No people on Earth will have the same definition for happiness, and there has been a lot of debate about the nature of this elusive concept by many highly intelligent philosophers, artists and scientists over the centuries. No one has really been able to pin it down, but we can all agree that we need a sense of purpose, someone to love us back, financial security and acknowledgement of our skills and accomplishments.
The degree of importance individuals place on these concepts may differ, but they are essential. The big question, though, is can we make a bunch of small changes to our lifestyle and gradually build a better and happier future for ourselves, growing as people along the way? Well, I’d say yes, and here’s my humble take on the matter.
1. Reflect on your goals, needs and desires every day
People will often spout out gems of wisdom like “you shouldn’t care what others think about you”, but they are strangely silent when you ask them to provide some actionable steps for achieving this noble goal. Well, you can’t just let all feedback from your friends and family fall on deaf ears, but you need to understand what it is that actually make you feel good and motivated in life.
You will need to sit down and have a nice long talk with yourself at some point – empty your schedule for a day or two, stay in, play some relaxing music, create a comfortable atmosphere, have a couple of drinks if you need some help to open up, and start defining your desires, preferences and life goals.
Once you have a good idea of what you really want, you have to take some 10-15 minutes a day to reflect on these ideas and remind yourself of what you need to do to reach your goals.
2. Start putting 20-25% of your paycheck aside
I’m not going to flat out say that money brings you happiness, because that’s just an oversimplification, but struggling to keep a roof over your head and put food on the table can really dampen the mood. The thing is, regardless of the size of someone’s paycheck, there is always a tendency to throw money away needlessly. It can be out of sheer ignorance or due to impulsive behavior, e.g. getting a six pack of beer after a long Monday or ordering takeout because you can’t be bothered to cook.
However, if you make a few small sacrifices and buckle down, it’s not all that difficult to take 20-25% of your paycheck and put it aside. You can use that extra cash to boost your 401k, create an emergency fund and get something you’ve always wanted a year down the line. It’s a safety net that gives you peace of mind and lets you work on becoming a happier person.
3. Try to solve problems and complete tasks as soon as possible
It might not seem like much at first, but dealing with problems quickly, with grim determination and brutal efficiency has hidden psychological benefits. Yes, at the basic level you will be less stressed out because you won’t have little obligations and chores piling up, but on a deeper level you will be developing a “doer’s mindset”, which can be applied in all aspects of your life.
It’s all about having that tactical timing that allows you to seize great opportunities and nip problems and possible conflict in the bud. This will leave you with lots of free time and very few regrets.
4. Get 4-5 hours of physical exercise per week
You don’t really need to overthink things when it comes to exercise – the key here is to be consistent and keep your body moving day-to-day and week-to-week. Get around 30-60 minutes of strength-building exercises 3-4 times a week, combined with some cycling, distance running, jump rope or interval training routine another 3 days a week, and you’re set.
You can train at a gym or at home with virtually no equipment, or just take long walks, hike or play some sports when you don’t feel like exercising. This will pump up your body’s natural “feel-good hormone cocktail”, and make you feel limber and strong. It’s also a great confidence boost and a good way to get more comfortable in your own skin.
5. Stock up on books and read for at least an hour a day
It is incredibly important that you don’t just gloss over this point and say: “Oh, yeah, I have a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read, I’ll have some time on the weekend to get started.” Pick up a book right now and spend an hour with it, or just browse through a few books and prepare your reading list.
Don’t go for drivel and don’t even limit yourself to good fiction books alone – non-fiction books are a great way to improve your knowledge in many different fields, from business and time-management to fitness and cooking.
6. Learn to cook with healthy ingredients and limit junk food and sweets
Going cold turkey and swearing off sweets and junk food altogether may not be the best way to go, particularly if it is going to make you anxious and miserable. That being said, you should limit yourself to a few snacks here and there, and try to eat nice home-cooked meals the rest of the time. Not only will tasty nutritious food make you feel great and help you slim down, but your newly found cooking skills will be a great source of pride and nice way to impress the people you care about.
7. Go after the things you want without hesitation
This can be much easier to accomplish once you have learned to tackle problems as soon as they appear, but it still requires a lot of willpower and courage. We fear any kind of change and new things on a primal level, because the most ancient parts of our brains geared for survival know that any change to the status quo carries untold risks.
However, while it takes a lot of mental power to push through those fears and go after the things we want, it is well worth the effort. The next time you see an attractive man or woman that seems interesting, just go up and start a conversation. If you’ve always wanted to try boxing or dancing, but were afraid of looking silly or people laughing at you, just take that leap of faith.
It will be a bit nerve wrecking and gut wrenching at first, but after you’ve got out of your comfort zone a few times, you’ll become much more confident and way happier.
8. Stay calm and polite, but be ready to enforce your boundaries
It may sound counter intuitive, but if you want to feel good it’s best to focus on making those around you feel nice and relaxed. Now, this is not some New Age mumbo jumbo about “positive energy” or even a version of the old karmic adage of “what goes around comes around” – you are simply ensuring that people are going to treat you well because you seem like a cool person.
That being said, remember that being polite is not the same as being submissive and always agreeing with others. You’ll have to set boundaries and enforce them from time to time, but at least if conflict does break out you’ll know that you’ve done everything you could to keep things civil and that a bit of impoliteness was unavoidable.
Smiling more, being nice and standing up for yourself when politeness fails will greatly reduce the amount of stress in your life.
9. Go out in the world, socialize and study people’s behavior
Much like the T-800 series Terminator, the more time you spend with people, the more you learn. Some of us prefer a bit of isolation, but being sheltered from the realities of the outside world can cause you a lot of grief down the road, due to your inability to understand and effectively deal with people. Going out on the weekends will not only help you unwind and give you a chance to find a new partner and make new friends, but it will also help you learn more about all kinds of different personalities and how they interact socially.
When you have experience with all kinds of people and all kinds of situations, it’s much easier to keep your cool and make the right choices in your day-to-day life.
10. Adopt a skeptical mindset and learn to examine the information you are given
Knowing how people think and operate is a crucial part of avoiding being swindled, taken advantage of or emotionally abused. You need to understand that a lot of discussions on health, mental well being, morality and spirituality are actually sales pitches. If someone’s trying to sell you something or convince you of something vehemently, don’t be afraid to ask questions and look for solid proof of their claims.
You’ll save yourself a lot of money, nerves, trouble and health problems if you refuse to blindly believe outrageous claims and approach sweet-talking people cautiously.
This is by no means a complete list of things you can do to bring about happiness, but it’s a good place to start. Look at these points as guidelines that will help you build a solid foundation on which you can build the life you’ve always wanted. You might not fulfill every dream, but you will become a much happier person.