Everybody wants to be happy – it is part of the human existence to seek out the things that make you happy and to fill your life with as many of them as possible. How is it, then, that many of us are so unhappy despite pursuing our goals? In this article, we’re going to take you through a few of the most important principles and strategies to really get the most out of your life. These tips (whether they’re secrets, or you just aren’t doing them!) will focus on deep, fulfilling happiness rather than the kind of happiness you experience when you eat good food or find money you didn’t know you had.
Where shall we start...
1. Do Something Worthwhile
Maybe you’re not happy because you’re not doing anything worthwhile. This sounds harsh, but many people do not enjoy their work or hobbies because they’re not worthwhile! If you’re good at your job and you love it (and if it has a real impact on the world) then you’re one of the lucky few. If you struggle to take pride in your work, don’t enjoy what you do, and don’t feel appreciated, it’s probably a good sign that you’re doing the wrong thing. It’s never too late to re-train, learn new skills, or start practicing a different life path on the side. If you’re feeling profoundly unhappy, this large change could be just what you need, and the risks are never as great as you might fear!
2. Surround Yourself with People Who Inspire Growth
We’re not trying to sabotage your friendships, but it is important to ask yourself whether the people you associate with are the best people for your life and for your happiness. It is common to develop friendships out of convenience, but try spending time around people who have similar interests to you or simply those who are better than you at something you want to be good at. These people will force you to grow and develop as a person, which is great for self-esteem and can help you achieve the dreams and goals you have set for yourself.
3. Don’t Worry!
It might not be as simple as “hakuna matata”, but worrying is one of the main sources of excess stress and unhappiness. Stress is an inevitable part of life and the most successful people invite stressful situations, but dealing with stress is one of the most important factors in your long-term happiness. Worrying is the worst approach to stress as it compounds the problem and only ever makes you feel worse. Try to adopt a more laid-back attitude towards the future and always remember that the uncertainty of the future contains an equal balance of threat and opportunity.
4. Relax and Improve Your Sleep
Bedtimes aren’t just for children: winding down towards the end of the day and putting some time into improving your quality of sleep is going to make a real difference to how you feel when you’re awake. We’ve mentioned it before, but its important not to be too hyped up all the time. Setting time aside to relax reduces stress, anxiety, and the risk of a number of mental health problems. You will be a happier person if you cultivate a balance between “up” and “down” in your life, meaning that you actively relax, much like the way that you might actively make yourself anxious or energetic for work or training.
5. Chase Passions, Not People
People are important and you can’t avoid them, but they shouldn’t be the main focus of your life. In a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, we’re told, “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things”. This is incredibly useful if you tend to get caught up with relationships. People are fickle and you might find that the “ground shifts under your feet”. Setting your life against the context of a career, athletic, or charitable goal, you have a more-or-less consistent framework for personal development and actionable steps on the way to success.
This can change your life in a number of ways. First, as mentioned above, it provides you with a framework for your life, giving you the ability to develop a plan and feel rewarded when you achieve intermediate goals. However, this approach also reduces the impact of the changeability of others on your happiness, makes you more self-reliant, and builds competence. Competence is a huge concept, but we can boil this down to something simple like “the more things you do, the more things you are able to do, and believe you are able to do!”. This has a huge bearing on self-esteem which, in turn, will improve your sense of meaning and happiness.
6. Travel Light
Commodity fetishization is rife in our culture: it’s possible that your unhappiness is tied to the fact that you believe that the more you have, the happier you will be. We all have a weakness for conspicuous consumption and sometimes its as simple as “keeping up with the Jones’”, but this is a great way to become dissatisfied with your life and ungrateful for the things that you have. Practice asking yourself if a purchase or item is worth the time-value that it takes up: if you earn $100 in a day, ask yourself if that $100 sweatshirt is worth a day of your life and all the things you could do instead.
Travelling light is also profoundly important when dealing with people. It might seem like a huge circle of friends is a great way to achieve maximum happiness, but it is important to cultivate a self-reliant mindset, while still enjoying the company of others. This means accepting that people will enter and leave your life, whether they’re friends or lovers, and that you should focus on making the most of your time with these people rather than worrying that it may end.
7. Know Your Worth
Setting low standards is another reason that you might be making yourself miserable. It is easy to be harsh with yourself, and many people struggle with serious insecurity or poor self-esteem, but knowing your worth and keeping your standards high (but realistic) is one way of boosting your happiness. If you’re settling for something that isn’t worth your time, whether it’s a relationship, job, or friendship, you’re going to make yourself unhappy.
Knowing your worth is notoriously difficult, but there are ways you can make it easier for yourself. The first is to make sure you deserve high standards: make the most of yourself and dedicate a serious amount of time to self-improvement. It doesn’t matter if its reading, learning new skills, or improving your commitment to physical training – if you’re getting better, it’s easy to feel better about yourself and make sure everyone notices.
8. Know Yourself
As Pollonius said in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true”. This is perhaps the greatest commandment of happiness and it is shockingly under-discussed! Being true to yourself is a great way to avoid bad relationships, bad friendships, poor work-life structures, and a whole host of other things in life that are likely to make you feel awful. This all starts with being self-aware, so spend some time getting in touch with who you really are – learn the things that make you tick, as well as spending time reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses.
It’s never nice to admit when you’re wrong, or when you’re flawed, but having the humility to criticize yourself honestly and fairly is important. If you know that you’re bad at committing to tasks or relationships, avoiding this issue with yourself will only lead to more sadness and discomfort in future. Take the time to ruthlessly evaluate your personality and behavior now, as it might give you the tools to prevent the kind of thoughts and behaviors that make you miserable in the future. Be sure to also evaluate yourself positively and praise yourself for the things that make you special and valuable.
A Brief, Fool-Proof Guide to Real Happiness
Step One: Know yourself. Figure out who you are, what you want, and the positive and negative things about yourself.
Step Two: Get better! Always work to improve your knowledge, skills, expertise, manner, and combat your negative personality traits. We all have them, but you can work to make yourself better.
Step Three: Set goals and work hard on what you love. Find something to do with your life that you will enjoy, then become as good at it as you possibly can. This will provide you with a consistent, unerring source of happiness and self-worth, whilst also developing competence.
Step Four: Know your worth. Now that you know yourself and have developed competence, and chosen a field or passion to work towards, remember those positive things about your personality that you reflected on, as well as the skills and knowledge you have gained. These should set your standards high for work, relationships and friendships, and attract people that genuinely improve your life.
Step Five: Remember that you’re doing great and not to worry too much about the peripheral stuff, like whose car is better, who has the biggest house, or what Derek from down the road earned last month. Run your own race, travel light, and set aside time to relax and enjoy the time-value of your life.
These secrets, tips, and strategies can change your life for the better. The process of reflecting on them, applying them, and then living them out is not an easy one but the time will pass anyway and the search for happiness is one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Some of these strategies might take time to pay off, but start today and you’ll immediately be happier, if only for the relaxation and the knowledge that you’re making positive changes to your life.
-  Quoted by Ernst Strauss (1979) in ‘Einsteain: a centenary volume’, p.32
Luke is a freelance writer inspired by health, wellness and life!