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Exploring Happiness

Exploring Happiness
Explore Happiness

I know, I know; I’m either stupid or brave to even think about tackling this topic. Alright, we’ll go with stupid.

Before I start today’s chat, let me say that I know there is no ‘answer’ or consensus to this discussion. No sh*t Sherlock. I’m not stupid enough to think there might exist one universal standard or school of thought when it comes to this topic, perhaps just a bunch of different thoughts, ideas and philosophies. Like most of you, I’m still exploring it, which is why I have chosen to make it just that; a discussion, an interactive chat, a group exploration. I’ll open the door on it and you guys can come in and chat. It could get messy, so buckle up. I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on the subject because it’s an issue which is relevant to every person on the planet. It’s probably the one topic which commands universal interest.

This morning I spent some time on radio (ABC Melbourne) chatting with the principal of a very wealthy, high-profile school here in Australia which is about to start teaching ‘positive psychology’ as an integral part of it’s curriculum in 2008. It’s described by some as ‘Happiness 101’.

This ‘subject’ is now taught in numerous colleges and graduate schools around the U.S. (over 200) and has been largely driven (championed is maybe a better word) by American psychologist, Dr. Marty Seligman. I’ve read a little of what the good Doc says (it all seems reasonable) and, as I said, spoke to the school principle who is spending sixteen million dollars (that’s some school) on a ‘wellness centre’ for his students (which will incorporate the positive psychology stuff). Where I went to school we got excited when the principle spent sixteen dollars on some new sporting equipment!

The interesting discussion I had with Mr. School Principle got the cogs in my small but curious brain turning. In a recent magazine article here in Australia (Good Weekend Magazine) the science of happiness was explored (this was the catalyst for the radio interview). It seems that (according to the article anyway) despite all our stuff (resources, technology, money, education, toys) we’re no happier — in fact overall, probably less happy.

Do they have a happy-ometer? How do they know?

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Apparently, happiness is now something that we need to teach. We’re losing (or have lost) the skill. Is happiness a skill? Or a mindset? A way of being perhaps? Can it be learned?

I was amazed to read that depression is now ten times more prevalent than it was fifty years ago. Not sure about that stat, but that’s what was reported in the article. Maybe we’re just more aware now, more educated about depression perhaps. Hmm.

I have some amazing memories of spending time on a little Island in Vanuatu called Espiritu Santo a few years back, where I made some great friends who taught me all about real happiness. They weren’t trying to teach me anything, but they did. No electricity, no TV, no radio, little money, no bank accounts but lots of fun, lots of laughs, lots of love, an old guitar with four strings and lots of happiness. I wonder who taught them how to be happy? Probably did one of those positive psychology courses by correspondence or perhaps they have a copy of The Art of Happiness. Maybe they have the entire Tony Robbins CD collection.

Careful, you may trip on my sarcasm.

By the way, I’m not being critical of the program, its introduction into schools or the notion of exploring positive psychology. I guess it’s just a weird (but insightful) commentary on where we are at as a society when we have to take classes (at college level no less) on how to be happy. Maybe we should just send our kids for a semester of ‘Life 101’ on the island of Espiritu Santo with my islander brother, McKenzie (his first name).

In the magazine article, the comparison was made between ‘feeling good’ (chasing or partaking in something which makes us feel good for a while – food, drugs, sex, new clothes) and ‘doing good’ (helping others, being generous with our time, money, skills) and which might provide us with a greater level of long-term and overall happiness.

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In a way, the self-ish verses self-less debate.

But the million dollar question has to be, what is happiness? Is it different things for different people? Can it be defined? Is it a psychological state? An emotional state? A spiritual plane? A combination of the lot perhaps? A myth? None of the above? Is it teachable or is it in our DNA? Some people are just happy people right?

How do we know when we’re there? What are the symptoms? Er, signs?

What if we have all the ‘happiness ingredients’ but we’re still not happy? Is that possible? Perhaps there’s something wrong with our wiring? Or maybe the ingredients need to be different for every individual? Maybe there are no ‘set’ ingredients? Maybe we keep changing the ‘happiness rules’? Constantly raising the ‘happiness bar’? Subconsciously pushing it out of our own reach? Self-induced misery perhaps? Why do we do that? Strangely, some of us seem determined to find our way back to unhappiness. Just take a look around.

Some psychologists teach us that if we are needed, wanted, appreciated, stimulated and loved, then we should be pretty happy. But what if we have all that and we’re not happy? I’ve seen it, so have you.

Is happiness a four-year kid old squealing with delight as her dad pushes her on a swing, or is that a momentary emotional state? Temporary euphoria? Excitement? Joy perhaps? And when she starts crying once the swing stops does that mean the happiness has stopped? Or perhaps she’s just a brat? Or just a kid who wants to be swinging?

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Is true happiness something that is (for the most part) always there? Like that deep sense of contentment, inner peace, satisfaction and calm that we might guess someone like the Dalai Lama takes everywhere with him? That deep sense of knowing that we are in the right place, doing the right thing? Maybe it’s impossible to be happy all the time? Or not. Maybe happiness is a matter of interpretation and perception?

“I didn’t know how happy I was until it was all taken away from me.”

Of course every religion has an opinion on it too. If they can’t agree what hope do we have!? So often there seems to be a degree of “we’re right and they’re wrong” in their theology (psychology/philosophy). Religious arrogance always amuses me. Seems a little contradictory to me. But then again, I’m just a simple exercise scientist. Not as enlightened as some, I s’pose.

Maybe happiness is the absence of certain things? Fear, frustration, hate, illness, pain and insecurity, for example. We know different things make different people happy, so maybe happiness is an individual response to a range of varied stimuli? For one person, a pregnancy might be a source of great happiness but for another… not so much! Maybe it’s not about the situation, circumstance, environment or event, maybe it’s about the individual in it; their personal response to, or interpretation of, that experience.

And what about things which once made us happy, but not any more? Because we’ve changed. Maybe for the worse. Maybe we make ourselves miserable, focusing on what we don’t have, rather than enjoying what we do?

Perhaps we don’t really know how to appreciate what, or who we have in our life? Some people suggest that living in an environment where we have so many choices (check out the cereal selection at your supermarket) has led some of us to being perpetually dissatisfied, always wanting more, always looking over the fence. Always believing that a bigger, better or newer version (of whatever) will make us happy.

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Finding misery in an otherwise pretty cool life seems to be a common practice these days.

Perhaps we’re too analytical? Perhaps our tendency to analyze and re-analyze every single facet of our lives inside-out and upside-down has turned us into a bunch of neurotic, self-absorbed, insecure, needy Sigmund Freud-wannabees? Maybe all the self-help ain’t so helpful? Perhaps all this ‘therapy’ has made us more dysfunctional? Maybe we think and talk about it too much?Maybe I shouldn’t publish this article? Maybe I’m helping perpetuate the problem? Or not.

Maybe we should spend less time trying to make ourselves happy and more time and energy trying to make others happy, and in doing so, we’d make ourselves happy! That’d be cool.

Hey, I’m back at the selfish verses selfless debate aren’t I?

Maybe there’s something in that?

More by this author

Craig Harper

Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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Last Updated on October 14, 2020

How to Be Confident: 51 Proven Ways to Build Self-Confidence

How to Be Confident: 51 Proven Ways to Build Self-Confidence

When you learn how to be confident, you can use it in your everyday life to tackle all of your goals and challenges. However, not many people realize that learning how to gain self-confidence is like building a muscle—it grows in response to the level of performance required of it.

Here I will give you 51 proven ways to overcome a lack of self-confidence and achieve more.

1. Learn Something New

Sign up for that evening class and enjoy it. Alternatively, read a book (or take an online course) on a topic you’ve always wanted to learn more about.

Learning new things stretches your abilities, keeps your mind active, and most definitely improves your confidence in your ability to do new things.

2. Ask Your Partner or a Friend What You Can Do For Them

This can be something as easy as helping them with a chore they don’t like or have little time for. Through helping them, you’ll find that you feel better about yourself.

3. Hit the Gym

The physiological effects of going to the gym will leave you feeling great.

Countless studies have shown that regular workouts at the gym can boost not only your sense of well-being, but can increase your self-esteem, too[1].

4. Go to a Networking Event

Rather than being nervous about your own stuff, focus on how to help others. Instead of going along with the aim of trying to sell yourself to others, why not change your approach and simply go along to see how you can help the people you meet?

By doing this, you’ll come across as calm, confident, and someone that people will want to turn to again and again.

5. Get Clear on the Things That Matter to You

If these things are not in your life, you’ll need to bring them in.

For example, if your daily work routine is currently as dull as dishwater—but you’d like it to be fun—then do something about it. Turn data entry into personal speed contests, paper filing into “screen-free” time, and interactions with your colleagues into enjoyable conversations.

6. Remove Negativity From Your Life

Write a list of the things you’re tolerating and putting up with in your life, then write down how you can remove, minimize, or diminish each one.

I personally like to do this with pen and paper as it feels just a little more real and definite than on screen. It’s also a good idea to put the priority items at the top of your list, so you can begin resolving these first.

7. Celebrate Your Big and Small Wins

Look at the big or small goals you’ve completed, and give yourself credit for your part in it.

Recognizing your achievements is not egotistical, it’s healthy.

8. Converse With New People

Go and have a conversation with someone you don’t know. By doing this, you may be pleasantly surprised by what—or who—you’ll discover.

You can also extend this trait by breaking outside of your normal social situations at your workplace. This will do wonders when learning how to be confident.

9. Do Something You Would Normally Say No to

Next time you talk yourself out of doing something (a party invite, a challenging project, etc.), go and do it anyway. This is a great way to boost personal development.

10. Do One Thing Each Day That Makes You Smile

This could be something as simple as sending a thank you email to a colleague that has been helpful to you, or leaving a surprise present for your partner that they’ll discover when they wake up.

Life shouldn’t be drudgery, and we all need to make the effort to keep it light, loving, and fun.

11. Give Yourself Good Advice

Look for the patterns of thought that take you to a place where you start second-guessing or overthinking.

Now imagine that your best friend went through exactly the same thought process and ended up holding themselves back—what would you want to say to them?

This is known as Soloman’s Paradox—we’re often quite good at solving others’ problems but not our own. Challenge this and take your own good advice next time[2].

12. Ask Someone on a Date

If you’re single and have met someone that you’re definitely attracted to—go ahead and ask them out.

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Even if they turn you down, it will help you learn how to be confident through the fact that you were decisive and made an effort. What’s the best thing that could happen? They might just say yes!

13. Write Down 20 Things That Make You Feel Good

Think of this as a gratitude list. Typical things you might include are: your partner, your kids, your parents, your pets, etc.

I recommend writing this list at least once a month. And most importantly—make sure you’re giving the 20 things plenty of room in your life.

14. Stop Playing Different Roles

Stop playing different roles and squeezing yourself into boxes based on what you think people expect of you.

Be your authentic self, the one who knows what to do and loves what they do. It’s easy to find this part of yourself as it’s inherent in your hobbies and your close friendships.

If you can bring this authenticity into your work life, you’ll be surprised at how positively others will react to you.

15. Cultivate a Positive Mindset

Learn to catch yourself every time you tell yourself that you can’t have, won’t get, or aren’t good enough to get what you want[3].

Talk yourself up when learning how to be confident.

    Instead, tell yourself that you can have, will get, and are good enough to get what you want. Mindset is everything. Make sure yours is positive and dynamic.

    16. Take Yourself off Auto-Pilot

    Make deliberate decisions on what really matters to you.

    For instance, if you normally work 9 to 5 but find yourself spending hours getting to and from work, why not negotiate with your boss to mix your hours up a bit?

    You might also suggest a day or two working from home. Sell this to your boss by reminding them that the time and stress lost to commuting can be neatly transferred to productive work hours.

    17. Listen Carefully to What You Tell Yourself

    Next time you come up against a risk or a challenge, listen to what you tell yourself, and look for a way to improve your inner dialogue.

    If you normally find that your inner dialogue is negative, then break out of this by asking yourself questions such as:

    • What would make this easier?
    • Is there a different way of doing this?
    • Could research help?

    18. Laugh at Yourself

    Scared of looking silly? It’s no biggie, so don’t let it stop you.

    Whenever we try something new, there’s a fair chance that we’ll make fools of ourselves. But you’d be a bigger fool to let that stop you. Instead, laugh at your baby steps and watch your confidence soar as you begin to master your chosen activity.

    19. Listen to Your Doubts

    Sometimes your doubts are there to let you know what you need to prepare for, so you can use them to your benefit as you move forwards. Other times, they are just doubts.

    The trick is to quickly determine if your doubts have validity. If they do, use them to shape your decisions.

    To illustrate this, imagine that you’ve had an enticing job offer, but you doubt whether you’re capable of doing the job. Spend a little time analyzing your doubts to see whether they reflect reality, or whether they are just negative thoughts that are trying to hold you back.

    20. Recall a Time When You Did a Great Job

    Think of a time when it felt like a whole bank of switches in your head flicked to the on position, and you were firing on all cylinders. What were you doing, and what’s the reason it felt so great? Can you emulate that passion and drive that you had?

    21. Tear up Your Rule Book

    You may not know it, but you’ve almost certainly got a whole bunch of outdated rules that determine what you do and don’t do. These rules limit your thinking and your behavior.

    It’s time to change them. Tear up this subconscious rule book and toss it in the fire. Once you’ve done this, you’ll immediately notice how free you feel to make challenging and exciting decisions.

    22. Ask Yourself What You Have Gained When You Lose

    Do you get annoyed with yourself because you didn’t make the most of something or stepped back from an opportunity?

    Firstly, don’t beat yourself up because that’s just going to make you feel worse. Instead, be brutally honest and ask yourself what you gained from the situation and what you lost out on.

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    Based on this win/lose balance, what’s a different choice you can make next time?

    23. Don’t Let People Put You Down

    If there’s someone in your life who puts you down or makes you feel small, you owe it to yourself to let them know that you expect something different from now on. 

    Trust me, once you’ve told them, they’ll change, and you will, too. Inevitably, you’ll boost both your confidence and happiness by taking control of your life in this way.

    Learn how to get out of toxic relationships in this article.

    24. Reveal a Little Bit of the Real You

    Relationships can be difficult. They can also lose their zest and become stale. If this happens in your relationship, then it’s time to add some magic to the mix.

    Try revealing something interesting about yourself or your past that your partner doesn’t currently know when learning how to be confident. Perhaps you never mentioned to them that you used to play in a rock band—and you still have the recordings to prove it!

    By adding new things to your relationship, you’ll deepen the bond and keep the spark alive.

    25. Be Your Own Hero

    Recognize that you’re more than a match for any situation you might find yourself in—no matter how tough the going gets.

    We all love movies like Die Hard where ordinary people are driven to super-ordinary feats. But here’s the rub: you can be your own action hero.

    Whatever the situation, meet it head on and overcome it. Keep in mind the classic phrase: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    26. Don’t Give in to the Instant Pay-off

    If I was to offer you $100 now for a day’s work tomorrow or $110 for the same work, but I won’t pay you for a week, which would you choose? Well, I can’t read your mind, but I do know that studies using a similar question to this have found that most people choose the instant, smaller payment over the latter, bigger payment. It seems that we’re hardwired for instant gratification.

    However, if you want to be a success in life, always look at the bigger picture. In the example above, if you could have only waited seven more days, you would have been $10 richer!

    27. Instead of Yelling “I Deserve Better,” Say “I Can Be Better”

    Too often I hear people complaining about their personal circumstances but refusing to do anything about it. Don’t be like them.

    If things aren’t going your way, find solutions and implement them. Your boldness and decisiveness will boost your confidence and help you rapidly climb the ladder of success.

    28. Admit You’re Wrong

    It may not be easy, but you should always be prepared to hold your hands up and change your mind if things are going south. Not every idea you have will be a winning one. The trick is to know when things are clearly not working out.

    You can either attempt to get them back on track or kill them off completely (sometimes that’s the best way).

    29. Trust Your Instincts

    We all have our gut feelings and intuitions, but many people choose to ignore them and rely only on facts, facts, and more facts! While this may work for many scenarios, there will be other times when you’ll need to rely on your instincts.

    30. Imagine Your Confident Future Self

    Imagine you’re visited by a successful, confident, attractive, and vibrant version of you from the future, a version of you who’s everything you hope to be. What do they want to tell you?

    They might praise your efforts, but they may also criticize your lack of planning and weak goals.

    Luckily, if you listen closely to what they tell you, you’ll be able to rapidly shift gears in your life and become the you of the future!

    31. Ask for Help

    This is a common issue. We take on way too many responsibilities and end up either burning ourselves out or just doing a bad job!

    The secret is to put the vast majority of your energy and efforts into what you do well. Give the stuff you don’t do well to others who have a gift for it. Sometimes the most confident and effective thing to do is ask for help.

    32. Be Around People Who Make You Feel Like You

    Do this by spending more time with the people who support and encourage you and less time with those who undermine you.

    At work, don’t be ruined by negative, petty people. Instead, make sure you surround yourself with colleagues who make you laugh and feel good about yourself.

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    33. Participate in the World Around You

    Ask yourself this question: “What can I participate in that’s important to me?”

    Typically, this could be your church, a sports club, or even just a weekly get together with your best friend.

    34. Develop Skills to Work on Things That Matter to You

    What can you practice that would radically improve your chances of winning?

    If you want to climb the corporate ladder, for example, then develop the skills needed to do this. These might include: effective project management skills, powerful presentation abilities, and superb goal setting skills.

    Of course, don’t forget that emulating those who have already achieved your goal is one of the quickest and most reliable ways for you to achieve your aims, too.

    35. Act Until You Make It

    The body is a mirror for the mind, so shifting your body language into a confident state can have surprising results.

    This is all about acting. If you want to come across as tough, act tough. If you want to come across as successful, act successful. And if you want to come across as confident, act confident.

    Try doing these things, and you’ll be amazed by the results.

    36. Push Through When You Want to Give up

    Don’t get disheartened or demotivated when you get to 90% with something you’re working on. Push through, and you’ll see that the last 10% is where the magic happens.

    37. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

    Keep comparing yourself to others? Stop it. If you want to learn how to be confident, don’t try to validate yourself through comparison—you’re just peachy as you are.

    Social media often makes this difficult. Try stepping away from your Facebook page for a few days and reconnect with the great things in your own life.

    You can get started with this guide.

    38. Speak up When You Can Make a Difference

    Speak up if there’s something you think could be improved or if you have an idea you think has legs.

    Have you noticed that quiet people at work rarely get the promotions? It’s not that they are incapable or lacking talent, but their abilities are usually overlooked as they don’t know how to engage with others or how to sell themselves.

    Step out of your comfort zone and be sure that you’re an active player. Speak up in meetings by suggesting ideas and offering constructive criticism.

    39. Stop Struggling and Start Accepting

    If there’s something you’ve been struggling to understand for a while, stop trying to understand it. Accept it just as it is, fully and wholly.

    Life offers endless mysteries. If you try to resolve them all you’ll drive yourself insane. Instead, let some mysteries remain, and keep your mind focused on your goals and dreams.

    40. It’s Okay to Be Shy

    There’s nothing wrong with being shy, and it doesn’t mean you’re not a confident person.

    If you suffer from shyness, you might think it’s a major weakness of yours. However, introverted people have the edge in many ways, such as: they’re first-rate listeners, they have excellent observational skills, and they’re easier to trust[4].

    41. Clean up Your Environment

    Your environment directly impacts your self-perception. So, if you’re surrounded by clutter, paperwork, and rubbish, put a morning aside to clean up your stuff and get organized.

    42. Write a List of Things You Would Love to Do

    Write yourself a list of the amazing things you’d love to do in your life, and make a start by simply looking into the first one or two things that leap out at you. This will help you get started as you learn how to be confident

    Even if you don’t currently have the means to live your dreams, you can, at the very least, make a start. The best way to do this is to write out the things you’d love to do. These may include cool stuff, such as travelling the world, learning a new language, or climbing a mountain.

    Once you’ve added the items to your list, don’t stop there. Begin researching and preparing ways to turn your dreams into realities.

    43. Make Your Self-Worth Independent From Others’ Validation

    Don’t make your happiness or self-worth dependent on being in a relationship or being validated by someone else.

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    While it’s difficult to admit it, we often find ourselves rating our self-esteem by the value other people put on us.

    For instance, you may have a super-positive boss who is always encouraging and supportive. They make you feel upbeat and confident at all times.

    However, imagine if they left and your new boss was the complete opposite. They constantly look for faults in your work and regularly criticize you. Would you still feel confident in those circumstances?

    If you’ve answered no, then you need to reappraise your self-worth, as it shouldn’t be dependent on the validation of others.

    44. Use Your Strengths

    We all have our weaknesses, but they only undermine your confidence if you let them.

    For instance, are you aware that Virgin’s founder Richard Branson suffers from dyslexia? He never let this hold him back or destroy his confidence. Today, he is one of the world’s most successful men, with a net worth of approximately $5 billion[5].

    45. Complete a To-Do List

    The longer you leave that big thing on your to-do list, the more it’ll drain you, and the bigger it’ll seem. Get it done and free yourself up.

    If you have a big goal, break it down into smaller tasks. For instance, instead of trying to write a whole chapter of your book in one go, how about just writing the opening paragraph?

    46. Treat Your Body Well

    When learning how to be confident, our body image does matter, because if you have a bad relationship with your body, you won’t feel confident in yourself.

    What’s one of the first things most of us do when we get up in the morning? We look in the mirror. If we don’t like what we see there, then our day starts off with negative self-talk. If, on the other hand, we look in the mirror and feel proud of our appearance, then we start the day off in an upbeat, positive way.

    If you’re unhappy with your body and looks, do something to improve them. Exercise, diet, and styling are common ways of improving your body image—and your confidence.

    47. Learn to Say No

    Don’t say yes to taking on a task simply because you don’t want to rock the boat. You can politely decline requests you can’t meet without needing to create excuses.

    While saying yes to everything that comes your way might feel like you’re being helpful and in demand, in the long run, you’ll burn yourself out.

    48. Learn From Confident People

    Look at the people you respect who seem confident. Don’t copy them, but identify what it is they do differently that conveys confidence and what you can learn from it.

    People-watching is not only fun, but it can be informative, too. Look closely at successful people you know, or those being interviewed on TV, and over time you’ll begin to notice common traits, beliefs, and behaviors that they exhibit.

    49. Follow Through on Your Plans

    Most people find it easy to write plans. The hard part, of course, is seeing them through. To stand out from the crowd, make sure that you know exactly how to complete your plans.

    If you need to, write down a step-by-step guide and begin following it. Not only will this drive you towards the completion of your plans—but experiencing the progress will also give you a continuous boost to your self-esteem.

    50. Shift Your Focus When You Doubt Yourself

    When you feel yourself focusing inwards and becoming paralyzed with doubt or fear, switch to focusing outwards at what you can engage and interact with.

    I remember one of my writing tutors telling me that when the words stop flowing, it’s time to take a break— preferably a walk in the park. It’s sound advice as it’s very easy to get caught up with our thoughts and emotions and be unable to make progress.

    51. Never Beat Yourself up for Failing

    Life is guaranteed to not always be a barrel of laughs. Instead, it’s much more like a roller coaster. There will be ups and downs, so ride them out.

    The art of living is to know how to handle whatever comes you way. The best way to achieve this is by developing an iron core that is unhindered by the topsy-turvy outside world.

    Final Thoughts

    Here I’ve given you 51 different ways to start building self-confidence Take action on the ways that you’re drawn to.

    It’s not enough to read about them. For them to work, you must adopt them into your daily life. Do this, and you’ll start to feel your confidence soar.

    More on How to Be Confident

    Featured photo credit: Matheus Ferrero via unsplash.com

    Reference

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