in your biological needs. Your body will punish you for what it doesn’t get.
For example, I used to take anti-depressants in my early 20’s. And the pills never seemed to work on me as they did for other people. Why? Because the medicine couldn’t counter the biggest problem in the equation, me:
I was going out and binge drinking every night. I was living off of fast food. I was in a bad relationship. My career was a mess. It was total self-sabotage.
It wasn’t until I stopped trashing my body and began cleaning up my personal life that things got better.
Being happy starts with getting the basic stuff right: making good life decisions, exercising, eating right, and maintaining a proper sleep schedule.
If you can’t at least attempt to do those things right, don’t bother reading the rest of this article.
Releasing Your Control Of Everything
Most of you are already close to the truest version of yourself that you will ever become.
Don’t let that depress you. You can definitely still change for the better.
You should, however, consider the power that comes with accepting who you are. Acceptance offers solace. Too many people are trying to become something that is simply out of reach, not because they aren’t good enough or talented enough, but because it isn’t them.
Accepting that life, to some degree, has a pre-ordained path for all of us will free you from nagging feelings of angst and inadequacy.
Important to this, don’t hang all of your value on what other people think of you. That is what drives a lot of our dissatisfaction. There’s a difference between becoming your best self and becoming something just to appease or impress others.
Accept who you are. Have a healthy sense of the cards you have been dealt. Do your best with those cards. And then try to enjoy the journey as it unfolds.
The Happiness Treadmill
Few phrases from my childhood stand out more than one said by my dad, “Remember Sean — eat what you take”.
He typically said it at family get-togethers when I was filling my plate up with food. In fact, I still hear that line in my head at least once a month.
The phrase isn’t just about manners, it is about appreciation:
- Someone went through the trouble to make that food.
- In some cases, animals died so that that food could be on that table.
- There are people in this world who don’t have the luxury of eating fresh, cooked food on a regular basis.
- Taking food you aren’t going to eat is disregards all of those things.
The phrase has deeper implications for our slippery state of happiness.
No matter how successful we all are, we will invariably be at the mercy of the hedonic treadmill, which observes that human beings tend to get accustomed to their situation. If you win the lottery tomorrow or get fired today, you will, in all likelihood, converge at roughly the same point of happiness in the near future.
The lottery winner will become accustomed to his newfound wealth. His fancy cars will become the norm. And his wide-open days in early retirement will leave him feeling aimless.
The man who was fired, whose life seemed to be falling apart before his eyes, will eventually get interviews and, eventually, be chosen by an employer, enabling him to climb his way out of his rut.
Acclimation, like time, heals our wounds and washes away our joys.
One key to happiness is to find a way to get on the other side of the hedonic treadmill, to avoid becoming numb to your blessings.
You can do this by practicing empathy for those who have been dealt a crueler fate. You can envision much harsher realities. I sometimes reflect on my days spent in the hospital, deathly ill, and it reminds me of how grateful I am for my health.
You can go and volunteer. One of the most rewarding things I ever did was give my time as a coach for the Special Olympics. Altruism has a long tail of satisfaction that keeps giving.
Consider keeping a daily journal, writing down a list of things you are thankful for. Visualize a scenario where you lose those blessings: it can enhance your appreciation for them.
When I am in my darker moments, I try to think things that I am looking forward to in the next few months. It gives me something to be excited about. It reinforces a spirit of optimism.
For all of the things that people are unhappy for, there is so much more to smile about that goes unseen and unacknowledged.
It all comes back to appreciation, lifestyle, and attitude. I want all of you to live a full, happy, healthy life.
Please remember these points. Take them with you:
One: happiness mandates respect for our biology. Put good fuel in your body. Establish a good sleep cycle. Make good life decisions.
Two: accept who you are. Enjoy the path that life is offering you. Stop trying to become something you aren’t. Don’t let other people’s opinions of you determine your self-worth.
Three: don’t become numb to your blessings. Do this by practicing gratitude and optimism. Take your losses and victories in good stride.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Charles R. Swindoll:
“Happiness is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I choose to react to it.”