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The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life

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The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life

If I ask you “what is happiness?”, then what would your answer be? It’s probably difficult to come up with a simple answer. Yet, here you are, looking for a key to happiness and how to lead a fulfilling life.

The truth is that a universal key to happiness is a myth.

That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking for yours right now, it only means that you need to be careful when reading articles about “a key to happiness”. The universal key to happiness is non-existent because happiness is one of the most difficult things in life to define.

How Do You Define Happiness?

Now, let’s go back to that difficult question: “what is happiness?”

Have you thought about it already? Let me give you an example of how hard it is to define happiness.

Right now, I’m drinking a cup of coffee while writing the outline of this article about how to define happiness. Am I happy right now? Yes, I’m feeling pretty happy:

  • I’ve got nothing to worry about.
  • All my basic needs are met.
  • My family, friends, and girlfriend are all happy as well.
  • The weather is nice.
  • I’m going outside in a couple of minutes to go for a walk.

These things are all making me feel pretty happy right now.

By that logic, let’s define my happiness as follows:

“Happiness is when I’m in a worry-free state, the weather is nice, everybody I know is alright and I can enjoy a hot cup of coffee.”

Voila. There it is. My definition of happiness.

The keys to my happiness are obvious now, and I know enough in order to lead the happiest life I can. I just need to focus on the things I listed above.

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Wait a second… If it were this simple, then why have I ever been unhappy?

You might have guessed it already, but I made a very simple error. I assumed that what makes me happy today will make me happy for the rest of my life. And that’s just wrong.

Happiness is something that not only changes from person to person, but it’s also constantly evolving from day to day.

Your definition of happiness changes over time. This is why happiness is such a difficult concept, and why there’s not a single “key to happiness”.

Whoever tells you otherwise is likely not aware that people change, and that people don’t always share the same values, goals, and purposes.

Finding Your Key to True Happiness

So, where to look for true happiness if a single key to happiness doesn’t exist?

Read on to find out…

Define What Happiness Means to You

For a minute, I want you to do consider your own happiness. I want you to think back of last week, and consider what things you did that had a positive effect on your happiness.

What things had a significant influence on your mood? What comes to your mind?

Was it spending time with your friends? Was it a great movie you watched? Did you attend an exciting sports event? Or did you enjoy sipping hot coffee on a sunny Wednesday morning? It could obviously be just about anything!

It’s important to realize that all these things were part of your “key to happiness”. Your happiness was defined by these things, and you just measured a small part of that.

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Does that mean you now know all the answers? Do you now know how to live the rest of your life? No. But you do know what things made you happy last week, and that’s very useful information when determining your own definition of happiness to build on.

If you consciously keep track of what factors determine your happiness, then you are more likely to find out just how much your definition of happiness can vary from time to time. This knowledge can help you find your key to happiness.

You see, even though happiness is claimed to be the factor of life that’s the most difficult to measure, you can still measure how you define your own happiness each day. It’s simple.

For me personally, when I think back of last weekend, I remember that I really enjoyed spending time with my girlfriend, walking through the woods on a sunny day and just relaxing (a.k.a. doing nothing!)

These are happiness factors that were a vital part of my happiness definition this weekend. I had just survived a long and busy week at work, so I was really trying to find some easy enjoyment. The things that I did this weekend were perfect for the occasion, as it was a very happy day for me.

If you were to ask me what the key to my happiness was that weekend, I’d give you the following answer:

To spend quality time with my girlfriend, being able to enjoy the good weather while being carefree and relaxed.

While this is unlikely to be the key to your happiness for the rest of your life, it is a pretty good start.

You can do exactly the same. All you need to do is to define your own happiness from day to day.

Find Your Purpose in Life

The next step to determining your key to happiness is to determine the things that give you purpose. You will live a fulfilling life when you’re happily tracking towards a purpose. Something that you’re passionate about.

Let’s use the previous example of my key to happiness. Will I be happy for the rest of my life when I focus exclusively on a relaxed and carefree feeling? Probably not, because it will not lead to a very fulfilling life. Not for me, at least.

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There are some things that drive my actions in a much bigger sense than only my daily, short-term happiness. For some people, that purpose could be:

  • To take care of a loving family
  • To build a successful company
  • To climb the highest mountains
  • To be rich and famous

You have to find out what your purpose in life is in order to truly determine your key to happiness. Only then will you be able to define a sustainable plan that will make you both happy and fulfilled.

It’s important to know that you can find your purpose only when trying out new things. This is a crucial part of finding your key to happiness. You can’t read an article online (like this one) and suddenly learn about what your key to happiness is!

The same thing goes for finding your purpose. You can’t expect to find your purpose without trying new things. People stumble upon their purpose in life in lots of different ways.[1]

If you find figuring out your purpose challenging, take a look at this article: How to Find the Purpose of Life and Start Living a Fulfilling Life

Combine Your Purpose in Life with Your Definition on Happiness

Now, this might sound like a mouthful:

A Purpose in Life x Keys to Your Happiness = Fulfilling Life?

It’s actually really simple. Let’s take the following example:

I’ve found that my purpose in life is to become the CEO of a great and powerful charity (I know, I know…)

I feel a purpose and sense of accomplishment when working towards these goals. However, should I therefore sacrifice everything in my life in order to reach that purpose? Should I work 100 hours a week, disregard any relationships and use sleep medication just to fall asleep under the stress?

Nope. If I do that, I might reach my purpose, but I won’t still be happy.

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However, if I spend the rest of my life similar to how I spent my last weekend (enjoying the sun and walking through the forest) I will also miss long-term happiness. That’s because I won’t feel like my life has a purpose.

Your key to happiness and the purpose of your life need to compliment each other. They need to be in balance.

You’ve probably heard the saying:

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination”.

Think of the destination as your purpose, and think of the journey as the things you do that make you happy (the keys to your happiness).

You can’t spend your life running (or sprinting) towards your destination, because you’ll forget to enjoy the journey. At the same time, you can’t head out on your journey without having a destination in mind. That’s why I believe your happiness is a product of both the journey and the destination.

Or in other words, you need to combine your purpose in life with the keys to your happiness in order to lead a fulfilling life. This will allow you to create a road map – a specific and concise plan – that will help you determine how to best lead your life. If you’ve done that, you’re ready to steer your life in the best direction possible!

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember when trying to define your keys to a happy and fulfilling life is simple:

There is no universal key that leads to your happiness. That’s because your happiness is unique in each and every single way. What you can do is:

  • Realize that you can define the factors that make you happy.
  • Know that your happiness – and the factors that influence it – change over time, and so will your “key to happiness”.
  • Find out what your purpose in life is. You can only do this by trying out many things. You can’t learn this from simple reading an article!
  • Combine your purpose and the things that make you happy in order to get the best idea of how to steer your life in the best direction possible!

More Tips About Pursuing a Happy Life

Featured photo credit: Sam Manns via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Hugo Huyer

Author at Tracking Happiness, lifelong happiness tracker and passionate about all things mental health and well-being.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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