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How to Be Happier with What You Have

How to Be Happier with What You Have

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    “There are two ways to increase your wealth. Increase your means or decrease your wants. The best is to do both at the same time.”Benjamin Franklin

    Misery shouldn’t be the price for ambition. Somewhere I believe many people got the idea that to want more, you have to be dissatisfied with what you have now. Believing this, your choice is either to dampen your passions or become miserable with what you have.

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    I think this is a false dichotomy. You can be satisfied and ambitious. And while many self-help books have covered the topic of ambition, fewer cover the idea of becoming immensely satisfied with what you’ve already got.

    Beyond affirmations and beliefs, I think there are some practical tips to do this. Engineering your daily life can be a great way to maximize your current fulfillment. Best of all, it isn’t incredibly difficult to do. Here are some tips I’ve found useful in becoming happier with where I am:

    1 – Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

    Investors understand that diversification keeps one bad fall from ruining you financially. Keeping your interests diversified, ensures that one slip won’t make you miserable. Tying your entire life into only one area isn’t just obsessive, it’s dangerous.

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    Life balance has become a bit of a cliche. Balance implies a weak compromise where efforts are juggled. But the alternative to balance doesn’t need to be obsession. Having several areas of focus at a time will help smooth out the fluctuations in your experience. Pick 3-5 things that are critical for you and a dozen more you feel are important.

    2 – Engineer Your Day

    Spend a bit of time reorganizing how you run your daily life. Looking over at the horizon it can be easy to miss what is under your feet. Focusing on improvements of your routines, habits and environment can make a huge impact in your current satisfaction. Even if they have little influence on your bank account or GPA.

    Start by doing a run down of how you invest your time. Carry around a notepad with you for a day. Record every time you start or stop an activity. This will give you a detailed look at how you spend your time. It should also give you an idea of where you can make improvements.

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    The goal isn’t to have the most productive day possible or one that is devoid of all “bad” habits. Your objective is simply to experiment with changes that might make your day more interesting, fun or fulfilling.

    3 – Break Comparisons

    If you are like most inhabitants of industrialized nations, you are richer than most medieval kings. You are free of most diseases that plagued our ancestors. You have far more human rights. And you are far less likely to die a violent death. By such a comparison, you should be overjoyed compared to your great-great-grandparents. Why doesn’t this feel like the case?

    The answer is because most people base their satisfaction on comparing themselves with others. You may be fabulously wealthy compared to your forefathers, but you also have to compare your life to people who are far wealthier, healthier and more attractive than you.

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    Breaking comparisons with other people will make you happier, but it isn’t easy to do. There isn’t an OFF switch in your brain for competition. However, there are a few ways you can make adjustments to your life that help avoid the competitive misery:

    • Diversify your social life. If you only associate with people from one class, you will always struggle with comparison. My suggestion is to broaden the groups of people you associate with. Not just in terms of income, but age, experiences, culture and background. The more diversification, the more difficulty you have nitpicking.
    • Shut off the media. If information isn’t helping you make decisions and only makes you feel miserable, why are you consuming it? Surrounding yourself with celebrity magazines and television shows featuring spoiled rich kids can fuel that urge to compare.
    • Find your talents. Emphasize the things you are good at and make you unique. The more you cultivate a unique identity, the less chance you have of making linear comparisons between your life and your friends.
    • Cultivate abundance. Competition is largely based in zero-sum. The idea that someone else’s gain is my loss. Rarely is this the case. Focus on how the effects of another’s win can become your own gain. Emphasizing an abundance mindset can help you avoid the comparison that inevitably comes from thinking scarcity.
    • Focus internally. Perhaps the most important tip at all is to put less focus on external results. If you build a stable inner world, you can survive the storms of the outer world. Focusing on the intangibles of your passions, challenges, bonds and purpose will lead to a greater current satisfaction.

    Don’t Make Yourself Miserable

    It took awhile for me to realize that happily working towards a goal gave the same results as stressed frustration. The stereotype that the high-achiever needs to be an obsessive maniac is a good one to make you feel miserable.

    It is easy to look at outside problems as the source of your misery. But too often you bring it upon yourself. Ambition is important, but don’t see it as a trade-off for appreciating what you have. When you trade today for tomorrow, you might realize you have nothing left.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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